This month’s featured alum is Azizah Jor’dan, who graduated in 2012 with her doctoral degree in Kinesiology, emphasis Perceptual-Motor Control and Learning. We asked Dr. Jor’dan to share her experiences as a student and bring us up-to-date on her life since graduation.
Could you describe your career in detail? How long have you held your current position and what do you like best about it?
I am a Research Scientist in the New England Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center in the VA Boston Healthcare System and an Instructor in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. My translational research focuses on identifying the pathophysiological manifestations of aging and age-related disease that diminish the control of walking and standing, and their consequences on important clinical outcomes such as mobility. I also work to translate these discoveries into future clinical interventions and practices (i.e., brain stimulation and exercise) that will improve mobility and quality of life within these populations.
I’ve held my current position for only a few weeks, since being awarded a National Institute on Aging Pathway to Independence Award. Previously, I was a postdoctoral fellow for 4 years at various affiliates of Harvard Medical School. The best part about my position(s) is the opportunity to improve the quality of life of others and typically there are no days that are consistently the same. Some days may be comprised of manuscript writing, reviewing articles, and data collection, while other days could involve attending and/or presenting at a local conference and grant writing – or another mix of duties. There’s always a learning factor, which I love.
What sparked your decision to go to graduate school?
My Mom, Dr. Jamiliah R. Jor’dan and my mentor, Dr. Michael Wade, sparked my decision to go to graduate school. I watched my Mom complete her PhD in Research Methodology and Human Development in 2003, after working in the Chicagoland Community for over 20 years. As a freshman at the U of M, I was paired with Dr. Wade through the President’s Distinguished Faculty Mentor Program in the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence. As advocates for higher education, my Mom and Dr. Wade explained the vast number of opportunities and benefits that may come with an advanced degree. After taking a year off after undergraduate studies, I applied to the U of M Graduate School.
How do you think your experience at the U of M helped you in your career and personal goals?
My experiences at the U of M provided the foundation that I would need for a career in translational research, which consisted of the following:
1) Taking part in programming within CEHD/KIN which was geared toward scholarly and professional development (i.e., Common Ground Consortium Program, Teaching Assistant Program and the Physical Activity Program). This type of programming provided me with time to focus on developing my research agenda and provided me with the hands-on teaching experience that I currently use in my position.
2) Being connected to other institutions and departments allowed me to network and foster collaborations with different fields. This ultimately sparked my interest in translational research. I continue to use these collaborators today as co-authors on manuscripts, references, and points of contact.
3) Being involved in on-campus student groups and activities was an opportunity to give back the community. Additionally, it was a time to detach from “grad life,” build soft skills, and have fun!
What were some of your greatest challenges and best experiences as a graduate student?
I think the greatest challenges were based around my research trajectory, answering such questions as:
“What skills do I need in order to be successful in my field? And how do I obtain them?”
“How will I be able to move my research field forward?”
“What is innovative about my research ideas?”
As a student, these are challenging to answer and to set in motion. The best experiences, specifically as a graduate student, were the opportunities to attend local and domestic conferences. I was able to present my research and gain feedback, learn more about the research being conducted in other laboratories, and network with leading researchers and early-stage career investigators.
What advice would you give incoming graduate students?
My advice to incoming graduate students is to research, in detail, the skills, experience, and technology needed to be successful in your chosen profession. You should take every opportunity during your studies to learn, network, and stay up-to-date on emerging technologies. Also, you should seek out at least two mentors: one within your department at the U of M and one at an outside institution or industry. Last, never give up in times of adversity. The first thing is to believe in yourself and that you have the dedication and drive to see through your career goals. You may have to hear “no” several times before you get your “yes,” but it’s all a part of the journey.
Any details about your life outside of work you’d like to share?
Outside of work, I love international traveling. It gives me the opportunity to challenge myself in fun ways (e.g., navigating foreign lands) and immerse myself in various cultures, languages, history, and experiences. This allows me to expand my perspective on this journey called LIFE. Some of my favorite places are Buenos Aires, Argentina, Akita and Tokyo, Japan, and Rome, Italy.