Next Generation is a Brigham Clinical & Research News column penned by students, residents, fellows and postdocs. If you are a Brigham trainee interested in contributing a column, email us. This month’s column is written by Bidisha “Eshaani” Mitra, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Gewurz laboratory.
“Eshaani: Determination, Honesty, Sincerity, Hard Work and Perseverance is all that you need to keep marching forward. This is your success mantra!” shared Baba (my father) with me as I, a naïve 22-year-old, embarked on a 13,000-mile journey across the world with dreams of becoming a biomedical scientist. This journey would lead me to the renowned Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in the fall of 2020. I was born to wonderful parents who value education and family over anything else. While working their hardest to provide the best for me, Baba would always remind me of the success mantra. Often, they were mere words of wisdom; however, over the years of my professional and personal maturity, I’ve realized how significant the five core values have been and how they have shaped the individual I am today.
Persevering in the Face of a Pandemic
My journey began with an introduction to the fascinating world of viruses during graduate school at Indiana University School of Medicine where I completed my doctoral thesis work on the Hepatitis B virus. After my doctoral graduation, I was looking forward to doing campus/lab visits as I transitioned to the next phase of my career. I had literally dreamt of putting on my best formal attire and visiting prominent virologists across the country, interacting with them and their team in-person, engaging in stimulating scientific conversations about our research interests, visiting a new city and making connections.
Alas! The universe had other plans in place. I was one of the “career-transitioning-during-the-COVID-pandemic” postdoctoral fellows. Reigniting the flaming mantra of perseverance and sincerity in the face of such unfamiliar headwinds, I began my search for an advisor to continue my research in virology. I was keen to switch to a different virus model with a focus on oncology and immunology — areas I was eager to expand my knowledge and skills in.
Reflecting on My Virtues in a Virtual World
In February 2020, an online search landed me at the homepage of the Gewurz laboratory led by Benjamin (Ben) Gewurz, MD, PhD. Making my way through the “Research” tab, I came across topics such as “NF-kB and LMP1” and “B cell transformation” that immediately piqued my interest and I dropped an email to Ben’s inbox. And thus, I was introduced to the world of Epstein Barr virus (EBV) research and BWH.
Fast forward to April 2020, and a few emails later, I met Ben through Zoom. Our science-enriched conversation covered the commonality in our respective thesis works, the potential post-doctoral position at the Gewurz lab, and CRISPR-Cas9 screens—one of the cutting-edge technologies the lab uses in studies of EBV. Ben offered helpful suggestions for a certain aspect of my research work that I was struggling with at that point. He introduced me to the exciting world of BWH, its research facilities and opportunities, and the enviable network of prominent scientists the institution has to offer. Our conversation began at 2 p.m. and went well past 6 p.m. By the end of it, I had decided this was the mentor I would like to learn from and that BWH was the institution where I would like to work.
I kept my fingers crossed, hoping Ben would extend an offer. Baba’s success mantra flashed through my neurons. I thought about the sincerity and passion I shared with Ben for our scientific work, the understanding of the need for hard work and perseverance when working on a hypothesis and ultimately the honesty, kindness and goodness of heart Ben expressed through a mere virtual call.
Searching for Connection and Finding my Niche
In May 2020, travel was restricted, which meant I had to virtually present my work to the lab, meet one-on-one with the members through my 11” laptop screen and base my decision on that. Upon catching the sight of Ben’s email in my inbox about an offer extension, my joy had no bounds. However, I was also apprehensive about the next stage of the process and the unique challenges that come with restricted travel accompanied by the inability to see the lab space, the people, the institution and the city in-person. And hence, I did the next-best thing. I virtually explored BWH’s space and people, creating a mental picture of how things might be. I experienced a myriad of intermixed feelings ranging from nervous excitement to trepidation and anticipation. Moving through the process, I realized BWH is home to one of the largest families of postdoctoral fellows. The sheer vastness of research areas at the Brigham and the opportunity to further work with clinical samples and translation work confirmed my decision that this was the right research home for me.
Last year, after having found my research niche in a remarkable group, I extended my search for connection and community outside the borders of the lab, which led me to the Postdoctoral Association (PDA). I started out as the co-chair of the communications meeting and currently serve as the co-vice president of the PDA. The PDA was the final puzzle piece that fit into place — joining this association assuaged the subliminal feelings of homesickness and loneliness I and many other internationals so often experience as a byproduct of being far from our families. Working with some of my incredible fellow scientists and leaders and meeting new postdocs has been a highlight for me and given me a sense of community.
It has been almost two years since BWH welcomed me. I am fortunate to work on some of my dream projects in the Gewurz Lab with an inspiring, motivating and brilliant boss and colleagues, utilizing some of the fascinating, cutting-edge technology that BWH offers, brainstorming and collaborating with other curious scientists on the floor and diving into the wide ocean of knowledge. Besides honing my professional development in Ben’s lab, my invaluable experiences at BWH have reinforced the importance of Baba’s words. By remaining determined, honest, sincere, hardworking and perseverant, I have found a place where I can flourish and embark on new adventures.