STEMM Profile: Dr Sanam Mustafa | ARC Senior Research Fellow | Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics | The University of Adelaide | Adelaide


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Dr Sanam Mustafa, ARC Senior Research Associate [Image: University of Adelaide]

“I treat each day as a new opportunity. I try not carry the stresses of the previous day but see the new day as another chance to overcome the challenges and pressures”

A molecular pharmacologist trained in one of the world’s most renowned research laboratories, Dr Sanam Mustafa moved from the U.K in 2009 to join the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research at the University of Western Australia. Now a Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council, Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP), Faculty of Health and Medicine, University of Adelaide, her commitment to research has been extended to addressing gender and diversity issues in STEM. Named as one of thirty ‘Superstars of STEM’ by Science and Technology Australia, she has the unique opportunity to inspire and support women of all backgrounds to realise their potential. Dr Mustafa’s current research focusses on the immune system of the brain and its power to change human behaviour. Her research will help develop treatments for stress, pain and addiction.

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Dr Sanam Mustafa shares and celebrates her team members’ successes every day [Image: The University of Adelaide]
What do you think is the most important character trait in a successful scientist?

There are many important character traits however I think tenacity is one of the most important. In research, there are many challenges and often there are more “failures” than ‘successes”. Persistence and dedication in the face adversity is essential to get through challenging times when “experiments don’t work” or there are multiple deadlines to meet in a short space of time.

If you have transitioned careers, what was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

My research has led me from a degree in Genetics, PhD in Molecular Pharmacology of G protein-coupled receptors to the role of the innate immune system in chronic pain and addictions! This has meant that not only have I had to learn about a new area of research but I also have the challenge of establishing myself as key researcher in the field.

What was the key thing that helped you get to where you are today?

I have been very fortunate to be around people that have supported me…family, friends, colleagues, mentors… seek out such people and be a source of encouragement to those around you. The people you surround yourself with are key for your success.

How do we retain women in STEMM in academic research?

Supporting women in all stages of their career is vital. From my personal experience, I think it is critical to support women who return to work following a career break due to maternity leave or care of a family member. Highly trained and skilled women are ‘lost’ due to the system of short term contracts, lack of support while on leave or working reduced hours. A Fellowship or contracts which allows women to pause or correct their
contract period for part time work would be a great start.

What do you do to cope with the pressures and challenges of running a research team?

I treat each day as a new opportunity. I try not carry the stresses of the previous day but see the new day as another chance to overcome the challenges and pressures. I talk to my group every day to share and celebrate each and every one of their successes no matter how small…whether it’s with a smile, piece of cake or over a meal.

LinkedIn: Dr Sanam Mustafa

Twitter: @drsanamm

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