Trainee at GlycoNet: Erum Razvi

Posted: December 7, 2021

Where do you work, what is your position, and who is your advisor?

I work at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, I am a Ph.D. Candidate and my advisor is Dr. P. Lynne Howell.

Tell me about the project you’re working on.

I study bacterial biofilms, which are communities of cells encased in a self-produced matrix. In the Howell Lab, we study specifically the exopolysaccharide component of the biofilm matrix made by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is a pathogen commonly found in hospitals and greatly harms immunocompromised individuals. One exopolysaccharide P. aeruginosa can make is called Pel. My projects focus on the determining the composition of the Pel exopolysaccharide, how the Pel polysaccharide is modified and how this influences the biofilm matrix, and identifying inhibitors of Pel production to prevent biofilm formation as a therapeutic.

Other than glycomics, what areas of research do you think are important in advancing healthcare?

I think mental health research is greatly important and not always seen as a part of healthcare. Poor mental health can be linked to various physiological symptoms and illnesses, so better awareness and understanding of the links will certainly advance both mental and physical health, as well as better ways to incorporate mental health in routine healthcare.

Tell us a “Eureka!” moment in the lab.

In my senior years of being a graduate student, I realized that reading, thinking, and planning about an experiment and thinking about what the purpose is should take a larger priority then doing the experiment itself. Once I switched to this mindset, I was a lot more efficient and made fewer errors.

What do you do when you are not in the lab?

I love to eat and cook food, do my nails, hang out with loved ones, watch Korean dramas on Netflix, listen to podcasts about life, go for walks, and hit the gym!

How do you fight procrastination and stress?

I personally do not refer to it as “procrastination” because I find that society has placed a negative connotation to it, as if one is being lazy. To be more kind to myself, I refer to it as avoidance. When I notice I am avoiding something that needs to be done, I ask myself, “What negative feelings am I trying to avoid?” Once I have that honest dialogue with myself, I assess if my negative feelings are, in the long run, preventing my success, growth, or happiness. I then take that task I am avoiding, and ease into it by breaking it down into very small manageable pieces.

To fight stress, I learned to recognize how it manifests for me physically, and mentally. Physically, my neck and shoulders really tense up. Mentally, I can have poor focus, sleep, and patience. I find that physical activity like going for a walk or to the gym and talking about what is stressing me out to someone I feel safe with really helps to release the stress.

If you had to choose a completely different career path, what would it be?

I would be a DJ and host giant dance parties with crazy lights and smoke machines because I love making people smile, laugh, and have a good time.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years I see myself leading a team, having my own company that advocates for accessibility for the Deaf in medical settings, and either starting or finishing medical school.

Can you tell me a random fact about yourself?

English is my first spoken language, but my second learned language. My first language is American Sign Language since my parents are Deaf. I started to sign at 6 months old by asking for milk.

Do you have any advice for aspiring researchers?

Research certainly has its challenges and is a field that requires an immense amount of mental capacity. I strongly recommend seeing a therapist early on to become self-aware and learn how to be the best version of yourself. Every human being struggles with something, and research being a demanding field that requires a diverse skill set (such as writing, reading, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills) can trigger various emotions and insecurities. Through therapy, recognizing and understanding your personal challenges and weaknesses will allow you to effectively work towards improving them and optimally enjoy research.

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