Student Spotlight: Niku Nourmohammadi

May 16, 2018

Niku Nourmohammadi

Major: Biology

College and Year: Natural and Social Sciences, Class of 2018

 What are your future career goals?

Because of my father I have a passion in medicine. One of my many passions is to ensure that what happened to my father does not happen to others. My father is a byproduct of the thalidomide pill. Thalidomide is a pain killer for pregnant mothers. Because of it, he was born without a left arm. It is my passion to reduce amelia factors for future generations. When a cure or a medicine is only available for the general public, I would like to increase the percentage or probability of cure for the other 20%. I hope to be a practicing surgeon. I would also like to pursue research. Healing and alleviating pain as a profession is a very rewarding career, and I am determined to have it as my career one day.

What extracurricular activities are you involved in?

I really enjoyed my four undergraduate years at Cal State LA. My involvement in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Club took me to inner city schools where I mentored students interested in the field of science by demonstrating basic chemistry experiments. Similarly, I also helped form Cal State LA’s first ever American Red Cross Club, guiding 30 members of a new student club to practice and exemplify humanitarian values through mission-related service projects such as blood drives, food drives, and fundraisers. I helped coordinate many guest speaker events on campus where doctors from USC and UCLA spoke about their journey into the field of medicine and provided advice to other pre-med students. Similarly, I was a part of a great community of Cal State LA students that were also passionate about pursuing a career in medicine in the Chicanos/Latinos for Community in Medicine (CCM CSULA) club. A club that formed 6 fundraiser events on campus and that helped form multiple science health events to inspire and motivate many students interested in a career in medicine and research. My involvement in ASI student government's Environmental Policy Committee also allowed me to work for a greener and safer environment on campus.

I thoroughly enjoyed my volunteer experiences in the ER and OR, shadowing physicians in the most overcrowded county hospital in Los Angeles, located right next to skid row. I have seen multiple cases in the overcrowded emergency department filled with patients screaming for narcotics, severe car accidents, crime suspects, and brain injuries. On a Thursday night in the emergency room, a young man died from a car crash accident before my eyes. It was only my third volunteer shift at California Hospital Medical Center. His mother was in total shock. After witnessing a mother’s son die before my eyes, wanting to help but not knowing how, I knew what kind of physician I wanted to be and what great responsibility I would hold. I knew right then that I wanted to help others with a career in the medical field. Watching how the hospital team and physicians work together fascinated me. I learned of the great responsibility a physician must hold and patience every hospital team member must have. I would be a strong and passionate physician who is willing to help and caring to her patients. I would do everything possible to help others in every way possible. Any patient can be treated with the right mindset and hospital team. My experiences in this hospital gave me new perspective on the clinical side of medicine.

Furthermore, I enjoyed my research experience at Cal State LA in Dr. Aguilar's biology research lab with a main emphasis on the evolution and conservation of California's native freshwater ichthyofauna and evolutionary genomic studies of diverse group of marine fishes (rockfish) along with endangered vernal pool crustaceans, amphibians, and sea birds.

Honors Senior Thesis and a brief description:
The Genetic Structure of Paracottus knerii in Lake Baikal

I am currently finishing a thesis with a research topic that has never been done before, studying the genetic structure of Paracottus knerii with two years of research conducted. I am determining whether this evolutionary species of fish that formed 42 other species is monophyletic or polyphyletic and under what conditions. I gathered their samples, studied their gene sequences, and am forming a phylogenetic tree. This original research project will be published in 2018.

What inspired you to pursue this project?

Ever since Mrs. Kilkenny’s eighth grade biology class, I became extremely passionate about biology and science. I knew that I would like to pursue an academic career in the field of biology. What drew me to this project was the shocking fact that there were no articles published about Paracottus knerii. This thesis project became an opportunity to fill in that gap. Providing valuable information to the public and to the National Science Foundation about this ancient species will allow future scientists 50 years from now to never forget the importance of this species that contributed to the main biodiversity of species in Russia’s Lake Baikal.

What has been your most memorable moment during this experience?

This experience allowed me to apply my knowledge that I learned from my science courses over the past four years. I have learned so much from Dr. Aguilar’s expertise and am incredibly thankful for his guidance and knowledge.

What has been your greatest challenge?

Fortunately my challenges were limited since I had two older sister to look up to, Nika and Niki.  I especially learned from Niki because she is also pursuing a career in medicine. I grew up watching my sisters succeed during their academic careers at Cal State LA. They broke all barriers for me. Whatever fears I was supposed to have, were gone when I began as a Cal State LA Early Entrance Program and Honors College student.

What tips can you give other students?

You have to be ready, persistent, patient, and organized. This rigorous experience will teach you more about what you do not know in your own field of study.

How has this experience affected your career ambitions?

After graduating this May 2018, I will be continuing my passions in Washington D.C. at George Washington University. Beginning this summer, I will be working in George Washington University’s medical school studying cold atmospheric gas and how it is used to kill cancer cells. I will be injecting this ionized gas into different cancer cell lines (pancreatic, breast cancer cells), and will be assessing how these cancer cells die by looking at its reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. I will be working on an important cancer research project that will be published by the end of this summer.

Beginning fall 2018, I will be attending graduate school at George Washington University’s Masters of Science in Anatomical and Translational Sciences. After graduate school, I plan to begin medical school to become a surgeon.

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

I really believe in education and its impact on my life and enjoy giving back to the community.