“You’re your own worst critic, so don’t let self-doubt stop you. If you had told me even a few months ago that I would be doing research with one of the top infectious disease experts in the country, I wouldn’t have believed you,” says Omar El Merhebi, a BHC recent graduate who is set to conduct post-baccalaureate research under Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Susan Moir.
Omar is a UCF recent graduate who majored in Biology. His passion for Biology and research started at a young age. When he was 14, his mother took him into her research lab at the University of Pittsburgh, where she taught him things like how to use a micropipette and streak agar plates. Fast forward to when he first started at UCF, he knew his heart was in research and immediately looked for opportunities here on campus. That was when he met Dr. Chumbimuni-Torres. Working in her lab with the previous postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Marcos Vinicius Fogel, taught him more than mere technical skills in research and scientific writing. He learned how to think critically; he learned how to elaborate his ideas into potential projects; he learned about the power and necessity of patience and resilience in scientific research.
In addition to working in Dr. Chumbimuni-Torres’s lab, Omar is working on his Honors Undergraduate Thesis. He is designing a low-resource assay for HIV viral load quantitation, which allows scientists and doctors to test how much HIV is present in a patient’s blood, that can be implemented in low- and middle-income countries. This research project coincides with his vocation in becoming an infectious disease and immunology expert. Omar plans to obtain an MD and a Ph.D. and become a medical scientist, specializing in immunology and infectious diseases, to treat patients while simultaneously studying the patient’s immune response to the pathogen.
When asked about two pieces of advice for current BHC students, he says: “Take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. Whether it’s scholarships, grants, study abroad programs, honors programs, conferences, etc., go for it. After speaking with many of my friends who stayed in my hometown for college, I’ve realized that UCF has so many opportunities for its students.” He also added, “don’t be afraid of researching a field that isn’t directly what you’re interested in; you’d be surprised how you begin to discover your scientific interests, even when researching an unrelated field. I initially thought I’d want to go into drug and pharmaceutical research when I entered UCF. After two years of research in bioelectrochemistry, I realized my passion for immunology and virology (a field almost completely unrelated to pharmaceuticals and bioelectrochemistry). So don’t be afraid to take the time, especially in undergrad and post-bac research, to experiment (no pun intended) with different research fields.”
PLEASE NOTE: The views expressed in these materials reflect the opinions of only the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH, NIAID, Dr. Susan Moir, Dr. Anthony Fauci, or its components.