cataLIST Spotlight: Feriel Presswalla

Feriel Presswalla is a Research Lab Specialist in the Hayek lab in the Department of Internal Medicine–Cardiology, where she works on the mechanisms of atherogenesis and antibody generation in transgenic mouse models for use in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease in humans.

Do you have a unique background in some way? How has this affected your path?

I grew up in India and came to UM at 18 as an undergraduate. I finished my degree in 3 years and that cut my visa short, so I took a job in research as a way to stay in the country and in the field. What was meant to be 1 gap year turned into 7. I am applying to medical school for the second time, and MPH programs for the first. Being an international student makes everything difficult. Everything. I have now been at UM for 10 years and I still struggle to keep a foothold in academic science.

Describe your path in academia so far. How did you find your field? Did you always know you wanted to go into science? What do you want to do next?

My mother is an OBGYN in India and answered every question I had about the world in as scientific a way as possible throughout my childhood. I was interested in medicine and research, but knew that opportunities for me to do both were limited in India. At UM, Neuroscience seemed like the most interesting undergrad major, and the most challenging. Currently, I work as a research lab specialist studying cardiovascular disease. My research has contributed to elucidating the role of suPAR (soluble urokinase Plasminogen Activator Receptor) as a causative factor in atherogenesis.  In addition, I participate in a study validating rapid antigen COVID testing for at-home & point of care use. I recruit, obtain consent from, and swab human participants, taking nasal, nasopharyngeal & oropharyngeal samples from suspected COVID positive cases of all ages. I also maintain banks of de-identified data and patient samples. In the long-term, I eventually want to end up being a physician-scientist.

How do you keep up a good work-life balance (or try to)?

Outside of my 9-5, I don’t give my job more of my attention than is interesting to me. I want to make my time at work efficient, and my time at home relaxing. I have several hobbies that I enjoy and relationships that I value, and all those things deserve my time more than a job that, at the end of the day, considers me replaceable. Some of the hobbies I’ve been doing recently are embroidery, cross-stitching, cooking, listening to audiobooks (which I can do whilst doing the first 3), and pub trivia!

How do you deal with a rough day/week in lab, or a setback in an experiment?

I vent to a friend, get it all out of my system, and then distract myself by doing something totally different for a few hours.

What advice do you wish someone had given you earlier?

Don’t be scared to do things that you’re bad at! If you enjoy doing something, learn to enjoy doing it badly. Don’t let striving for perfection deprive you of the joy of just doing a thing.

How do you deal with imposter syndrome?

I review my resume. I look back at everything I have achieved and been through, and remind myself how I got to where I am, and that I made it here on my own merit and therefore deserve to take up space.

Who are your mentors or inspiration? Do you have any strong female role models/mentors in your life?

I am inspired by Dr. Paul Farmer’s ethics, Eartha Kitt’s joie de vivre, and Dr. Kate Campbell, my mentor at the UM Cardiovascular Center Undergraduate Fellowship 8 years ago—she is a damned good scientist, a consummate badass, and a ride-or-die friend.

What volunteer/outreach efforts are you passionate about? Are you helping to support/promote women, underrepresented minorities, or other groups in STEM fields?

I am Secretary of the Board of Governors of Henderson House, a low cost co-operative housing option for women on campus (check us out!). I am also Chair of the Scholarship Committee and handle the disbursal of awards from our endowment funds. Henderson House is the first place in the US that felt like home to me, and I want to help continue providing the same supportive, inclusive environment for our current and future residents.

Edited by FG and CED

Are you interested in being featured in one of our Spotlight posts? Fill out this form!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s