In high school, Rama Dajani, was able to visit Gladstone thanks to a biotechnology program and an influential teacher. Today, Dajani is a research associate in Alex Marson's lab, studying viruses.


Rama Dajani (she/her) was born in the city of Damascus, Syria, and raised by her first-generation Palestinian and Syrian immigrant parents in San Francisco. She majored in molecular, cell, and developmental biology at UC Santa Cruz. Currently, Dajani is a research associate in the lab of Alex Marson.

What brought you to Gladstone?

There are two main things that brought me to Gladstone.

During my fourth year at UC Santa Cruz, I received an email about the NIH Diversity Supplement workshop. And so I signed up, not knowing where it would take me, but knowing I wanted to gain some research training after graduating. It was through this event, hosted by UC San Francisco, that I was able to interview with principal investigators who worked at UC Berkeley, UCSF, and Gladstone for the first time in my life. I was finally able to land a role as a research associate and gain that training I so desperately needed.

But I actually had another experience earlier in my life that I think also led me here. My high school had a two-year biotechnology program and my amazing teacher at the time scheduled a field trip for us to tour Gladstone. I was so enamored with the entire research environment and I feel like that's when I finally knew that I wanted to pursue research as a career in the future.

What do you like about Gladstone?

There are so many things I appreciate about working at Gladstone. I really, really enjoy the sense of community here. I also love seeing people celebrate different cultures. Every few months I will come down to the lobby and I'll see a Lunar New Year celebration just spread out on the table or a Diwali celebration.

It’s all the little things. On the intranet, you can find informational pages about these cultural holidays. They have one about Ramadan as well, which is something I actually haven't seen at any other institute or workplace. That’s very special to me as a Muslim American. So I really do appreciate that Gladstone celebrates different communities and cultural backgrounds.

Can you describe your current research project?

My most recent project involved using CRISPR technology to identify potentially novel pro and antiviral host factors in relation to HIV pathogenesis. And it has been such an incredible experience working with Ujjwal Rathore in the Marson lab on this project.

I never envisioned myself working in the realm of virology, let alone HIV. So this has been an eye-opening experience for me. It has really shown me the value of understanding such a complex pathogenesis as HIV, and I'm excited to see what comes of this in the future.

What or who influenced your decision to work in science?

My early influence and what eventually got me to where I am was the biotechnology program I took in high school. I was in that program for two years and I had the most incredible teacher and mentor, Ms. Tanaka. Her dedication to her students is really what got me here and got me interested in scientific research to begin with.

I was already that kid who wanted to become a marine biologist when I grew up, but she really, really solidified that dream for me. She would dedicate her time to planning and organizing experiments for us to do in a regular classroom setting since we didn’t have access to a lab. I owe a lot of this inspiration to her. I learned so much in the span of two years and it's eventually what propelled me into choosing this as a career.

What do you do when you are not working?

This is going to sound a little ridiculous, but I’m an unserious person and when I'm not working, I like to waste time doing really silly things. For example, I've dedicated hours and hours towards working with my sister, a graphic designer, to put together these Photoshopped images that include my favorite childhood mascot, Barney the dinosaur. I have one picture of Barney with my boss and one of my mentors in the background.

Rama Dajani holding a photoshopped photo of her mentors with Barney the dinosaur

In her freetime, Dajani likes to have her sister Photoshop Barney into images, like this one with her mentors.

What advice would you give to young women aspiring to enter the field of science or STEM disciplines?

Don't let any sort of idea that there just aren't enough women in this field discourage you from pursuing your dream. I definitely think early on, before I was introduced at Gladstone, I had this misconception that this was going to be an environment that was very male dominated and unwelcoming. But I have been proven wrong. I have met so many amazing female mentors, not just at Gladstone, but at affiliate institutions, as well.

Whether you’re a woman who’s just starting out or you're planning to transition to the next phase and maybe go on to pursue a graduate degree or a career in industry, you will definitely have access to amazing female mentors who will encourage and guide you to just do good science. I have so much more respect for this field now that I have seen what it's actually like, and that it can be very inclusive.

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