Charlene Mansour

University of Alabama at Birmingham
Birmingham, Alabama

What are your long-term career goals?

My goal is to become a physician-scientist by earning an MD/PhD. My PhD will be in cancer biology. My research interests lie at the intersection of genetics and genomics and cancer biology, specifically breast cancer. Using the most advanced genomics analytical tools, I plan to identify breast cancer-driving genes with recurrent hotspot mutations, which are likely to be targeted for cancer therapy. My work will have great promise for illuminating the mechanisms of cancer, developing diagnostic biomarkers and therapeutic strategies, and preventing breast cancer. I plan to conduct research at a leading academic research institution, where I will direct my own research laboratory and lead a team of researchers. I will hold a joint appointment, teaching cancer biology-focused university-level classes. I also plan to attend residency to become an oncologist and partake inpatient career.

Please share information about how the pandemic has impacted your research over the last two years.  

In August 2020, I sought special permission and approval from the directors of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science and the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham to return to my breast cancer research lab. I was the first undergraduate to conduct research at this time.   

Thus, COVID-19 did not have much of an impact on my year-round research position. The greatest impact the pandemic had on my research plans was during the summers of 2020 and 2021. I was one of 20 students, out of 2000 applicants, who was accepted into the prestigious Pulmonary and Critical Care Summer Internship Program at Johns Hopkins University. While it was intended for me to conduct wet-lab research on lung cancer, once the internship moved to a virtual platform, I was tasked with independently conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis evaluating the efficacy of varenicline–a smoking cessation medication–in African American populations. While this work broadly relates to cancer, it is not in my direct line of interest. Nevertheless, I learned valuable transferable skills. Most importantly, I yearned to be back in the lab which reaffirmed my desire to perform wet-lab research.  

Furthermore, I took on research investigating and writing about the different experiences and responses of countries to the pandemic. I published this work in a chapter of a bioethics textbook. Finally, I was planning to present at several national research conferences which were canceled. However, I capitalized on the accessibility of the online platform of many conferences. Over the past year, I attended 18 conferences — from international ones in Europe to national ones at Harvard, Stanford, and Emory.