Meet Nafisa M. Jadavji, passionate about scientific research and mentoring!

I always liked science in high school but wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in when I was applying to university. Things changed when I took Biology, I fell in love with the brain when I learned about the neuromuscular junction. I started my undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge where I fell in love with research. I got to work with leaders in the field, Drs. Ian Whishaw and Bryan Kolb – I really enjoyed my time there. I wasn’t a good writer, I remember when I was working on writing a review manuscript with Dr. Whishaw, he ended up cutting my paper and rearranging the sentences to make it flow. Some of that text is hung up in my office (picture). I did eventually publish the paper and have improved my writing skills significantly.

During my PhD at McGill University (Montreal, Canada), I got interested in nutrition, specially how it impacted brain function. I learned a lot of new techniques and more about molecular cell biology and biochemistry. I was awarded the CIHR Banting and Best PhD Studentship which paid my salary as a PhD student and gave me funds for travelling to scientific meetings or training workshops. I really enjoyed my time during my PhD, it was tough, but I think trained me to become an independent scientist. In December 2012 I completed my PhD, it was surreal. Then in January 2013, I moved to Berlin in Germany to start my postdoctoral training, which was funded by another grant I had written. In 2015 I returned to Canada to complete my postdoc which was also funded by grants I had written. In 2019, I started an independent position as an Assistant Professor  and the Jadavji Laboratory opened at Midwestern University in Glendale, AZ USA.

Becoming a scientist has been a journey for me, it has been filled with celebrations and rejections. The rejections have been hard, but as I gained more experience, they got easier to overcome and I took the feedback I received from rejections to improve my work. I am a first-generation student; my parents do not have postsecondary education. My mom completed grade 7 and my dad did some technical college, both in Africa before they immigrated to Canada. Through my experiences I have learned how important it is to form a community and documented the other lessons I have learned in my blog titled ‘Chronicles of a Neuroscientist navigating life as an academic.’ Science is tough, but I enjoy it a lot, the ups and downs.

In 2021, three years into my tenure track position I gave birth to my son. It has been very challenging, and I have written about it in my blog and on Mothers in Science. But the challenge has been worth it. I think I am a better scientist because I became a mother. I think, the cultural and social challenges mothers face is insurmountable, combined with being a working mother it can seem impossible. In 2023 I won an honorary membership Science Educator award from the Graduate Women in Science organization in the US, so I must be doing something right. I have always had some degree of imposter syndrome, when I started as a Professor and then again had a baby were two key moments when I had high levels of imposter syndrome. It took me a while to work through it, like several months to years. I think what got me through was that I just kept going and did not stop. Every day, I worked hard and tried to build that experience that would help me combat it. As a scientist I am focused on the data and the numbers. These numbers include papers published, grants funded, and students mentored.

My advice to future scientists is the following if you like science pursue it. Make sure that you find your community, because it can be lonely, and rejection is very prominent. People can be mean and the hierarchy structure in academia can be damaging to young trainees: so when you are looking for a supervisor be sure to ask lots of questions and speak to other students in the lab. I do not think there is a balance between being a scientist and family, I think sometimes one requires more attention and the other takes a back seat, vice versa. Outside of the lab, I love to exercise, especially run. I am also trying to work on getting better at weightlifting. I also love to bake and am trying to teach my little one how to bake.

Science is tough, but also worth it. One piece of advice I would give my younger self is that it is okay to take things slow. Think about the different angles and make a strategy, this takes time. It is also important to consider feedback from mentors.