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Labib Rouhana

Labib Rouhana headshotField:  Genetics
SR-EIP:  Hunter College CUNY (2000)
Undergrad:  University of Texas, El Paso (2001)
Graduate School:  University of Wisconsin-Madison (2007)
Current:  Postdoctoral Fellow, Phil Newmark Laboratory, Univ. of Illinois (UIUC), HHMI


Could you talk about any memorable experiences from your summer research at Hunter College CUNY?
When I went to Hunter, it was the first time that I had been exposed to real laboratory science.  While there was laboratory research being conducted at my undergraduate institution, I had no opportunities to work in any of the labs due to lack of experience.  My advisor, Dr. Rivka Rudner, was tough as nails, but very passionate about her research.  She was also an inspiration.   I remember her mentioning to me that, though we were from different backgrounds, we were going to “work together for science”.  Working at Dr. Rudner’s laboratory opened many doors for me.

I enjoyed living in New York and meeting people from various backgrounds.  It was also a very exciting time in science because the human genome sequence was being released.  I was amazed at how molecular biologists were able to see what we can’t normally see and discover new things about ourselves and other organisms by using technological advancements and molecular tricks.

What skills were you able to apply to your collegiate work upon returning to your undergraduate institution?
My advisor was keen on learning the basics, which is what I have found to be very valuable throughout my entire scientific career.  For example, the basic techniques of aseptic technique and molecular cloning are something that I learned during my summer research experience and have been using ever since. I also learned how to set up experiments with proper controls and conditions.

Can you talk about how your summer experience prepared you for graduate school?
More than anything, it gave me a little preview of what I was getting into. I experienced and witnessed the hardships, failures, and long hours that are almost inevitable in scientific research. Despite knowing all of this, I realized the importance of not quitting.  I was determined not to quite.

I also learned how to think about scientific questions, how to plan an experiment appropriately, and how to set up the appropriate controls.  These concepts and skills were certainly necessary for my success in the lab during graduate school.  Also, because of the summer program, I had the opportunity to present my work in oral or poster form, which is something that one is going to have to do successfully in order to have a promising scientific career in general.

With regard to actually getting into graduate school, my experience prepared me in the sense that I was fortunate to develop a solid relationship with my advisor, which helped with admission to graduate programs.  I interviewed with several people who were well acquainted with my mentor.  They knew that I worked under such a rigorous professor, who willingly offered me a good letter of recommendation.  It was helpful to have that connection.

Can you talk about the role of mentorship in your career?
I think it’s important to always seek guidance, regardless of where you are in your career.  I have been fortunate to work with great mentors, since my experience at Hunter until now. Teachers, advisors, principal investigators, and colleagues have all been invaluable resources of scientific and professional advice.  Many of them really want to see me succeed, and that makes me more confident in my potential.  Dr. Marv Wickens, my graduate mentor, taught me how to broaden my perspectives in scientific research-not getting stuck on one question, but seeing how other people’s work relates to my interests.  He also taught me how to communicate efficiently and concisely.  Dr. Phil Newmark mentored me through the process of applying for postdoctoral fellowships. With his help, I was able to get a minority postdoctoral research fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which currently funds my work. When I was in Japan as a postdoctoral researcher, I worked under Dr. Agata. He was instrumental in teaching me the importance of learning how to develop good relationships with the lab, the university, the scientific community, and those outside of science.

As far as mentoring goes, it’s important for me to assist graduate and undergraduate students in getting to the next stage in their careers and to inform them about the available options.  Particularly, when I attend a conference or symposium, there is always an opportunity to sit down with undergraduates who are in the same position that I was and have a talk with them.  I offer help in the form of reading personal statements and giving advice regarding various programs, and if possible, introducing them to someone who is in the position of helping them further.  There is also an online resource for mentoring via, (funded by the NSF) in which I participate.

What advice would you give to this year’s Leadership Alliance participants?
Leadership Alliance participants need to remember to never be shy.  You are interacting with people that want to help you.  All of the professors and administrators are participants of this alliance because their goal is to help you!  Get to know other people outside of those whom you already know.  View this as an opportunity to share your experiences and to learn from others’ experiences.  You will reencounter many of the people that you meet through this alliance, thus, making this a great networking opportunity.  Also, don’t be afraid to go to different places, it provides avenues of cultural learning, broader networking, and different scientific training.  See it as an opportunity of molding your identity and making yourself unique as you pick up a few things from different places.  Take advantage of training opportunities throughout the country and abroad.  If you really want to ask a scientific question, don’t limit yourself geographically.

Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
You are going to find out that with patience, hard work, and dedication you can achieve that PhD and excel in science.  Take advantage of the opportunities available to you, and prove yourself in your work.  Associate yourself with the best (minority or not), seek advice, and learn from them as much as you can.  Don’t forget about those that helped you along the way, and when in the position to do so, reach out and do the same for the next generation of aspiring scientists.