Our second edition of graduating seniors 2019 focuses on Najwa Labban. Najwa came to the Pollock research lab through a non-traditional path (although when I have a lot of students who come to the lab through collaborations, is it no longer non-traditional?). In her first year at UR, she started working in Prof. Mike Leopold’s lab focused on the development of sarcosine biosensors alongside Michael Pannell and Libby Doll. In that first summer, Mike enlisted me to advise the students in sarcosine oxidase expression and purification – the commercially available enzyme was cost-prohibitive to the biosensor fabrication. It was clear from the beginning that Najwa was enthusiastic about the biochemical aspect of the project – it wasn’t a means to an end for the sensor development but instead another set of laboratory skills for her to master. Since then, Najwa has collaborated on a number of projects that have spanned the Leopold-Pollock lab resulting in a total of three published manuscripts and another one in preparation. In her junior year, she was awarded a Beckman Fellowship that supported her research last summer, throughout this academic year, and will support her this summer post-graduation. It is not surprising that Najwa has received a number of accolades from the University of Richmond including the David C. Evans Award, which was given out during Honors’ Convocation last Friday. In addition, Najwa was the student speaker for the ceremony. Mike and I both had tears in our eyes as Najwa reflected on her time at UR – she has grown as a scholar, student, leader, and person in her time here. I feel lucky to have been a part of the journey. Let’s see what Najwa says about her research experience?

Q1. Why did you decide to join the Pollock lab via the Leopold lab?

Najwa: I joined the Pollock lab through the Leo-Pollock biosensor collaboration! There was a lot of biochemistry involved in the sarcosine project because we had to produce and purify the sarcosine oxidase enzyme embedded in the sensor and we knew Dr. Pollock was the best person to help with the job. Dr. Pollock is now my Beckman mentor and we’ve been working together ever since!

Q2. What was your favorite part about your research experience?

Najwa: My favorite part of my research experience at UR was getting to know my lab mates and doing some really cool work together. Our lab has done lunches, and dinners, and Busch Gardens trips, and who knows what else. The people in my lab have been my best friends throughout my time here and I am excited to see everything they do in the future!

Q3. What do you plan to do after graduation?

Najwa: I plan to attend an MD-PhD program after graduation. Not quite sure where yet, but I’m excited regardless!

Q4. As you reflect back on your time at University of Richmond, what advice would you give to an incoming student who was interested in your career path?

Najwa: I would advise an incoming student interested in pursuing an MD-PhD program to invest in both clinical and research experiences. Eight years is a long time, and it is important to be sure that you are passionate about healthcare and science/academia, as both are crucial to a career as a physician-scientist. I know that can seem like a lot, and it certainly is, but if it’s something you truly enjoy, then hopefully it won’t prove to be too overwhelming. The four years you spend in college are crucial to shaping your career path, but definitely be sure to have fun along the way!


As you can see above, Najwa plans to get her MD-PhD. It has been a joy to watch her thrive as a tutor and mentor in the research lab and I know she will be an excellent professor one day. Najwa – You don’t have a bad choice of where you will get your next degree. Follow your heart and spread your wings. I can’t wait to see all you will accomplish. Always stay in touch and know that you have a family at UR whenever you need us. Congratulations!


P.S. See some pictures from Convocation below: