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Embracing a personal challenge

Zia Khan

When Zia Khan, PhD, received the opportunity to come back to Canada to work at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, he set some goals focused on teaching and administration. And while it meant he had to step out of his comfort zone, he was committed and has never looked back.

“Canada puts a lot of emphasis on education and training, which is different from other parts of the world,” said Khan, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia.

For Khan, it was a personal challenge to work in Canada, knowing the high expectations for teaching and administration, in addition to research. He was, however, determined to achieve his goals.

Khan, an associate professor in Schulich Medicine & Dentistry’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, explained that his comfort zone has started to expand, as he is really enjoying the parts of his job he once considered difficult.

Part of the reason why Khan wanted to work at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry is because it is where he completed his PhD. He explained that after spending two years here, he wanted to return after completing his postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

Khan’s lab is currently working on projects that involve blood vessels and how they form, which he explained can be applied to a variety of diseases, including cancer and diabetes. “We are trying to think about all the cells that are required and what happens to that process in a chronic disease state — we want to know what the disease is doing to those blood vessels,” he said.

Khan became interested in this field of work during his PhD when he studied diabetic retinopathy, which is a disease where you have too many blood vessels in the eye. He realized that a new perspective was needed on the subject, and wanted to look at blood vessels from a different angle — that of cancers and other chronic diseases.

He explained the greatest part of his research is that it gives him the opportunity to constantly think and use his imagination, which makes his work dynamic almost every single day.

“It is not about the actual study that you do, it is about the results that you get,” he said. “Regardless of what the outcome of your study is, it is going to make you think again and again, and that is what keeps me going.”

Khan recently realized that working in a lab environment with a team is another thing that keeps him driven, as he explained the environment is very collaborative.

“In my lab, there isn’t a hierarchy system — we are all colleagues and we all learn from each other and respect each other,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling to see how my team is connecting the dots.”

Khan’s research team consists of three graduate students and active collaboration with a number of other labs and students at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.

His team approach to research is creating an environment of inspiration, optimism and direction.  Khan believes that, rather than particular methodologies or even the area of research, it is the scientific excitement that should be the driving force.