Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Earning my undergraduate degree from Baylor and transitioning into graduate studies was a challenging experience. The friends and connections I made during my time at undergrad had left Waco and were flinging their green and gold afar, so to speak. For me, the first year of grad school was about finding and re-cultivating meaningful friendships, which I thankfully found through the people in my lab, my work, and through my peers in the Biology department.

As a biology student I did not have a positive experience working in a lab during my undergraduate years, which led to issues in my mental well-being and scholarly pursuits. Coming into graduate studies in a completely different lab exposed me to a healthy work environment that enabled me to build a positive relationship with two amazing co-PIs who were invested in my growth and education. Having mentors that prioritized meaningful discussions and relationships has made me connect with my lab mates in a way that builds us up in our research projects and education, and really echoing the phrase “it takes a village”. Being mentored by people who are passionate about science allows us to open up and be vulnerable in ways that one would not think is possible, whether it is discussing dealing with imposter syndrome due to an upcoming proposal defense, to talking about a troubleshooting issue with an experiment, or just laughing over a funny incident that occurred over the weekend.

The culture created by my advisors within the lab also extends to the department as we are represented by a diverse group of research interests. From mosquito hibernation to cancer metastasis to wetland ecology there is guaranteed to be something for everyone. And so this diversity is reflected in my peers as they all come from different backgrounds, making any interaction with them an enjoyable experience. These people become your biggest cheerleaders for your success. They will send you anything that they will think is relevant to your project, they will bend over backwards to cheer you up when you are feeling discouraged, and they will make sure that you will never feel alone, whether it is in the lab or outside of the campus. The enthusiasm for science and the idea of building each other up connects everyone in the lab and the department pushes us to be the best version of ourselves as scientists and people.

The one thing that is emphasized to us in our department is to have a life outside of the lab. For me I am fortunate enough to work as a photographer for Baylor Media and Marketing for three years, prior to which I worked for the RoundUp for two years. Being able to work as a photographer with wonderful co-workers allows me to escape the stress that comes with working in a lab and gives me an opportunity to pursue an artistic endeavor.  I have been able to meet all kinds of people at Baylor including athletes, students with inspirational stories, staff and faculty, and even President Livingstone herself. My co-workers are kind and supportive and are always excited to listen to me talk about my lab work even though they do not fully understand it, bless their souls!

At Baylor, I am grateful to have these relationships with my advisors, lab mates, and co-workers as they have allowed me to grow as a person. I am glad to have developed a strong support system during an important time and am thankful for the depth and vibrancy that these people have provided to my life.

Aadil Sheikh is a fourth year PhD candidate in the Biology Department. He graduated from Baylor University with his Bachelors and MA in Biology. He currently is studying the impacts of the intestinal microbiome on immune signaling in colorectal cancer. Whenever he is not in lab, Aadil can be found taking photos, cooking, or reading a good novel.