1) Tell me about yourself.
I was born and raised in Alexandria, Egypt. I received my B.Sc. in Biochemistry from the University of Alexandria. After graduation I taught for several years before making the decision to move to the United States 19 years ago. I received my M.Sc. from Texas A&M University-Kingsville, and moved to San Antonio, where I obtained my Ph.D. in Biochemistry from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and continued as a postdoctoral fellow. During my time in graduate school, I never stopped teaching. As a masters and Ph.D. student, and as a postdoctoral fellow, I always taught classes in addition to my research or studies, and I was fortunate in that my mentors knew and encouraged this because they understood that this was what I wanted to do with my life, and so they always gave me the opportunity.
2) When did you realize you were passionate about science?
I had been interested in science and math since I was a kid, but my interest peaked when I was in my junior year in college. At that time, three of my professors came back from the United States after earning their graduate degrees, and they started teaching us about many new molecular biology techniques and the state-of-the-art equipment that they used; it was in this period that I got hooked.
3) Why did you pick The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and your program?
I wanted to stay in Texas, and the four big cities have good universities with strong biochemistry research programs. I was not sure where I was going to end up until I arrived at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio on my interview day. I vividly remember Dr. Larry Barnes waiting for me in front of the old fountain. He was so welcoming and made me feel at home. In addition, the department had the best biochemistry core facilities in the state. I quickly discovered that I loved San Antonio; the people, the culture and the food.
4) What were some of the highlights during your time in graduate school? Did you win any awards or have there been any achievements you’ve been proud of?
The major highlight during my time at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio was the feeling of camaraderie in Dr. P. John Hart’s lab. The members of the Hart Lab taught me everything and I can’t say enough to thank them. We had a lot of fun doing experiments, working long hours and arguing about results. We also traveled to so many conferences. We had a lot of fun preparing posters and talks the last couple of nights before every trip.
During my time as a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow, I won multiple presentation awards but nothing compares to receiving the first Paul Horowitz Award from the Biochemistry Department. This award means a lot to me. Dr. Horowitz was known for his teaching and service to the department, and so it was very touching to be the first recipient of the award named for him following his passing.
5) Tell me more about your current job. What do you do?
I am currently an associate professor at the Biological Sciences Department at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. I teach General Biology I & II, Cell Biology, Cell and Molecular Methods and Biochemistry. I continue to do research and I serve on several committees, mostly related to undergraduate research. I also advise students.
6) If you are still doing research- what kind of research are you working on currently? Why is it important? Why do you enjoy working on this topic?
I am still doing research. I have a small lab at St. Mary’s University that usually has 6-10 undergraduate students. We focus on determining structures of virulence factors from pathogens such as Chlamydia trachomatis, Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Candida albicans. Determining the structures of these virulence factors might help in identifying small molecules to fight these pathogens.
I also continue to work on my favorite protein, superoxide dismutase (SOD). SOD is so important that it is hard to find a biochemist that does not know about it. I started working on SOD because mutations in this protein are linked to a familial form of Lou Gehrig’s disease. I worked on the structural and chemical aspects of this protein. Also, this protein is involved in the fungal defense mechanism against our immune response.
These are all important projects which get my undergraduate students excited about research and willing to explore this kind of career.
7) What was your career path? How did the education you get at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio prepare you?
I always wanted to be a professor. My mother is a psychology professor in Egypt, and watching her teach when I was growing up was inspiring, and I knew that this was what I wanted to do. Things didn’t work out as I wanted because in Egypt tenure track positions start from the moment you graduate college. Only the top student gets hired in that tenure track and I graduated as number seven. I had to take a detour and come to the United States. It all worked out at the end.
At The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, I worked with great professors that didn’t just care about teaching us, they cared about our development as scientists and helped us reach our career goals. I built strong relations with many of the faculty members. This was so important because now I can collaborate with them and I can bring my undergraduate students to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and teach them how to use equipment that we don’t have in our undergraduate institution.
8) What is the most challenging part of your work?
Finding time. If I am not teaching, I am doing research, writing a paper, writing a grant, attending a committee meeting, teaching a workshop, advising students or attending a conference.
9) What is the most rewarding part of your work?
There is nothing more rewarding than a student walking into my office to tell me that he/she got accepted in the program they wanted to join after college, whether it is medical, dental, graduate, PA, or nursing. The feeling that I might have contributed even 0.1% to their success is very rewarding.
10) What has been your proudest achievement?
I never consider anything I did an achievement, but there are some cool moments in research that I am proud of. It was so exciting when I determined the structure of SOD5 and realized that I just identified a new class of superoxide dismutases. I had the same feeling when we determined the structure of pgp3. Pgp3 is a protein that Chlamydia trachomatis secretes into the host cell in the first 24 hours after infection.
11) What would you tell a current student interested in your career? Any advice?
I always tell my students to choose a career that they are passionate about. If they love teaching and research, then they should go for it but don’t expect lots of money or glory. I also remind them that those that can do make the best teachers.
12) What do you like to do outside of work?
More work! But if I have some free time I love to travel, play chess, table tennis, and read Arabic novels.