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A tale of two scientists

May 16, 2007 at 1:40 pm
By Marla Holt

Ali Khaki ’07 got an unexpected insight into his career path two years ago when he became a research assistant in Joe Chihade’s biochemistry lab. Khaki spent two summers assisting Chihade in researching the interaction between human mitochondrial tRNAAla and human mitochondrial alanyl-tRNA synthetase. The experience turned Khaki’s love of science into an appreciation of scientific discovery.

“The science done in the laboratory is very different from the science done in the classroom,” says Khaki (Sammamish, Wash.). “Working with Joe has been a good balance between having autonomy in my research and having guidance from someone I trust. I’m not just doing experiments he tells me to do. It’s more of a give and take between two scientists.”

Through his work with Chihade, Khaki has been able to hone his presentation skills, too, by presenting posters at two chemistry conferences. He was the only undergraduate at the second conference, where he held his own among doctorate- and postdoctoral-level chemists. “Ali is very good at listening to high-caliber information and synthesizing what’s really important and exciting,” Chihade says.

The work taught him something about himself, Khaki says: “When I didn’t see a practical application, it was difficult for me at times to stay motivated. I realized that if I could work on a solution for AIDS or for cancer, that might be a stronger motivating force for me.” Consequently, Khaki is pursuing research positions at biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

Working collaboratively with a professor isn’t just beneficial for students, says Chihade. “For me and for a lot of scientists, research is a social exercise,” he says. “You get ideas and new perspectives and ask better questions in interacting with your group of research students. I’m creating a community of people I can talk to about the science.