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Research Freedoms Prepares Undergraduate to Tackle Unfamiliar Science

Ahmed Malik | Undergraduate, Chemistry and Chemical Biology | Biochemistry Researcher

Ahmed MalikWhen Ahmed Malik first began his internship with the New York University Summer Undergraduate Research Program, he was a little unsure what to expect. The top students from across the world had competed for the few spots available each summer at NYU, one of the premier research institutions in the country. 

What he found, however, was an opportunity to excel and build on skills he learned in labs as a biochemistry student and researcher in the School of Science at IUPUI. Critical thinking and analysis, organization and determination and the drive to discover new knowledge all helped him emerge from the experience even stronger than when he began.

“I really came to appreciate the value of good mentorship,” said Malik, a graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School. “My mentors at IUPUI gave me a level of responsibility in the lab that provided an advantage when I was working in new areas at NYU.”

Beginning as a freshman, Malik worked in the lab of Randall Roper, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, where he studied bone development in mouse models as it relates to Down syndrome. As an upperclassman, he had the opportunity to study enzymes in the lab of Michael McLeish, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry. Both researchers supported his curiosity in the lab and helped him to determine his future career path in an M.D./Ph.D. program.

He credits the “free reign and independence” given to him as an undergraduate researcher at IUPUI with helping him to succeed at the next level at NYU. Positive mentors such as Roper, McLeish and Lin Zhu, senior lecturer and academic advisor, helped him learn the skills and develop the confidence to take on new challenges.

“It has been fascinating to watch Ahmed’s development as a research scientist,” McLeish said. “When he came to my lab, he was focused on a career as a physician. It did not take him long to find that had an ability and passion for research. His experience at NYU showed him he can have the best of both worlds by pursuing an M.D./Ph.D. program.”

At NYU, he was tasked with leading his own project working with unfamiliar material: protein synthesis related to the development of Huntington’s disease. He also shadowed an infectious disease specialist while at NYU—another unfamiliar research experience.

“Because I hadn’t worked in those areas before, I was a little hesitant,” Malik recalled. “But, because of my past research experiences, I felt better prepared take full accountability in the lab and come up with my own ways to solve problems and reach conclusions.” 

“At IUPUI, the focus really is about investing in an undergraduate education,” he said.  “The people in the School of Science take stock in the students and give them every opportunity to succeed.”

“I came to IUPUI not really wanting to do research, but these experiences have been transformative for me,” he added. “I’ve realized all of the creativity, ingenuity and ambiguity in science.

He said many people look at science as something set in stone, but “the truth is it’s very dynamic and changing all the time.”

Malik is very involved as a student. He is a member of the IUPUI Honors College and has been an instructor for chemistry in the Peer-Led Team Learning Program and served as a member of the Science Student Council. He also has visited Kenya as part of AMPATH, a global health care organization devoted to treating and preventing HIV/AIDS.