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Spotlight On: Sharmin Hossain, postdoctoral fellow at NIA

Sharmin Hossain is from Dhaka, Bangladesh. She earned her Bachelors and Masters of Nutrition from University of Dhaka and a Ph.D. in Public Health from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA.

What motivated you to do your postdoctoral fellowship at NIA?

I first came to NIA as a summer student in 2017 while doing my graduate work. My mentor at that time was Dr. May Beydoun and we had been very productive together. My experience had been extremely pleasant and very rewarding. It had opened a door for me with an opportunity to come back. Also, it has been well known that NIH is home to many trailblazers in science. Together, these factors served as the primary motivators towards my postdoctoral fellowship at NIA.

What is your area of research focus and its impact?

Photo of Sharmin Hossain, postdoctoral fellow at NIAI began my research on cognitive aging in relation to diet quality and genetics (by race, sex, and poverty status) in the US - particularly in Baltimore City, MD. I investigated racial disparity in HANDLS for various outcomes such as cognitive performance, cognitive decline, caregiving burden, etc. I soon became more interested in sleep research and its connection to brain health. Broadly speaking, sleep quality, brain functions and cognition are all interlinked. Aging affects human biology but not equally.

I wish to continue exploring the disparate nature of adverse cognitive and neurological outcomes with possible underlying mechanisms among African Americans in the U.S.

NIH being home to many trailblazers in science served as the primary motivating factor towards my postdoctoral fellowship at NIA.

— Sharmin Hossain

Did you receive any awards or grants during your postdoctoral fellowship at NIA?

I have been quite fortunate to have been a Butler-Williams Fellow in 2019. We submitted our application knowing how competitive it was, during my first year at NIA. I was completely blown away to find out that our proposal was one of the five from all Intramural Research Program (IRP) applications. One of my dissertation manuscripts had received the editor’s choice award, which I consider a terrific honor. The same publication was among their top cited and downloaded papers for 2018-2019. Before COVID19 hit the US, we were preparing to take out research to four conferences set to happen in 2020. My abstract received the Emerging Leaders in Nutrition Science award at the Nutrition 2020 conference, even though it was virtual. In addition, I was a finalist for the American Association for Anatomy (AAA) Travel and Competition Award set to take place in San Diego for the Experimental Biology conference. Lastly, I had been chosen as one of the Merit Scholars at Dartmouth for my MPH degree that I had been working on simultaneously to my research at NIA.

What’s next for you and what is beyond?

I have accepted a position with the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) as an Epidemiologist. I will work closely with the local health departments alongside other MDH arms as the Overdose Data to Action (OD2A) surveillance coordinator for the state. My primary responsibilities include but are not limited to coordinating, analyzing and presenting state level data on opioid overdose and mortality, reinforcing the overdose surveillance system and making policy recommendations to combat the opioid epidemic in Maryland.

Who or what has been the greatest influence in your career?

While I have known and worked with several highly accomplished professionals in my career, the person who had the greatest influence on me was my grandfather. He was a professor of psychology and I had the privilege of being mentored by him from a very early age. His role as an academic inspired me to become one someday, and that hope is still alive.

What are some of your hobbies in your spare time?

I love cooking and baking. Before COVID 19, my favorite weekend activity used to be exploring Baltimore and trying new restaurants. I would sometimes bake enough to feed 10 people, just because I love the smell of freshly baked bread, cakes, and other pastries. I was teaching myself to play the piano at some point, which I very much wish to resume.

What is your biggest takeaway from your experience as an NIA postdoc?

I had the privilege to work with Dr. Alan Zonderman and his team for my postdoctoral training. I have never met a group more organized and focused, with zero compromise on the quality of work produced. My biggest takeaway as an NIA postdoc is that there is no one right way to reach your goal, and it is okay to fail sometimes (be it an experiment, writing, or analysis). I learned to not hesitate in asking questions because the answers are what move us forward.

What advice do you have for postdocs at the NIA?

Keep an open mind when it comes to the first job you want out of your postdoc. You never know what you may find, and you will never know until and unless you ask. Be patient but be persistent.

I learned to not hesitate in asking questions because answers are what move us forward.

— Sharmin Hossain