As we commemorate International Women’s Day, we reflect on pivotal moments that have shaped the careers of the women of the NRI. Their stories highlight the impact of motherhood, career transitions, mentorship, and cultural diversity on professional success. From navigating challenges to embracing opportunities, these women exemplify resilience, determination, and the importance of diversity in driving innovation and progress. Join us in celebrating their achievements and honoring the contributions of women in shaping a more inclusive and equitable world.

Can you share with us a pivotal moment in your career that you are particularly proud of, and how it reflects your journey and choices in your career path?

Brooke Giles, Marketing Asset Manager
I’ve had two stints at the NRI. My first one came to an end when I decided to become a mother. As women, many of us are taught that we cannot do both (motherhood and career), but this is just not true. I treasured my time at home with my kids, but when an opportunity arose to come back to the NRI, I jumped on it. And I discovered that being a mother made me a better employee. There is so much you learn once you become a parent and those qualities easily transfer over into my career. As a mom I manage multiple schedules, personalities, and tasks regularly. Mastering this has helped me tremendously in my career. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be a fantastic mom and excel in your career!

Ramine Alexander, PhD, Research Project Manager, Goode Lab
A pivotal moment in my career that fills me with pride and reflects my career journey occurred during my senior year of college when I made the decision to transition from pursuing graduate school for physical therapy to focusing on my passion for research. I initially believed my degree in exercise science would lead me to a career in physical therapy. However, everything changed when I was chosen to attend the Southeast Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Annual Meeting. It sparked a newfound interest in research. The following year, I had the opportunity to present my first research poster at the National ACSM conference, which prompted me to reassess my initial career aspirations. Ultimately, I am glad I made the decision to shift my career focus, as engaging in research has allowed me to explore questions that are personally meaningful and make a positive impact in the lives of others.

Faustina Jeyaraj, Graduate Research Assistant, Voruganti Lab
One pivotal moment in my career that I take great pride in, occurred when I began working at the Voruganti Lab. I assumed responsibilities in recruitment and conducted study visits for ongoing research studies. This experience underscored the value of my scientific knowledge in helping participants understand research endeavors. It further reinforced my dedication to utilizing science for societal advancement, as we aim for new discoveries that improve our quality of life.

Amira Abdellatef, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Associate, S. Krupenko Lab
Navigating a new culture and language as an international student during my Ph.D. journey presented significant challenges. Despite these hurdles, I am immensely proud to have been honored with the Best Women Researcher Award of the year of my graduation. This recognition not only acknowledged my academic achievements but also underscored my dedication to overcoming obstacles and thriving in diverse academic environments.

Isis Trujillo-Gonzalez, PhD, Assistant Professor of Nutrition
Despite the fact that science spaces were not  initially designed for us, women have risen to remarkable heights, becoming beacons of inspiration for generations to come. Every woman in science is a trailblazer, whether she knows it or not.
Reflecting on my own journey, I’ve been privileged to share spaces with extraordinary women, my labmates and friends, who have enriched my career with their insights, experiences, and knowledge. Their support has been invaluable, igniting a fire within me to pay it forward. Today, as I mentor and guide the next generation of women scientists, I am reminded of the importance of fostering an inclusive environment where everyone’s voice is heard and valued. Together, we continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, driving innovation and paving the way for a brighter, more equitable future in science.

As we celebrate the achievements of women worldwide, could you share a mentor or role model who has had a significant impact on your career? How did their guidance shape your professional journey?

Deborah Tate, PhD, Professor of Nutrition
In my post-doctoral fellowship and early career at Brown, I was fortunate to work with an incredibly strong and brilliant female mentor, Dr. Rena Wing. One of my colleagues, Dr. Amy Gorin (UConn), who was also a post-doc in the lab at that time, describes being mentored by Rena as “being under Rena’s Wing”– this was both literal and figurative. She was and still is both encouraging and tough. She is your toughest critic and your most staunch supporter.  When she liked your idea, paper, or grant, you knew what you had was “good stuff.”  Over the years at UNC, I’ve had the privilege of mentoring students, post-docs, and junior faculty.  I hope they feel both “the love” and “the challenge.”  Having both helped me believe in my ideas and abilities and shaped the scientist and the mentor that I am today. 

Nipun Saini, PhD, Assistant Professor of Nutrition
My mentor and role model is my mother in all aspects. She has been, and still is, incredibly supporting of whatever I choose to do in my life. My professional career took a huge turn when my mother, without a second thought, agreed to send me abroad for higher studies. Without her unwavering support I would not be where I am today. She taught me two things that I continue to follow to this day: 1. Never give up. 2. Give your 100% and then don’t worry about the result.

Jenna Baker, Executive Assistant to the Director
Dr. Joanne Robinson, Department Chair for the Department of Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte, had a profound impact on my professional and personal development. Her mentorship guided me towards furthering my education and applying to the Applied Arts and Sciences MA Graduate program at UNC-Greensboro. The program provided me with valuable opportunities for growth and exploration within my interest and career future. It taught me valuable time management and the importance of work/life balance with a small child. Dr. Robinson was a great example when I was at an early age in my career–especially on the importance of setting individual goals for yourself and continuing your education.

International Women’s Day is about celebrating diversity and inclusion. How do you believe your unique background and experiences as a woman have contributed to your success in your field?

Nipun Saini, PhD, Assistant Professor of Nutrition
Being a daughter, wife, and mother, I have learned to be patient, persistent and empathetic. Daily, I apply these strengths to my professional life and that has helped me understand people, grow, and support others to move forward.

Amira Abdellatef, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Associate, S. Krupenko Lab
Receiving the Best Women Researcher Award is a testament to the resilience and determination I’ve exhibited throughout my academic journey. It reflects my unwavering commitment to embracing new experiences and overcoming challenges, demonstrating my adaptability and willingness to learn. This accolade reaffirms my belief in the importance of diversity and inclusion in academia and motivates me to continue making impactful contributions to my field despite any obstacles that may arise.

Faustina Jeyaraj, Graduate Research Assistant, Voruganti Lab
I grew up in India and moved to the United States after getting married. Moving to America has provided me with a firsthand experience of cultural adaptation, which has in turn enhanced my empathy towards understanding scientific needs. Adjusting to a new culture involves not only learning new customs and language but also understanding different ways of thinking and problem-solving. This experience has made me more aware of the diverse perspectives and needs within the scientific community. I understand that these needs can differ significantly based on cultural backgrounds, educational systems, and societal expectations.