Page Menu

Biochemistry and Molecular Biotechnology Blog

Dr. Arooma Maryam

Monday, October 30, 2023

Where did you grow up?

Dr. Arooma Maryam posing with cows
Dr. Arooma Maryam with cows.

My early years were in a village in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, where I grew up in a lively joint family setup. It felt like living in a sitcom, with an abundance of characters, much like a soap opera. Then the joy of family gatherings on Eid festivals, with arguments as heated as a hot pepper eating contest; a customary element of Punjabi families!

I have vivid memories of counting stars, back when village was my home. These days, I miss those moments. Some of my dearest memories revolve around the delicious homemade sweets my maternal grandmother used to make. Last week, I attempted to recreate her recipe, but soon fire alarm and my apartment mate Jagroop's shouts made it clear that my cooking turned into a smoky disaster.


What was your path to becoming a biomedical scientist?

In my early years in the village, obtaining a quality education presented some difficulties. The nearest school offering science education was far from our village and it was not easy to get into. I remember my test prep days, but I passed the admission exam. Thanks to my mother, she did maximum in her capacity. I owe her a lot. But science was the most difficult subject for me at that time. Then, along came a biology teacher who turned everything upside down. I still remember the time we were learning about local plants and animals in our region. We didn't just read about them; we got to touch and see them up close. Imagine touching frogs and cockroaches. Thanks God, it wasn’t lizard. Learning was a wild ride that day! Then the adventure continued, and I found out that the human body systems are a bit like a frog's. It was after dissecting quite a few frogs, which, I'll admit, was spooky! There were some cockroaches also. But, in our curriculum, we had to go through some wild encounters. It was just our way of learning the ropes.

I can assure you I'm not on the " Wildlife Explorer " career path! So, to find my solace, I decide to combine computers and science. It's still very hands-on, it’s like I traded in frog dissections for molecular puzzles, and I'm enjoying every bit of it!  And I went into research because I've got this quirk where I can't stomach a simple answer. Nope, in my world, the right answer should be detailed, complicated, and keep you guessing till the very end.


Why did you choose UMass?

When I was in the process of applying for postdoctoral positions, I was looking to acquire practical skills that would help in better understanding of the protein structures and their relevance in drug discovery. I had gained little exposure to experimental techniques, and I was eager to learn more. I discussed this with Celia Schiffer. In our initial meeting, I found the drug discovery projects and the lab's approaches to be quite appealing. I also took the time to look at the research group, diversity in UMass and of course, investigated the all-important matter of where to find some good Indian/Pakistan food and tea around here! 


What setbacks have you faced in your career that you’d be willing to share with us?

It was challenging to finance my master’s and PhD, meet family obligations, and address my parents' health issues simultaneously. A significant challenge was the lack of exposure, leading to a steeper learning curve when you face new situations without prior experience and guidance. It's an exhausting yet character-building journey.

It wasn't until I had already started PhD that I realized there were research fellowships I could apply for and explore opportunities abroad. I later secured few short-term fellowships and worked in some very good labs.

In past, facing limitations in access to advanced computational resources and infrastructure posed a challenge for my career. It made it more difficult to keep up with the latest developments in my research field.


What would you do if you never had to work again?

If I never had to work again, I would return to my village and live with my family in our family home. I'd love to have a farmhouse with cows, flocks of chicken, sheep, goats, and a wide variety of birds. Its peaceful and economically viable option also. And primary attraction again here is village skies that offer an incredible view of the stars at night,


What is your favorite kitchen utensil?

I'm all about that mesh strainer/sieve in my kitchen; leafy gatekeeper that make my milk tea into a pure bliss.