Written by Svetlana Dotsenko
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Our newest #ResearchSuperstar Ridwan Alam is a senior in Wayne State University and part of the MedStart (BS/MD) program. Ridwan is already a published researcher (twice! first paper, second paper), and is admitted to the most prestigious medical schools in the country (Johns Hopkins and WSU!). His story is also a wonderful account of humility, tenacity, and true passion for research. Research got you down? Read this story for inspiration.
Ridwan started looking for research opportunities right after graduating from high school in June 2009. He emailed several professors but received a lot of dead ends. Soon, however, he was invited to shadow a neurosurgeon, who did not have research openings but introduced Ridwan to a colleague, whose lab was doing neurosurgery research. After an interview, Ridwan was invited to join her group.
The laboratory was studying the proteins that inhibit migration and growth of proteins in Grade 4 Glioblastoma, which is the worst type of brain tumor. The disease causes certain proteins to be over-expressed through the loss of regulation mechanisms. Researchers worked to find molecules responsible for this disruption.
When Ridwan just started as a freshman, he was doing primarily mechanical work, doing Western Blot imaging and measuring tumor sizes. Only in a year, he was allowed to start real research procedures. “I was in a basic lab, I grew cells,” he said. “I had to be on the schedule of these cells, not on my schedule, even if that meant spending Friday nights and weekend mornings in the lab.” When the sophomore year started, it became even tougher to balance research and classes, as Ridwan was determined to take the hardest classes at school while continuing to care for his cells.
He was learning a lot of science in the lab that year, but perhaps even more importantly, he learned life lessons. He learned to sacrifice. He formed friendships with his lab mates and his PI. He learned from the work ethics of professional researchers, who were spending long hours in the lab. “We bonded,” Ridwan says of his colleagues. “I don’t think I would trade it for anything. It was a phenomenal experience.”
So, what is Ridwan’s advice to young researchers? “Don’t be jaded. Research is frustration, basically. There are no people, no researchers that feel 100% happy all the time. If you really, really feel miserable all the time, it’s one thing; but if it’s hard just now, don’t let that get to you, because in the end, you’ll appreciate all these breakthroughs that happen.”
When Ridwan talks about breakthroughs, he sure knows what he’s talking about! By his senior year, he published two papers, both in the prestigious Neuro-Oncology journal. He enjoys public speaking, traveling to conferences, and discussing his research. Finally, he was admitted to the most prestigious medical schools in the country, including Johns Hopkins and WSU Medical School, with the goal to become a neurosurgeon. Our warmest congratulations on your success, Ridwan!