Marwa Zafarullah

Marwa Zafarullah: Keller Pathway Fellowship Alumna
A biomarker for the rare neurodegenerative disorder Fragile X -Associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS)

Note: This interview was conducted in fall 2018. Marwa Zafarullah was a Keller Pathway Fellows in 2018/19.

Marwa Zafarullah is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Integrative Genetics and Genomics (IGG) graduate program. She earned her bachelor’s in agricultural sciences at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan and her master’s in IGG at UC Davis. She is currently working toward the development of a biomarker for the early diagnosis and progression of the nNeurological disorder called Fragile X -Associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS). 

Zafarullah has experience in diversity, student issues and quality education. She has served on the Chancellor’s Graduate and Professional Student Advisory Board (CGPSA) since 2015. She also represents the graduate student community and has highlighted their issues on forums including the Status of Women at Davis Administrative Advisory Committee and the Integrative Genetics and Genomics Student Executive Committee.

The following interview was conducted in fall 2018. Below that, Zafarullah comments on her experiences in the Keller Pathway Fellowship program as it drew to a close in spring 2019.

In a nutshell, describe your project or venture?

I am developing a biomarker for the early diagnosis and progression of a rare neurodegenerative disorder called Fragile X -Associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS).

Helping others is not only a responsibility of life, but it is also what gives meaning to life, as we cannot rise without lifting others.

What’s important about your research or project—and where do you hope to take it?

FXTAS is a late-onset neurodegenerative disorder that affects adults over 50 years old and is characterized by problems with movement and thinking ability (cognition). Unfortunately, currently there is no cure for the disorder. My research represents a starting point for the development of a stable molecular biomarker that will aid in the targeted treatment in the near future

What are you most passionate about in your work?

Helping others is not only a responsibility of life, but it is also what gives meaning to life, as we cannot rise without lifting others. I am highly passionate about making a positive difference and big change in the world of those who are suffering from this rare disorder and every minute looking for help.

Marwa Zafarullah

What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?

The academy taught me one of the most important lessons that an entrepreneur is not one who owns the business, but someone who build the connections and makes things happen. Networking is the key to success in the entrepreneurship world. If you are not networking, you are not working. 

What is the most unexpected advice you received from a mentor?

“All ideas are great but worth testing is the one that solves a real-life problem, carries business value and is sellable in the real market.” 

Do you have a project/venture in mind for the Big Bang! Business Competition? How do you expect participation in the Big Bang! workshops and competition to help you as an aspiring entrepreneur?

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”—Rolo May.

I am proposing an idea of establishing an online platform to connect the graduate student community for better communication. It will provide a place to gather all graduate students on the UC Davis campus and sister campuses, as well as link all available resources and opportunities at a single place for an effective information dissemination. I am hoping that the Big Bang! workshops will teach me new exciting information and prepare me for the real world of entrepreneurship.

The Keller Pathway Fellowship Program specifically supports women, cross-disciplinary researchers, and other underrepresented university-based entrepreneurs. Do you have any insight, experience or concern you’d like to share?

I am an International student and come from a part of a world where I didn’t have the opportunity to meet the women entrepreneurs in my daily life. Although the scenario is changing, still there is a big need for motivating women to come forward with their unique ideas and helping them in making their way through big challenges. I always believe that empowering the women means strengthening the nation. I feel lucky to be a part of the Keller Pathway Fellowship and its aim of motivating and training the young women to be future entrepreneurs.

How will your experiences as a Keller Pathway Fellow help you to change the world?

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”—Milton Berle

The fellowship has built that door and brings opportunities for all of us. I have already learned a lot in the entrepreneurship academy and met wonderful people with world-changing ideas. I am hoping that every day being a Keller Pathway Fellow will bring something new and help me in embracing the real entrepreneur inside me.

End-of-Program Reflections

What was the most valuable thing you learned as a Keller Fellow?

I learned a lot of important and useful skills being Keller Pathway Fellow. This program taught me how connections are worth gold, and for transferring any idea into reality you not only need confidence, a team, and managerial skills but, above all, a network of right people around you.

What did you love about the program?

I like all the features of the program but the one I enjoyed most was the lunch with a featured guest. It not only provides me a chance to meet with new people every month but also gives me a wonderful opportunity to learn from their experience.

What would you say to a lab partner, fellow student or friend who is considering the program?

It is indeed an amazing opportunity to learn entrepreneurial skills and for bringing your research from bench to bedside.

How will your Keller Fellowship experience help you in your career?

It will help me in exploiting the business part of my research idea and, in the long run, for establishing my own startup.