Commencement 2019: Neuroscience career awaits URI student whose love of molecular biology pointed her toward medicine

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Baizat Ibrahim
Baizat Ibrahim. Photo by Nora Lewis

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 30, 2019 – Baizat Ibrahim has always been fascinated with DNA and molecular biology. She also knew it was a college major that would prime her for her ultimate goal – a career as a medical doctor.

As she prepares to graduate from the University of Rhode Island on May 19 with a degree in cell and molecular biology, the Woonsocket, R.I., resident sees that her goal is within reach.

“I absolutely love studying molecular biology,” said Ibrahim. “And lately I’ve also really enjoyed neurobiology and neuropsychology, learning about the pathways of the brain and how we make decisions so quickly.”

She first became interested in a career in medicine when a friend was undergoing cancer treatments at age 8, and Ibrahim wanted to help find a cure. That interest only grew as she got older until she couldn’t imagine doing anything else. So she took advantage of every opportunity at URI to gain experience that would help her get into medical school.

Ibrahim was awarded a Science and Engineering Fellowship to spend a summer working with Assistant Professor Rachel Schwartz, who was trying to determine if human DNA sequences could be used to accurately group people into racial groups. By the end of the summer, she had succeeded in grouping Africans, Europeans, South Asians, East Asians and those from the Americas into separate groups based entirely on their DNA.

Then she started trying something similar with oysters.

“If we can do that, then we can start to look at clustering diseases together based on their DNA,” Ibrahim explained. “There are so many derivatives of cancer, for example, that if you can group them together and figure out what sequence they have in common, maybe that will help us figure out how to cure it.”

In addition to her research, Ibrahim has served as an intern in the Ambulatory Services Center of Rhode Island Hospital for the last 14 months, where she provided assistance to patients in the recovery room following surgery.

“The best part was talking with the patients, because they all have an interesting story to tell,” she said. “But I also liked getting my foot in the door of the medical world. It was the best thing I could do to know for sure that I would be comfortable in that environment.”

Although she had a full schedule of coursework, research and internship, Ibrahim found time for a busy calendar of extracurricular activities as well.

She served as logistics co-chair for URI DIVE – Diversifying Individuals Via Education – a campus group focused on issues of diversity and inclusion. “DIVE is all about making sure that all of the students, here and elsewhere, are interculturally competent and have an understanding of the trials and tribulations of others,” she said. “We’re all about promoting active change.”

One of the group’s major activities was the sponsorship of a two-day diversity conference for which Ibrahim was primarily responsible. She planned the agenda, arranged food and accommodations, handled registration and all the other details required to make the event a success.

“We can talk about all the problems you want, but if you don’t talk about solutions you won’t get anywhere,” she said. “That’s what the conference was about. I stayed involved for three years because there was more that needed to be done, and we wanted to bring the program to other schools.”

Ibrahim also served as vice president of Seeds of Success, an organization that focuses on helping underrepresented students in the sciences succeed at URI academically, professionally and socially by developing a sense of community and offering programs for personal growth.

With graduation just weeks away, Ibrahim is planning to take a year off from school to work in a hospital while she prepares for her medical school entrance exams.

“And in 10 years, I want to have a career in neuroscience medicine,” she said. “The whole idea of it just gets me excited.”