Nur Shahir

Nur Shahir is a PhD student in the Curriculum in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology within the UNC School of Medicine, as well as a member of the UNC Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity. Her research focuses on computational and statistical methods to investigate the role of the gut microbiome in inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease.

a womanphoto by Alyssa LaFaro
July 19th, 2017

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Describe your research in five words.

“Finding small bugs in tummies.”

I remember digging around at my parent’s house a few months back and came across some really old papers of mine and evidently, according to young Nur, I wanted to be a microbiologist and save the world.

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.

When I was about 5 years old, a really bad blizzard hit my home state of Maryland. Bored (as young children tend to be when cooped up in the house), my parents tried to entertain me. My father told me to measure the height of the snow every 15 to 30 minutes or so. So I did. I marked down the snowfall and made a plot — and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Making interpretable visualizations out of raw data is one of the things that hooked me into research.

What’s an interesting thing that’s happened during your research?

One summer, I worked in a lab at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. I was attending my first-ever meeting and was eager to be attentive and alert. Someone had brought bagels, so I took one, some cream cheese, and a knife and started slicing away at the bagel. I looked down and thought, Huh, I didn’t know they made strawberry bagels. But my knife was red, too. Then, I realized I had managed to slice my thumb open and was bleeding into the cream cheese. I was mortified. Luckily, there was an excess of cream cheese at the meeting and I was able to “hog” that one to myself for the remainder of it. It was a great learning experience — don’t get too absorbed in your surroundings that you forget to focus when using sharp objects both in and out of the lab.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?

Please learn statistics! Most of my training/background is in math and statistics — and it’s frustrating to see so many people ignore the value of proper statistics usage in research. Also, get a hobby — something to keep you grounded when the research grind gets tough.

UNC Research is proud of every scientist on this campus, but we are especially excited to promote our female researchers in 2017. Each week this year, we will publish a short Q&A feature on one of them — whether she is an undergrad, PhD candidate, or full professor. Please click here to make a recommendation.