Growing Up in Academia with Asifa Akhtar
What is it to be a scientist? How does one become a scientist? Growing Up in Academia is a conversation series with academics at different levels of their career focusing on the sometimes short, sometimes long and winding roads behind the “official CV”.
Each event features an open conversation (interview) with a different faculty member, representing the broad spectrum of academic life. We will cover topics such as dealing with expectations (your own and others’), the role of luck/coincidence in scientific discovery, impostor syndrome, procrastination, and conflicts with advisors. Join us for a conversation about the human factors that universally inform the profession, but that too often remain unspoken. These events will be hosted and presented by Lucia Melloni (Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics).
On Monday, March 22, 2021, Growing Up in Academia features Asifa Akhtar, Director at the MPI for Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg and Vice President of the Biology and Medicine Section in the Max Planck Society.
The online application for this event is Zoom Webinar. You can register for the event by using this link.
The Official CV
Asifa Akhtar is a molecular biologist and Director of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, Germany. She obtained her doctorate at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in London, UK in 1997. She then moved to Germany, where she was a postdoctoral fellow at both the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg and the Adolf-Butenandt-Institute in Munich from 1998 to 2001. She rejoined the EMBL Heidelberg as a group leader before becoming a Max Planck Investigator at the MPI for Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg in 2009, where since 2013, she has been a co-director. Dr. Akhtar was awarded the Early Career European Life Science Organization Award in 2008, elected to membership in the European Molecular Biology Organization in 2013, and received the Feldberg Prize in 2017. In 2019 she was elected to membership in the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, and most recently (2021) has been awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, Germany’s highest scientific honor. In 2020 Asifa Akhtar became the first international female Vice President of the Biology and Medicine Section of the Max Planck Society.
The Unofficial CV
Asifa Akhtar had an international upbringing. She was born in Karachi, but also spent time in Abu Dhabi and Paris. Her interest in biology began during her schooldays. She considered going into medicine, but realized that she was more drawn to understanding the nitty-gritty molecular details of how cells function. After completing her A-Levels in Paris, Dr. Akhtar moved to London where she studied for a Bachelor’s degree in biology. Her passion for molecular biology only grew during this time, so she decided she would undertake PhD research under the supervision of Prof. Richard Treisman at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, which is now part of the Francis Crick Institute. Although her PhD was not always smooth sailing, it was an opportunity to grow in confidence and independence. In the process of completing it, she got hooked on doing research, so she decided to look for a postdoctoral position, and joined the lab of Prof. Peter Becker in Germany. After a successful postdoc, she was recruited to be a group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. Since then, Akhtar’s laboratory work has only gotten stronger. Her appointment as Director of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg has permitted her to further her curiosity by expanding the breadth of her research, which has led to a significant publication output and multiple international and national collaborations. Dr. Akhtar attributes this success to her optimism, perseverance, and of course her passion for science. Despite the increasing commitments vying for her time, discussing science is still the best part of her day. Asifa Akhtar considers being a scientist to be a privilege as it is a job in which one discovers new things every day and is constantly challenged to refine one’s hypotheses.