Sara Saheb Kashaf

Hometown: Oak Brook, IL
Undergraduate Institution: Carnegie Mellon University
Major: Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering

Why a Physician Scientist?

My desire to be a physician-scientist has been molded and reinforced through my studies and experiences. My courses in engineering first sparked my interest in breaking down complex problems and answering them using quantitative approaches. Using my engineering background, I helped develop inexpensive tools for low-resource settings, such as a portable fetal heart monitor and tocodynamometer compatible with a tablet or smartphone, which won the IBM Smarter Planet Award and the Johnson & Johnson Undergraduate Award. My undergraduate experiences showed me the challenges of creating and commercializing innovative solutions without the depth and breadth of personal skills that are ultimately necessary. Thus, I pursued extensive business and engineering courses through my graduate studies in Advanced Chemical Engineering at the University of Cambridge and additionally worked as a consultant for GlaxoSmithKline. Through my shadowing experiences and my studies in global health at the University of Oxford, I additionally came to appreciate the human dimensions of health and the importance of incorporating the voice of the patients and communities in medical discovery. My studies and experiences ultimately showed me that to translate solutions, I must work at the intersection of industry, the lab, and the clinic, a venue most fit for a physician scientist.

When did you become interested in research?

I became interested in research after shadowing. Hearing a patient express constant worry about a flare, I became frustrated that due to our limited understanding of the disease, we could only address the symptoms. I was curious about the role of imbalances in the microbiota and wondered: can we, using computational models, understand the complex interaction of trillions of bacteria and find their role in disorders such as Crohn's disease. This shadowing experience led me to pursue research in systems biology. Reducing biological systems to their constituent parts has been vital in understanding biological phenomena in molecular detail. However, this reductionist approach has stalled our understanding of biological systems as these systems have emergent properties; it is only by considering the interconnected network of reactions that we can understand the relationship between cell biology and biochemistry. This passion for understanding these emergent properties led me to pursue various systems biology research projects throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies.