Sarah has been at Belfer for three years and has worked on multiple projects on the drug discovery team. In September, Sarah will be going to Simmons College, where she will be studying to become a nurse practitioner. She decided to pursue this path because she wants to work directly with patients in marginalized communities. Although it breaks our hearts to see her leaving, we can’t emphasize enough how great she will be as an NP. Her patients will have someone who is caring, talented, and capable of making them smile, no matter how hard their day has been.
Why did Sarah choose to be at Belfer for the past years? How would she describe her experience?
Sarah says that she values many Belfer elements. She found the culture at Belfer to be welcoming of new ideas, with great mentorship, and a sense of collaboration. In her words, “We have an open-door policy, so you can ‘just ask whoever about any issue,'” and Belfer is about “collaboration, not competition.”
For an immigrant, Belfer is a freeing space with comforting diversity. Everyone here is excited to share their culture and background. Our break room (in non-pandemic time) is a welcoming space where you can celebrate any holiday from your culture and very often can find some kind of international sweets or snacks.
As Sarah moves on to her next chapter, she will miss the events, the outings, and the people at Belfer. She will miss all the moments when she had a listening ear and the judgement-free and clique-free space. As she beautifully put it, she will miss the “life at work.”
Based on her background and life experience, what kind of message would Sarah like to share with the science community?
People often make the mistake of defining an individual by their background and experience. In fact, there is a huge difference between acknowledging, listening, and trying to understand the challenges and the privileges that a friend has experienced and trying to assign them definitions and words that only further put them in a box. We share the experiences of Sarah not as a way to define her, but as a way to spread her message to the science community and the world.
Sarah spent most of her early life on the move. As a victim of civil war, her family fled from their home in Burundi to become refugees in Kenya. She spent most of her childhood in a refugee camp and then moved to the US with her family, where they stayed in government housing, as they established their life here. This timeline is only to provide perspective of where her message comes from and not an attempt to simplify the complexities of her life.
As a young scientist, Sarah has found it sometimes difficult to communicate her experience. For her, being underrepresented in the science community means two things. There are few people to look up to that share your background, and if you want to succeed, you have to assimilate to the general culture which can be very far from your own. How can you make connections when there is so little in common between your experience and the one of those leading the community? There is not much to do on the individual level when it comes to representation. The one thing that Sarah found to be very helpful is for people to be mindful and not come in with assumptions. Having assumptions makes one uncomfortable with sharing their true stories. It feels like they need to have an elaborate explanation to why they are not the norm. Scientists who needed government housing or sought asylum often find it difficult to share their experiences within the community, and yet this is their reality. For Sarah, those events are not limited to her past but can still affect her at the present moment. As someone who has dealt with trauma, she found it hard to communicate how these experiences affect the way she reacts to things like loud sounds and voices, as they can come as a flashback to the violence from the refugee camp in Kenya.
Hopefully, this conversation reminds us that the ability to share our equally unique and diverse experiences in the workplace is one step closer to fostering a stronger sense of inclusion.
As we share these messages with the community, we also want to emphasize that Sarah is incredibly and contagiously optimistic! And it warms our hearts to know that she counted Belfer as a comforting and caring blend of colleagues in science and true friends.
Sarah, we will miss your energy and laughter, hard work, and ability to make people welcome within your space! We are so excited to see you excel in your future ventures.
Written by Moataz Noureddine
Photo by Elena Ivanova