For Zainab Iqbal, graduating from Southeast Missouri State University with her degree in biology and beginning a career in scientific research is the fulfillment of a life-long pursuit and dream.
As a child, Iqbal accompanied her mother who was diagnosed with Diabetes to every doctor’s appointment, and she was fascinated by the people in white coats and medical equipment.
Starting Dec. 19, she will be one of those white-coat clad professionals as a research lab technician for the Division of Infectious Diseases with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“I knew from an early age that biology would definitely be the career I would pursue one day,” she said. “Having to see my mother have to take pill after pill and injection after injection at a very young age, I realized how much emotional pain an illness can cause not just for the person, but also their loved ones. This made me realize at a very young age that my career would be related to diseases. My goal is to help others like my mother and their families to become disease free and be able to put a smile on their faces.”
Iqbal, of Columbo, Sri Lanka, will graduate from Southeast Dec. 15 with a Bachelor of Science in biomedical sciences and microbiology, cellular and molecular biology, and biotechnology options.
She says studying, working and researching in the field of biology is a thrilling experience because she never knows what she’s going to learn and what she’s going to find.
“It’s like searching for the TV remote on the couch, but you find a chocolate bar,” she said. “You get to try new things every day and learn from your mistakes, which is important because there is no set way to approach a problem in science. You have to learn to work with the situation.”
The opportunity to explore the unknown and try new things in a quality program in and out of the classroom is why she chose to pursue her degree at Southeast, Iqbal said.
While at Southeast, she sought opportunities to conduct research in the lab with Southeast faculty. During her junior year, she was an undergraduate researcher with Dr. Dustin Siegel, associate professor of biology, studying salamander reproductive tissues to document and outline their reproductive cycle.
During her final year at Southeast, she was an undergraduate researcher with Dr. Shamik Bhattacharya, assistant professor of engineering physics. She contributed to an article on his research and co-presented it at the Biomedical Engineering Society’s 2018 Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
“The research was on functional tricuspid regurgitation. We divided and stretched heart tissues to find how much force was required to completely tear the tissue,” she said. “My role was to obtain the data and then analyze it to produce graphs that displayed the results of the research.”
Both projects were unique hands-on experiences in a lab and helped her gain a thorough understanding of how the world of research works, Iqbal said.
“It helped me gain an understanding of how things work in a lab, what to do, what not to do, how to troubleshoot problems, and how to work around mistakes,” she said. “There is a lot of hard work and consistency that is required to do research that you may not think you need. Being an undergraduate researcher taught me that principle well.”
Being an undergraduate researcher was also a great opportunity to apply what she learned in the classroom, she added.
“There is a lot of different material you learn in class, and the best way to use knowledge is to apply it to real life,” Iqbal said. “This experience has helped me understand more about the subject matters I have studied and helped me use the concepts practically.”
Her experiences in and out of the classroom have prepared her for her new position at Washington University, where her work will involve collecting samples, running diagnostic tests and analyzing the results as she works with various types of bacteria and viruses.
She’s looking forward to the challenging experimental work ahead that this new career promised to offer.
“I am super excited to see what my career can teach me,” she said. “I look forward to the experience and the vast amount of knowledge I can gain from working there. They also have some pretty cool equipment and gadgets that I can’t wait to get my hands on.”
She hopes, one day, to pursue a graduate degree and conduct her own research, Hassan Iqbal said. But no matter where life takes her, she will always appreciate the time she spent at Southeast.
“Southeast as a whole has done a great job of preparing me for life after graduation,” she said. “My experiences, after meeting people from diverse backgrounds, has really given me insight on other cultures. These are experiences I will carry with me for life.”