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ISEF inspired alum to embark on career in clinical research

After competing in Intel ISEF 1995, Fatima Cody Stanford, M.D., M.P.H. continued to quench her thirst for scientific understanding.

Her Intel ISEF project on a protein that could improve farming practices in underdeveloped countries led her down a path of professional clinical research. She attended both Emory University and the Medical College of Georgia, and currently works at the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School as an obesity medicine and nutrition physician and research fellow.

In July, Stanford will begin her Master of Public Administration degree at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Below, Stanford tells us how Intel ISEF helped propel her into a professional career of clinical research. 

Can you tell us about your project and what initially made you interested in it and science in general?
My project was entitled: “The Expression of Recombinant Flavodoxin in Escherichia coli.” In this project, I used column chromatography to develop recombinant flavodoxin, a protein which is capable of converting nitrogenous compounds in the air to those that can be utilized in soil. If we were able to develop large amounts of this protein, it would have been useful for underdeveloped countries which often strip their soil of nutrients due to farming practices.
How did participating in ISEF help you progress in your field?
I have always been interested in science, and my participation in ISEF helped fuel my interest and eventual pursuit of clinical research. It was so exciting to see fellow students from countries throughout the world with a genuine interest in science and innovation. I was thrilled by the scientific curiosity and thought.
My participation in ISEF helped cultivate my early interest in research. Since that time, I have continued to conduct research in my daily life. My early start in research allowed me not to shy away from research opportunities at every level of education. While each field has its special nuances, Intel ISEF gives you the confidence to pursue research even when it is outside of your comfort zone. 
What education, career, and research highlights stand out to you most? Why?
I am currently an obesity medicine and nutrition physician and research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital/ Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. I conduct clinical research in the field of obesity medicine, health policy, and health disparities. 
My current work stands out as I am at the forefront of a new field in medicine, obesity medicine, and I am helping to explain why the obesity epidemic is so much more than “calories in/calories out” mantra that has been perpetuated in the lay population for so long. Obesity is a complex process in which genetics, behavior, and pathophysiology define ones predisposition to this disease process.
What advice would you give aspiring STEM students?
Be adventurous and enjoy this time of scientific creativity. Embrace the knowledge that you gain now as it will likely help define your career path and allow you to live your dreams!

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