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Donors Make a Difference: Dardan Konjusha

This year, the Charlotte and Leo Karassik Foundation Oncology Postdoctoral Fellowship was awarded to Dardan Konjusha, a first-year postdoc in Dr. Yojiro Yamanaka’s lab. Dr. Yamanaka’s lab studies the development of the female reproductive tract as well as the malignancies that affect it, mainly ovarian cancer. Dardan’s main project specifically investigates a novel gene variant which has been implicated as a cancer-predisposing gene from population studies done on French-Canadians. By using mouse models and cancer modeling techniques developed in Dr. Yamanaka’s lab he aims to elucidate the mechanisms of this gene variant and how it relates to the implicated risk of developing ovarian cancer. Research like this has clinical relevance as it helps doctors stratify patients into well-defined risk groups, as well as choose the correct treatment. Read our interview with Dardan below to learn about what the support of this funding means for him and his ongoing research.

How will this scholarship contribute to the success of your research?

This scholarship frees up funding from Dr. Yamanaka which enables us to put more resources towards our projects and ongoing experiments.

Can you share your long-term goals and aspirations for your career and how you believe this scholarship will impact your journey toward achieving them?

After finishing my PhD, I was unsure whether to stay in academia or move over to industry. Dr. Yamanaka’s research and way of thinking pulled me back into academia and I now see myself continuing on this track and eventually leading a research group of my own. This fellowship will facilitate the hard work needed to reach that goal and I am very thankful for this opportunity being granted to me.

Can you tell us about the moment you found out you were selected to receive this award?

I was back home in Sweden visiting my wife and my family – parents, siblings and all. We were sitting in the living room having tea when I got the email and saw that I got the fellowship. We were already very happy to all re-unite (all the kids live in different cities) but it definitely got more festive after I shared the news!

What does receiving this award mean to you personally and academically?

On a personal level, the award chips away at that imposter syndrome that most, if not all scientists, suffer with. Professionally, it means that I have more funding to stick around and do research in the very stimulating environment that is Dr. Yamanaka’s lab.

Can you share any experiences of setbacks or challenges you have encountered in your scholarship journey at any stage of your degree and how you overcame them?

After my PhD, I applied to several big postdoc grants in Sweden, hoping to finance my postdoc independently of Dr. Yamanaka’s funding, with no success. I feel like what has helped me the most is just repetition of the application process. Re-writing and refining the application after feedback from more senior academics and the committees that decide on the grants.

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