Amatullah Fatehi, Biochemistry

Amatullah Fatehi
Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine
Research Assistant

Short description of your research:
Our lab uses yeast, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae as a model organism to study the complex interactions and dynamics associated with the proteasome and its components. The research focuses on these interactions in a state of cell cycle arrest, known as quiescence, as proteasomes disengage into their individual components and are sequestered into motile, reversible, granules known as proteasomal storage granules (PSGs). This allows for rapid re-entry of mature proteasomes to the nucleus upon exit from quiescence. PSG like organelles have been observed by Bingol and Schuman in non dividing neuronal cells. My research aids in the understanding of proteasomal organization within the PSGs.

Why did you choose this Department?
I chose the department of biochemistry because initially I wanted to merge my interests in both chemistry and biology and felt that biochemistry would give me a good middle ground. However, as I started to take biochemistry classes I realized the field is an entity on its own and I was drawn to protein-protein interactions at the cellular level. The prospect of merging new technology with the principles behind basic scientific practices to understand key cellular processes was very intriguing. I also knew that the foundation laid by biochemistry, encompassing physics, math, biology and chemistry, fueled with creativity would drive innovation such that it could solve world problems and help discern the unknowns.

How was your experience looking for a research opportunity
I started looking for research opportunities in high school and at that time it was difficult because you have to really know how to present yourself there are only so many opportunities. As I got into university, I worked hard to maintain a good GPA and being a specialist gave me access to supervisors and mentors eager to help us find placements. Looking for research opportunities requires tremendous effort both physical and mental. You have to be proactive. You have to do research prior to application which requires sending emails and doing follow ups. It requires going to professors and meeting them in person to hand in applications, asking the right questions to show that you are interested. If you don’t have experience the main thing is to show that you are dedicated that you are going to give a 110% into the project no matter what. It also means, sometimes you don’t get a reply, sometimes you get a rejection, professors can only take on so many students at a time. That should not stop you from looking, if you try hard enough the opportunity will present itself.

When did you start your research experience
This is my first hands on lab experience. However, I think my relationship with research was laid out for me ever since I was little. My mother is a clinical researcher who had done her masters in the states. I would remember sitting with her for hours as she discussed her thesis and thinking to myself I want to learn to do that one day. While girls my age read gossip magazines I would attempt to read the Science Journals that my mom brought home for me. Seeing her work in the lab, speaking to her colleagues about their work, in that moment, it all clicked for me. It was never a rose colored scenario either as my mother would warn about the effort to constantly publish, get grants, and working years to never be published. Even with that, I knew this was the field I wanted to pursue and that is where I believe my experience started because it was this passion that has led me to where I am today, sitting in a lab doing cutting edge research. I started from the basics here in the lab, making agarose gels to eventually NMR- HSQC analysis, protein crystallization and purification, and even modeling molecular simulations.

Why did you choose this supervisor
I chose Dr. Cordula Enenkel after going through the list of supervisors in the biochemistry department. I had been told to be picky about who I select even though I was an undergrad with little to no experience. It is pertinent that your first experience is a good one because that is going to shape how you view the whole field. Whether you decide to continue onward may stem from your interactions in your first lab. I read previous articles from the lab, I read the current projects that they were working. I went back and read up on topics connected to the main project such as proteasomal dynamics, the UPS system in mammalian cells, etc. When I went into the interview, I asked what was the intended future for the research that they were doing and how I would fit in and the answer I received sparked my interests further, she was able to sell me on the project instantaneously. This led me to doing a short shadowing program in the lab, were I was allowed to go in and ask questions to the students and post docs in the lab, really grasping the dynamics of the lab. With all of that, I knew the Enenkel lab was somewhere I would learn a lot and I would be able to grow as a student and person.

What’s your experience with research
Perseverance, often times in research you will find yourself at a dead end, an experiment will have failed or you will get results that you were not expecting and that is ok. It doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong necessarily, especially when working with live biological systems, it just means you have to step back for a moment and access the situation. You have to play the part of a detective and follow either a top down or a bottom up approach. Also, don’t be afraid to approach the query from different angles, don’t let yourself get stuck.  But in the same breath I also quote my supervisor who says “It’s not good to dance at too many weddings”. Meaning, know your strengths and weaknesses, do a regular self evaluation. If that means I can only one or two experiments in parallel, then I should put in all my efforts into those experiments. If I lack the background knowledge for an experiment, I should read previous articles, protocols and other necessary information that is going to help me grow in the field. This experience with research has thought me skills that I know I am not going to receive reading a textbook or being in a classroom. It has allowed me hone my problem solving skills, my ability to think outside of the box; it has strengthened my drive to always do better and to never give up.  

How’s the social experience with research
With regards to the social experience, I think as aspiring researchers we often feel that research is separate from social interactions especially when one is cooped up in a lab for hours on end but what I have found is that the field itself is inclusive of all social norms and behaviors. As researchers we have to not only interact with colleagues but also collaborate with them, combine ideas and thoughts in order to move the research forward. We have to sell our research to the funding agencies, those outside the discipline as well as inside the discipline because at the end of the day an idea is only as good as the execution and a crucial part of that is the platform you can bring the idea to. As for the interactions within the lab, I couldn’t have asked for a better, more supportive team. They were always eager to help and answer any questions, even answering the same question again and again. My mentor, Ravi Yedidi, was there with me every step of the way, pushing me to always think one step ahead.

Future Career Plans
Specific career plans are under construction but this experience has definitely confirmed my desire to go into the field of biomedical research. Hopefully, pursuing graduate studies. I do not know whether I want to go into the clinical, industrial or hospital side of research but I think with more experience it will be easier to decide. I know many people go into research thinking they are going to cure cancer or some incurable disease and I am not going to lie, that is a standard I have set for myself but I also know that may or may not be possible. So, as of right now my career plan is to produce work that I am proud of, something that will help move the field forward.

I think I have laid out many suggestions but my one advice for other kids at my stage would be to not be afraid to make mistakes, to ask many questions and to enjoy learning. Learn for the sake of learning in such a discipline. We are only human and we all have a learning curve, the important thing to take away from any sort of failure is to know that what we see in front of us is not the end all be all. Most important of all make sure you enjoy what you are doing whether that refers to the specific project you are working on, the lab you are working in, the people you are working with or the field itself. It is that love for the work you are doing that will keep you going through the mundane work all the way to the amazing discoveries.