I began working in my current research lab in fall 2011, so I’ve been there about two semesters. I met with Dr. Hrabowski last spring and he asked me whether I was conducting research in translational medicine (my area of interest). At the time, I was looking for positions, but I had not found anything. Dr. Hrabowski told me to contact Mr. Toliver of the Meyerhoff program to see if he had spotted any recent ads that may be of relevance to me. In a couple of weeks, I received an ad from Mr. Toliver about a position at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine to manage a mouse colony at a lab that was conducting research on BK Channels, which may have medicinal applications in bladder dysfunction and other smooth muscle. Very intrigued by the lab’s past work, I applied for the position, then met with my mentor (Dr. Andrea Meredith) who is a UMBC alumna, and was accepted into the lab.
What did you know about your field/project when you started? How did you learn what you needed to know?
At the time, my main attraction to the lab was the fact that they were working on projects that had a basis in neuroscience. Going into my first day at the lab, I knew about basic action potentials, some limited aspects of physiology, and biological applications of statistics. When I started at the lab, my primary responsibilities were to manage the colony of transgenic mice and genotype them (using tiny parts of their tail) for the lab’s experiments. Prior to working at this lab, I did not have any experience handling mice or any animals, for that matter. I quickly realized that before I got involved in any complicated assays or experiments, I would have to become accustomed to handling mice. I also had to learn the background for all the experiments I became involved in later on. For example, I had to figure out what trends I was looking for in a motor-learning assay where mice were put on a moving rod to see how long they could stay on without falling off. Theoretically, the genetically enhanced mice should have learned faster and more effectively, so they should have stayed on longer than the normal mice over the course of the experiment. Over time, I just had to keep learning about new experiments, reading background on those experiments, and finding ways to implement them effectively to get usable data.
Who do you work with on your project?
Earlier this year, I conducted some behavioral and motor learning experiments on an independent project to determine whether the various phenotypes of mice in our lab showed a significant difference in their motor learning and/or behavioral responses. For that project, I was largely working independently with the support of my mentor, who was always available to guide me. Recently, I have been learning about certain smooth-muscle experiments because I will be conducting a summer project regarding bladder function. One of the post-docs in our lab is currently teaching me the nuances of these experiments, which are quite tedious but rewarding at the same time. She has been working on this project to this point, but she is leaving the lab soon, so I will take over for her and continue the project from that point onward.
What are your goals for after UMBC?
Short term, I want to obtain an MD or MD/PhD following my graduation from UMBC. Long term, I am very interested in pursuing a career in international medicine. Through various internships and volunteer work, I have found that I enjoy the type of personal interactions and experiences that are found in international settings. Specifically, I am drawn to “Doctors without Borders” because I saw their efforts first-hand while in Pakistan a couple of years ago during the mass-flooding. These responders were among the first to offer any kind of aid to areas that were decimated by natural disaster. I truly believe that I would enjoy working in that type of organization whether as a physician or as a researcher helping to develop the types of treatments that would be valuable in disease-prevention in those harsh conditions.
Would you suggest to other undergraduates that they find a research project?
YES! To be very honest, I did not recognize the value of undergraduate research before attending UMBC. My view of research was that it was something only pursued by people interested in PhDs or working in labs for a living. However, it is truly an enlightening experience for anyone who is interested in learning about the process of designing experiments, gaining experience in a certain field, or just learning about an area of interest. Also, do not be discouraged to apply if the positions do not appear to be glamorous! Almost all undergraduate researchers have to work their way up, so you will likely start of in a small capacity, but as you grow more comfortable in a lab and become accustomed to the background of the topics being studied, the lab will very likely increase your involvement. The first step is to find a lab or professor that is conducting research that interests you and just talk to them about it!
What else are you involved in at UMBC?
I am the Program Coordinator of “Health Leads”, which is a volunteer group that helps address the socio-economic needs of patients in impoverished areas. We help patients at St. Agnes Hospital get connected to resources that can help them access employment, health insurance, adult education, emergency food, shelter, state Identification, and many more benefits. Our goal is to assess what assistance a patient needs, find resources for them, help them access that resource, and follow up with them to ensure they have successfully accessed that resource to fulfill their need.
I played cricket for the UMBC 22-Yards team last year, but due to time constraints this year I haven’t been able to play in any matches.
Read more about Zulqarnain's research by visiting the link below...