An immigrant's experience: science is a discipline without borders.

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Date: May 1, 2021
From: Journal of Clinical Investigation(Vol. 131, Issue 9)
Publisher: American Society for Clinical Investigation
Document Type: Personal account
Length: 2,289 words
Lexile Measure: 1400L

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As a biomedical scientist from an immigrant background, I am pleased to share my journey, a few perspectives about the current immigration climate, and observations warranting our collective attention going forward. In 1998, I accepted an invitation to an international conference on stress responses and molecular chaperones held in Kyoto, Japan (1). I presented work from my laboratory at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, which had exploited gene-targeting technology to study the effects of the first genetic knockout of heat shock transcription factor 1 (HSF1), the master regulator of dozens of stress proteins (2-4). One of the conference hosts, distinguished molecular biologist Takashi Yura, and I struck up a conversation that, among other things, touched on our diverse backgrounds. Takashi Yura graciously shared his experiences as a foreign student in the United States for his doctoral studies (Yale, PhD, 1957) and his postdoctoral studies before returning to Japan. While the implications were profoundly prescient to me as one of few Black scientists in my field, and as an immigrant to the United States myself, I never forgot Takashi Yura telling me that science is a discipline without borders. Indeed, similar words were later penned by Elias Zerhouni, himself an Algerian immigrant who trained in diagnostic radiology at Johns Hopkins, and later served as NIH Director (5).

My voyage from Guyana with a twist

I was born and raised in Guyana, South America, and my family helped me start this journey by moving to the United States after I graduated from high school. In addition to the steps my parents took to give me this opportunity, I am even more humbled that I am not the first physician in my family to have undertaken international training and work. My grandmother's brother, James Henry Murrell (Figure 1A), inspired my confidence and courage as I embarked my own journey. My middle name, James, is in his honor. James Henry Murrell was a young man when he left Guyana for schooling in Battle Creek, Michigan. He went on to the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where he earned his medical degree in 1921. After this, he moved to Ghana where he performed the first blood transfusion in West Africa. He was a touchstone throughout my childhood and, perhaps, his legacy continues to be witnessed by several of his great nieces and nephews who, emulating him, have entered the medical profession.

My undergraduate years and research exposure

I arrived in New York City in the early 1970s, and I enrolled in the closest branch of the City University of New York, Hunter College. Luckily for me, Hunter proved to be more than just another school. It was a vibrant, multicultural, urban campus with a rich tradition of academic excellence. Fellow alumni include pioneers, such as Nobel Laureates Rosalyn Yalow and Gertrude Elion, as well as one of the first physicians to focus on heart disease in women, Nanette Wenger. At Hunter, I made a quick study of both the formal and informal...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A661688808