Graduating with possibilities: Zaynab Said finishes time at Concordia College with high-level research experience

The fall 2023 semester ended in a bit of a whirlwind for Zaynab Said ’23 of Fargo. The last day of finals was also moving day for her. Having finished up her degree in biology, Said was packed up and heading to the Twin Cities.

All that was on top of having just returned from Boston, where she presented at the American Society of Cell Biology national conference, an opportunity she called an honor, a surprise, and a validation.

“Being a woman of color in this field, oftentimes, leaves you feeling inadequate or like an imposter,” Said explained. “So, I was in disbelief until I actually made it to the conference. It was a very welcoming place, and it was refreshing and validating to be able to see other scientists that looked like me, doing more than me; it was very motivating and aspirational.”

 Said presented on work published in the journal Experimental Brain Research. Over the course of three summers, she and eight other Cobbers researched projects with Dr. Jason Askvig, associate professor of biology and neuroscience. They examined how injuries in the brain impact a protein critical for cell-to-cell interactions and, they believe, vital in the recovery process. Performing techniques such as western blotting and dual fluorescence, Said measured and characterized changes that happen in rats’ brains as they age.

“Concordia gives students so many opportunities to experience every part of the research process: researching, experimenting, writing, and presenting,” she said. “There are many experiences that I have had at this institution that I know I would not have gotten elsewhere.”

Said will likely receive authorship on three papers for her work at the college. 

“I am excited to see where Dr. Askvig’s research goes,” she said. “It feels so special to be a part of the small group of students to have worked in his lab.”

While on the Boston trip, Said and Askvig toured a scientific lab at the Wyss Institute at Harvard where Sara Whiteman ’18, one of Askvig’s previous students, now works. 

“I think it helped Zaynab see what research is like at a bigger scale and that she has Concordia alumni already on this path who can serve as resources for her along the way,” Askvig said.

As Said considers graduate school, Askvig is confident her experiences at Concordia will help with applications in addition to personal growth. 

“I expect that Zaynab will do great things in the future,” he said. “She can make a fantastic scientist. We all can struggle with imposter syndrome. And, in the sciences, where so many brilliant minds work on complex problems, it is easy to feel that way. However, I have seen Zaynab’s confidence grow in the last year, and I can see that she believes that she has a place in science.”

Said has simple advice for students who are considering following in her footsteps: “Do it! Only good things can come from the experience. You will either realize that you love research or that you never want to do it again. You will make friends, learn new things, and have new experiences. No matter what, it will be an enriching experience.”