“If you want to achieve something great for yourself, you have to put in hard work” said Mustafa Mithaiwala, a student in the Neuroscience discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program.
Mithaiwala became interested in medical pharmacology while as a student at MET Institute of Pharmacy in Mumbai. Post graduation, he decided to move to the U.S. to pursue his education in pharmacology at University of Minnesota, Twin cities – Minneapolis campus.
While at the University of Minnesota, Mithaiwala’s professor gave him an important piece of advice that stuck with him.
“A graduate student must possess these three qualities in order to succeed in science —motivation, character, flexibility,” he said. “Since then I have tried my best to emulate these qualities into my decision making, they keep me focused and help me channel my energy.”
Mithaiwala is currently in the lab of Dr. Jason O’Connor where he is interested in cognitive impairments associated with depression and anxiety disorders.
“I see people around me getting majorly affected by it. I had a very good friend and close family members who were facing terrible psychiatric conditions, and living through that experience, it has given me a lot of perspective on the intensity of the problems,” he said. “We try to mirror those symptoms in rodent animals and try to understand the cellular and molecular basis for such symptoms.”
Specifically, he is investigating the neurobiological mechanisms underlying inflammation-induced cognitive impairment using both in vivo and in vitro systems.
“My research project is trying to understand how a neuroactive compound called quinolinic acid is affecting the structure and function of hippocampus” Mithaiwala said.
As a mental health advocate, Mithaiwala wishes to contribute findings from his research to communicate realities and facts about mental health issues and help change the stigma that is associated with it.
“There is a lot of ignorance regarding psychiatric conditions in the general population and there are many regions all around the world that still confuse psychiatric disorders as just ‘being crazy,” he said. “This has to change.”
Mithaiwala is the current president and one of the founders of the Graduate Student International Club at UT Health San Antonio.
As an international student himself, Mithaiwala understands the difficulties that international students face when they move to the U.S. Therefore, he and the other three graduate students founded the club with the intent to, “provide resource and support for the international students in the graduate school programs.”
Mithaiwala is also the vice president of the Student Government Association and a member of the Student Advisory Council.
“As part of the Student Government Association, I know what problems students are facing,” he said.
During his time in the Student Government Association, the group has worked on numerous student issues. With help and support from school officials, the group has managed to increase non-reserved student parking and student participation in Chili-Cook Off by implementing raffle prizes for attendance. This included free zone two parking pass, Lancer gift cards and professional headshots.
One of the major projects Mithaiwala worked on with SGA was to improve problematic Wi-Fi connection on campus. This initiative has resulted in the addition of over 100 new access points to reception and connectivity.
Mithaiwala explained his motivation to come to the lab every day is the independence and trust Dr. Jason O’Connor has given him.
“Dr. O’Connor is very engaged in training me as his graduate student. He is very receptive to ideas, very respectful and is always available for guidance when I need it the most.”
Aside from his busy life as a graduate student, Mithaiwala said he loves to bike, but hasn’t found time for it due to his busy life as a researcher.
“I’m looking forward for the new biking trails and the implementation of the on-campus bike rental system” he said.
After graduate school, Mithaiwala intends to pursue a postdoctoral degree in the area of neurotechnology and imaging.
This article was written by Yi-Ting Chung, communications intern at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health San Antonio. Chung is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Public Relations with a minor in Business Administration at The University of Texas at San Antonio.