December 2010

Research Spotlight: Geoffrey Kilili

In a special online-only article Tufts University graduate student Geoffrey Kilili talks about his research and interests and shares some of the challenges he's faced in his scientific development.

Geoffrey KililiASBMB: Tell us about your current career position.
Kilili: I am currently a graduate student at Tufts University in John Kyriakis' laboratory. For the past 4 years, my research has focused on the biochemistry and cell signaling aspects surrounding the development and pathology of neurofibromatosis type 2 cancer syndrome. I will be graduating very soon after which I wish to change fields and work on malaria research for my post doctoral training.

ASBMB: What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
Kilili: To start with, I was lucky to have parents who managed to impart two key virtues in my then soft brain, hard work pays and perseverance. These two virtues have been with me since then and I have found them most invaluable. After college, I had the opportunity to interact with people who showed trust in my opinions and judgments which helped build my confidence and sense of purpose. A number of good decisions also helped. For instance, after my masters degree in MAICh Crete, I had the option of going back to Kenya and resume my research assistant job in the National Museums of Kenya but I chose to move to USA where I had an offer for a technician in a molecular biology lab and work while I prepare for applying to graduate school. This was not easy especially because after two year in Greece, I was looking forward to going back to Kenya, where everybody I knew including my family lived.    

ASBMB: Were there times when you failed at something you felt was critical to your path?  If so, how did you regroup and get back on track?
Kilili: By the time I graduated from college I knew for sure I wanted to be a research scientist. So after graduating, I started looking for a job in research labs, and for a full year, I couldn’t find any job even outside research. Then I decided to work as a volunteer in the National Museums of Kenya. It is through this seemingly unattractive position that I met all the people who helped me make all the connections that led me to my current position. Lesson; if you know what you want never stop trying. 

ASBMB: What advice would you give to young persons from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours?
Kilili: First, it’s not about the money, it’s about having fun on the bench and satisfying your intellectual curiosities by your own hands rather than reading it in books or magazines. You therefore have to love doing science. Secondly, you need to have a curiosity driven personality. This will help you get through those bad days when nothing works and more importantly, deduce experimentally tasteful questions from negative data, data that most people will most likely shelf and forget about. 

ASBMB: What are your hobbies?
Kilili: Can’t afford to have many when you are a graduate student. In summer I brew beer at home and I like to take a fairly long but slow run in the evening, clears my brain.

ASBMB: What was the last book you read?
Kilili: "Guns Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond.

ASBMB: Do you have any heroes, heroines, or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you?
Kilili: As earlier stated, after college, I had the opportunity to interact with people who helped build my confidence and sense of purpose. The most notable of these, besides my current mentor John Kyriakis, include, Patrick Maundu of the national Museums of Kenya, Antonios Makris, MAICh, Crete, Greece and L. Jan Slikkerveer, University of Leiden, The Netherlands. These are highly accomplished scientist whom I had the opportunity to interact and learn from in my early career days. My most revered hero however, is a man I knew as a child. He was born blind and I used to guide him to places. Among all the people I knew then, he was the first to ever go to college and stimulate me intellectually.

ASBMB: What is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day?
Kilili: Curiosity and the hope that one day my work will lead to medical breakthroughs that may help save lives.

ASBMB: What advice can you give other international graduate students/postdocs who are interested in working or studying overseas?  In the U.S. specifically?
Kilili: If you are from a country that is not highly represented in U.S.A., for instance, India or China or have difficult speaking English, things can get lonely. Try to be patient, pay attention to the reactions and signals from the people you interact with, remember it is not for a day, it can be years before you ever get a chance to travel back or meet someone from you country. You therefore need to socialize or make the people around you see your social side. Never loose sight of your original goals and sense of purpose and do not look for short cuts, they probably won’t do you any good. In summary if you are happy, focused, hard working and legal, then your chances of success are just as good as those of any hard working American in your field.

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