Yazan Meqbil spent more than 500 hours in a laboratory this summer. While that might sound unappealing to most, Meqbil says it was one of the most informative experiences of his life thus far.
Meqbil, a senior Goshen College student majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry, worked as a research fellow at Purdue University’s College of Pharmacy — a position that is typically only available to Purdue students.
From 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., five days a week, for 10 weeks, Meqbil hunkered down in a lab and studied the N-terminal methylation of 24 s.cerevisiae (baker’s yeast) substrates through investigating the role of a methyltransferase, TaeI, in the process.
Through the research project, Meqbil and others were hoping to “understand the biological consequences of the N-terminal methylation and use knowledge about the yeast’s chaperones’ activity to understand how cancer and Parkinson’s disease develop and aggregate.”
“The ultimate goal was to synthesize drugs and inhibitors that could hinder the ability of the human homolog genes from developing such diseases,” Meqbil said.
According to Meqbil, the first two weeks as a research fellow were tough — he went as far as to describe it “harsh.”
But Meqbil pushed himself. He read several scientific papers a day and watched “too many videos” in hopes of understanding new scientific concepts and theories so that he could better understand the research he was conducting.
Through the 10 week fellowship, Meqbil said he pushed himself to learn how to truly study, how to take tests and how to better manage his time. He said he’s now a much better student, due to the fellowship.
“I entered the program as a baby,” said Meqbil. “…and I walked out feeling like a graduate student in a sense; I walked out feeling very accomplished.”
Landing a fellowship
Meqbil, originally from Hebron, Palestine, knew that international students often struggle to receive fellowship positions.
But he didn’t let that stop him.
In January 2018, Meqbil emailed 50 professors from all over the country and inquired about their fellowship positions.
“It was winter break, I had free time,” he said. “I thought ‘why not?’”
Meqbil said he received only three responses — one of which was from Purdue. He said he felt drawn to Purdue, more so than the other universities that responded.
In that response, Dr. Tony Hazbun, associate professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Purdue, asked Meqbil to apply for the research fellow program. Meqbil received an email of acceptance within hours.
With his position as a research fellow, Meqbil was able to work on his own project — something he hadn’t expected.
“I just wanted a summer fellowship,” he said. “I didn’t think I would have my own project to work on.”
Meqbil said that research fellows often work alongside graduate students. He assumed his summer would be spent working as a lackey for someone else’s project.
“My summer experience was entirely the opposite. I learned so much,” he said.
Meqbil’s last year
Now, as Meqbil begins his last year at Goshen, he says his classes seem to be a little easier — he’s quite familiar with much of what he’s learning in his biochemistry courses.
It wasn’t always so easy, he said. He often thought about changing his major from molecular biology and biochemistry to something else — something easier.
But Meqbil said he realized “Oh, this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
What first really solidified his passion for molecular biology and biochemistry was conducting research with Andy Ammons, associate professor of biology, and Doug Schirch, professor of chemistry, and former biology professor Kristopher Schmidt.
“I like being in the lab,” he said. “I like reading research papers and I like the challenge and mystery… it just makes sense.”
And there are still struggles, he said. He’s currently preparing to apply for graduate school. Stanford University, the University of Texas Southwest, Purdue, Emory University, Rice University and more are on his list.
Meqbil hopes to one day be a professor — after this summer, he’s sure he wants to spend his career in a laboratory on a college campus. He’s not quite sure what he wants to teach — maybe neuropharmacology, neuroscience or biochemistry.
He is sure, however, that he wants to pursue drug discovery through research, especially after his summer at Purdue.