Career Profile:PhD Neurobiology
1. Name: Nathasia Mudiwa Muwanigwa (she/her)
2. Job Title :Neurobiology PhD Researcher at Luxembourg Center for Systems Biomedicine in Luxembourg
3. A levels/ equivalent : Cambridge GCE A Levels in Maths, Chemistry, Biology and General Paper (AS Level). Zimbabwe at South Eastern College
4. Higher Education :
Undergrad :BSc in Human Biology (summa cum laude) from University of Nicosia, Nicosia, Cyprus
Masters-:Research Masters in Molecular Mechanisms of Disease from Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands
5. Journey in 3 words
Unexpected. Exciting. Random.
6. Briefly describe your PhD
My research project makes use of advanced 3D human stem cell models to study
Parkinson’s, the second most common neurodegenerative disease worldwide. More
specifically, I grow “mini brains” called organoids from stem cells derived from
Parkinson’s patients. These organoids mimic the structure and physiology of the human brain, and have the genetic background of the cell donor, thus providing a unique platform for studying brain diseases in a way that was previously not possible. I focus on the fascinating aspects of neuroplasticity and aging in relation to Parkinson’s, with the ultimate goal of finding new therapeutic targets for the disease. Beyond my research, I also have to take a few courses of my choosing over the duration of the 4 year program. I will also have teaching duties for some Master courses at the University of Luxembourg.
7. What motivated you to pursue a career in science
I was always a science nerd for as long as I can remember. I had this desire to understand the world around me and I had a particular affinity for human biology. However, growing up in Zimbabwe, I limited my aspirations towards being a medical doctor for most of my life, as I didn’t even imagine scientific research being a viable career option. Getting to do my Bachelor’s abroad exposed me to research, particularly getting to perform my own research project on leukemia in my final year. I loved being in the lab, tackling a research question, understanding the science behind the techniques. I was passionate about it. That’s when I realized that was what I wanted to do.
8. What are some of the challenges you face during your PhD?
The biggest challenge for me has probably been having good time management. I have multiple projects running in parallel and it is so easy to spread yourself so thin that at some point you feel stagnant. I am still trying to figure out an effective way to be efficient and feel like I am making progress, but it is definitely getting better with time. The other challenge I faced, especially at the beginning was a lack of confidence. It partially came from often being the only African/black person in the room, and sometimes this just made me hyperconscious. It also came from a place of not being sure if I really had the “know how” to do a PhD. However, I realized that PhDs are a learning curve for everyone, and you shouldn’t expect to know everything off the bat. Don’t expect to know everything in the end either :D
9. What were perceptions of a scientist before your PhD and have they changed?
Having done two Master’s internships in research labs prior to my PhD certainly helped me have quite some insight into the ins and outs of being a scientist. What has changed though, mostly through actively using social media to connect with other scientists is - there are so many other amazing scientists who are POC and Africans/of African descent. Being the only African/black person in my Undergrad and Master’s cohorts often made me feel like I didn’t have a community of people who have a similar background to me or similar experiences. Using social media during my PhD as a tool for connecting with fellow Africans in STEM and other minorities in the field has opened up a whole new world for me.
10. What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?
Be your own biggest advocate!
I hope this post inspires you to follow your passions and acknowledge that at every stage of your career will involve perseverance, consistency and discipline to help you achieve your desired goal. Never forget that “ no accomplishment is too small and no goal is too high”
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