The Catholic University of America

Wadad Alsalmi

Biology Graduate Student Focuses on Research

Wadad Alsalmi shows a drive that can only be fueled by a passion for her work. The Ph.D. candidate in the biology department’s Clinical Laboratory Science Program says a typical schedule involves a 13-hour day, spent largely working on research projects in the biology lab of McCort-Ward Hall, from 8 a.m. in the morning until 9 p.m. at night.

“I take part of Saturdays off,” she says with a laugh. “It requires a lot of work, but if it’s something that you love, it doesn’t really matter how much time you spend here.”

She works as a graduate student assistant in the lab of Venigalla Rao, professor and chair of the biology department, and is involved with that professor’s cutting-edge research.

Rao was recently awarded grant funding to identify new approaches to designing a safe and effective HIV vaccine from the Innovation for HIV Vaccine Discovery initiative of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a branch of the National Institutes of Health.

Alsalmi has been working in the lab for the past two years. Her work on the current project involves manipulating the proteins used in the potential vaccine so that they “express,” or become incorporated, into mammalian cells in order to study the immune response of those cells.

“It is really fun to have Wadad in my lab. Not only does she work very hard but she always does it with a smile,” Rao says. “She has made very good progress and is on track to make a significant contribution to the field by the time she graduates.”

Alsalmi says she appreciates the challenges of working in Rao’s lab. Before joining his team, she knew the work that would be required, but “that’s something that I like,” she says. “I don’t think I would survive with someone who requires less work.”

Alsalmi is also working on her own research projects that eventually will become the basis of her dissertation. She presented her latest project during the biology department’s annual research symposium on Nov. 5. After completing the final class for her doctorate this semester, she will be able to focus entirely on her research. She anticipates another two years of work to finish her dissertation.

“I’m really interested in finding cures to infectious diseases,” she says. “I want to be able to help patients get better faster. I [hope to] contribute to that in research and maybe find new ways of curing some diseases or even testing for them.” Testing methods for diseases are crucial, she says, because they are the key to detecting an illness before a patient becomes incurable.

After graduating in August from George Mason University with a bachelor’s degree in medical technology, she began working as a medical technologist in the microbiology lab of Washington Hospital Center and taking classes part-time in the CUA doctoral program. She became a full-time student in 2011.

Alsalmi says she values the personal interactions and one-on-one time she has had with her professors, as well as the close-knit relationships with her fellow students. “You’re part of a community, the graduate student community in biology,” she says.

Alsalmi moved with her family to the United States from the Sultanate of Oman 10 years ago. For the time being she sees herself remaining in this country, though someday she plans to return to her native Oman.

“I feel like I need to get more [research] experience…before I go back and am able to really benefit my country,” she says.

Although her plans for the future are still unclear, for now she plans to make the most of her education. “I only have this certain amount of time to learn as much as I can,” she says.

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Wadad Alsalmi

Native Country: Sultanate of Oman

Degree: Ph.D. in Clinical Laboratory Science

Research: Graduate student assistant on “Potent Phage T4 Derived V2 Immunogens as HIV Vaccines” project under the direction of Venigalla Rao, professor and chair, Department of Biology, and director, Center for Advanced Training in Cell and Molecular Biology

Fun fact: Alsalmi serves as the biology department’s senator in the Graduate Student Association Senate.