Called to Medicine
Sana Basheer is bound for a career in medicine—this much she knows. What she will specialize in after she heads to medical school at the University of Chicago on a full scholarship this fall remains to be seen.
“At the moment I like everything,” Basheer says. “Every single field, I’m like, ‘This is so cool and I could see myself in it.’ While I don’t know what kind of medicine yet, I do want to get involved in public health and public policy to come up with better, more equitable laws and make sure that everyone has equal access to good, quality health care.”
Basheer, who will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry this month, was born in El Paso, Texas. Her parents had immigrated to the United States from Pakistan, and their family lived in South Carolina as well before moving to Lombard, Illinois, and then to Bolingbrook, Illinois. Basheer attended a private Islamic school in Lombard before choosing Illinois Institute of Technology for college. It was an easy decision, she says: both of her older sisters had attended Illinois Tech and liked it; she wanted to stay in the Chicago area; and she was awarded a Camras scholarship, which would fund her four-year education. Two years into college, Basheer chose biochemistry as her major.
“I really liked biology and I really liked chemistry,” she says. “Biochemistry really is the study of the biology and chemistry behind life and understanding all of the basic processes that make life and that form us as humans, and all of our basic natural processes. I really, really loved it. It helped me understand all of the things I’d learned before in biology and chemistry, using equations and looking at the structures of molecules, how exactly they react to each other and the why—why it occurs and why it’s really important.”
As a student, Basheer gained practical experience working in the research laboratory of Professor of Biology Jialing Xiang. It was through her lab work with Xiang that Basheer published her first paper, “Detection of Melanin-Mediated False-Positive for BaxΔ2 Immunohistochemical Staining in Human Skin Tissues,” in bioRxiv in fall 2020. During her time at Illinois Tech, Basheer also founded the Undergraduate Research Journal and became co-director of the Chicago Area Undergraduate Research Symposium, an interschool board of students that publishes a journal annually, among other activities. She also gained work experience with the University of Chicago Comprehensive Care Program, where she helped support program recruitment by communicating the program’s advantages to patients and following up with them about their experiences.
Looking back and looking ahead, Basheer says that her greatest lesson has been to be brave in pursuit of her goals.
“If you want to do something, don’t be scared to do it,” she says. “Research was something that I found really daunting at first, and I really, really loved my time in Dr. Xiang’s lab. I really found people who were dedicated to advancing science, but also it wasn’t about achievement and it wasn’t about accomplishments—it was really about the science, and what we can do to make this better, and what I can do to become a better scientist. I think that is such a humble way to approach science.”