Dr. Asma Bashir is a neuroscientist, science communicator, and the host of the Her Royal Science podcast.
After earning her Bachelors in Psychology with honors at Boston University, Asma headed to the University of British Columbia for her PhD. At the end of 2019, Asma completed her PhD in Neuroscience. While her recent research focused on dementia, she previously used preclinical and clinical approaches to investigate traumatic brain injuries (TBI), or concussions. She was a postdoctoral research fellow at the UK Dementia Research Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she did a fair amount of analysis of old data, experimental planning, and grant-prep during lockdown. As lockdown was easing up in the month before leaving, she started some animal experiments, looking at how inflammation in the body affects the vasculature of the brain. At that point, a good chunk of her day was spent in the animal facility, doing behavioural experiments, and collecting tissue for analysis. She had also started staining brain tissue to look at how vascular proteins change in dementia-related states. Unfortunately, her working environment was incompatible with her needs, and Dr. Bashir is onto new adventures!
The Her Royal Science podcast was created by Asma as a way to feature individuals from minoritised groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Asma’s podcast celebrates underrepresented minorities in STEM to inspire others by providing role models and showing what is possible. You can’t be what you can’t see, but you can aspire to the stories Asma shares.
How did you get into STEM?
I was always a curious kid, a natural scientist so to speak. I also just loved school in general, so I had a lot of favourite subjects: English, Biology, Maths, Music (though I tried playing the flute and failed miserably!). I did my undergrad in Psychology, took a Neuroscience course for my general science requirement, and absolutely loved the class. I knew I wanted to learn about the brain in more depth, and set off to do a PhD in Neuroscience a year after I wrapped up my Bachelors.
What does the average day in your field for you look like?
As a new post-doc, I’ve been doing a lot of experimental planning and grant-writing. With COVID, I haven’t had too much time in the lab, probably 7 or 8 weeks all together, so I’ve just started some animal experiments, looking at how inflammation in the body affects the vasculature of the brain. That means I spend a good chunk of my day in the animal facility, doing behavioural experiments, and collecting tissue for analysis. I have also started staining brain tissue to look at how vascular proteins change in diseased states. I do love a pretty brain image!
Who inspires you in STEM?
Professor Huda Zoghbi inspires me. She’s an extraordinary human being who possesses all the qualities of what I consider to be the perfect researcher: curious, intelligent, kind, humble, and places a great importance in being a phenomenal mentor to her trainees. If I decide to stay in STEM for the long-term, I’d certainly strive to be just like her.
How did you get started with the “Her Royal Science” podcast?
This will sound a little weird, but I had a dream about having a podcast, and I thought it was a cool idea when I woke up! During my PhD, I was hyper aware of the fact that my classmates and colleagues didn’t resemble me in any manner, and I wanted to find a community where I could exist without needing to keep my guard up. I was also inspired by ‘The And’, a game of human connection by The Skin Deep (check out their channel on YouTube if you haven’t already). Learning about people and what experiences have made them who they are brings me such joy. If anything, I think I subconsciously try to incorporate some prompts from ‘The And’ every time I prepare pre-interview questions for my guests.
What’s been your most exciting experience in STEM?
I get a lot of excitement out of doing science communication! I have always enjoyed teaching, and I definitely see SciComm as a form of teaching. I love the feeling of seeing something click in someone’s mind.
What are your research interests?
Currently, my research interests are in dementia. I’m interested in using in vivo techniques and molecular biology to describe healthy and diseased blood vessels within the brain.
What’s something about your field that you wish others knew about?
This isn’t about my field in particular, but I wish people knew that succeeding in grad school has little to do with academic performance in undergrad. I’ve heard people say that only ‘smart people’ go to graduate school (and by smart, people often mean having a high GPA in undergrad), but grad school is about your ability to ask interesting questions, and come up with cool, yet practical ways to answer those questions.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
My mother always tells me to be the truest and most authentic version of myself wherever I go. It hasn’t done me wrong yet.