Stem cell scientists around the world face different challenges based on their geographic locations. These challenges might include low salaries, tough living conditions, lack of the proper research equipment, political issues, etc. We thought it would be interesting and helpful to other developing stem cell scientists to interview researchers in this field around the world. We will be asking them about the challenges they face and ways they have overcome them, and also to discuss the goals they are striving towards.
In our first post of this series, we interview 36-year-old Yosif Ganat, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who has lived in New York City for the last 10 years.
StemCultures: Where and when did you obtain your degrees?
Yosif: Undergraduate Cornell (1999), Postbaccalaureate program at Yale (2004), Weill Cornell Graduate (PhD) (2010).
StemCultures: What attracted you to the field of stem cell science?
Yosif: I was a pre-med student throughout my undergraduate studies at Cornell; however, before I applied to graduate school, I had the opportunity to do some work in a neuroscience lab and really enjoyed it. My experience in the neuroscience laboratory made me realize how rich and interesting the brain is. That led me to do more research on the field of stem cell science, specifically regeneration through stem cells, and pursue it in my graduate studies.
StemCultures: What is the specific field of stem cell science that you focus in?
Yosif: Neuroscience, specifically cell replacement therapies for Parkinson’s disease (dopamine neurons).
StemCultures: What are the biggest challenges you face as a post-doctoral fellow in the field of stem cell science, both in general and because of your location in New York City?
Yosif: Hands down, the biggest challenge in this field is salary. I earn $42,000 per year, which is very discouraging, especially here in New York City, one of the most expensive places to live. There is potential to make more money in the private sector; however, I do have subsidized housing, and there are some other benefits in the academic sector, like subsidized daycare at some institutions. The pay versus rent is really a huge challenge in New York City; I know that to be true for many stem cell scientists here.
The biggest benefit of working in this field is the freedom of your schedule. I have the ability to set my own schedule and work when I want to work. I also don’t have a boss who is hovering over my shoulder from 9 to 5, like in the corporate world.
StemCultures: How have you overcome the pay-versus-rent challenge in New York City to continue your research?
Yosif: I have a second job, which I usually work weekend nights. Without this second job, I would be eating Ramen noodles for every meal, seriously. The one recommendation that I have for stem cell graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who want to build careers in New York City is to get a second job, or else it will be very difficult to survive. My second job has allowed me to maintain a satisfactory lifestyle.
StemCultures: What does your typical day/week look like?
Yosif: I am usually in the lab every day, but Mondays through Fridays are full days from 11 am to 7 pm. After the lab, I go home and work on either grant writing or research papers until usually 4 am, depending on how many grants I am working on. Then, on the weekend nights, I work at my second job.
StemCultures: Yosif, you make $42,000 a year, you work 10 to 15 hours per day, and you have described your quality of life as satisfactory. Why do you continue to do what you do?
Yosif: When you are passionate about something, when you have a burning desire to answer a question or solve a problem, that passion makes even the most questionably satisfactory of living/working conditions enjoyable.
StemCultures: When you finish your career as a stem cell scientist, what is the one goal you most want to have achieved?
Yosif: It is my burning desire to get human-stem-cell-derived dopamine neurons for engraftment into Parkinson’s patients—to be more specific, pluripotent-derived human dopamine neurons into Parkinson’s patients. I am currently working on a cellular purification strategy to achieve this goal, and I am hopeful that I can achieve it before my resources run out.
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