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Forum Raval '07, a postdoctoral/research fellow at Boston University School of Medicine, returned to her alma mater to educate students on biology, life after college.
All Forum Raval '07 knew was that she loved science. Although she had yet to figure out what exactly she wanted to do with a science degree, she chose to pursue it and not worry about it until graduation.
"Everyone struggles, but you'll find your place," she said. "Nothing is set for you. It doesn't matter what major you were, you're going to have to struggle to get what you want. Be fearless about it. Don't worry about what everybody else says, just go and pursue what it is that you want to do."
Through extensive exploration and hard work, Raval found a path that has given her the best of both worlds based on her interests - the ability to simultaneously do research and teach. The Emmanuel alum is a postdoctoral/research fellow at Boston University School of Medicine, a guest lecturer to graduate students in BU's immunology program and an adjunct faculty member in the biology department at Emmanuel.
"I think this is where I'm supposed to be. My life is something that I've always played by ear," Raval said. "It's more or less what interests me at the time."
Along her journey, Raval has made sure to constantly question herself about whether or not she enjoys what she's pursuing to keep boredom and unhappiness at bay.
She said, "I think you should love what you do. You need some form of inspiration. I feel like that's what my career has been like - there's been a little inspiration at every step."
Raval, who was a biology major and chemistry minor at Emmanuel, started her college experience thinking she wanted to go to medical school. Her plans changed when she began to work on research. Associate Dean of Natural Sciences and Associate Professor of Biology Josef Kurtz had asked Raval to participate in a research group doing work at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he is an assistant immunologist. The group worked in a lab on mouse models, which was Raval's first look into what science can be beyond being a doctor or nurse.
"I think coming out of high school, you don't really understand when someone says, 'I'm a scientist,' because they paint this picture of someone with big hair like Albert Einstein," she said.
The topic of immunology intrigued Raval and she decided to further her education by getting a Ph.D. in immunology and virology at UMass Medical School in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Coming out of graduate school, Raval knew she didn't want to be a principal investigator (PI) or have her own lab, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to find an industry job or go into teaching, the latter of which she found a passion for while working at the Academic Resource Center (ARC) at Emmanuel and being a teaching assistant at UMass.
"Teaching was always on my mind, but I had to explore this other avenue just to make sure I didn't love it as much as I loved teaching. I would've regretted it if I never attempted to look into it," Raval said in regard to what to do after graduate school.
After multiple interviews with big-name companies, Raval realized it was not the direction she wanted to take. Although she'd still be a scientist, she wouldn't be able to pursue a project at one of these businesses.
"You're doing what the company needs you to do at the time. It's not about understanding something, it's about creating drugs. That's a great aspect that certain people are good at, but it's not something I wanted," she said. "If something doesn't work, you move on. You go where the money is, and to me science shouldn't be about the money."
She landed a postdoctoral/research fellowship at BU where she could further her training and conduct research in Type 2 diabetes. Her work is trying to further understand the role of B cells in obesity-induced inflammation, which can lead to metabolic problems like Type 2 diabetes. She is working on understanding what is happening with these cells and disease to cause to potentially determine a cause. Weekly, Raval recruits patients to have their blood donated, processed and experimented on. As of now, her hypothesis is on point. And although she does work with human cells, all experimentation is done back on a mouse model to understand the mechanism further.
"There's a different biology to everybody and we have to understand what that entails to get a better therapy for everyone," Raval said. "As a biologist and scientist, I believe in doing the right work, so even if it takes six years to get it, you need to do it the right way."
Since graduating from Emmanuel, Raval has remained in touch with several faculty members including Dr. Kurtz and and Associate Professor of Biology and Department Chair Todd Williams, whom she worked with on the Neuro-Immunology Research Project (NIRP) with a group of other students from 2005 to 2007 at Emmanuel. The project's research involved investigating the interaction between the immune and central nervous systems.
Dr. Kurtz knew of Raval's interest in teaching and offered her the opportunity to be a part-time faculty member as a lab instructor. This decision to take the position was a no-brainer for Raval as she didn't want to leave teaching behind her. She has been teaching at Emmanuel for one year.
"From the first day, I thought, 'I love this,' and I haven't changed my opinion on it," Raval said. "If you gave me a tenure-track position, I would take it hands down."
Raval believes her calling is to teach undergraduates because she wants to talk to them "when they're at that cusp." Besides teaching course material, she feels that her job is to show to the students the variety of jobs one can get with a science degree, as well as to help them figure out what's the best direction for them. As a young Emmanuel alum, she has the unique advantage to connect with the students and let them know the walls they will hit, the reality of the workforce and the sacrifices that need to be made.
"I think they appreciate my raw feedback," she said.
Not only is Raval influencing her students, but she says her positive experience at Emmanuel helped convince her sister Krishna Raval '17 to attend Emmanuel, as well.
Just like many of the students she teaches, Raval started her college career with her mind set on one thing, but after being exposed to a completely different world, it changed what she wanted to do. She urges for everyone to be fearless with their decisions regarding their careers.
"College is about figuring out what you want. Don't be upset if what you planned doesn't happen," Raval said. "If you find something you love, you'll find a way to survive."