The Sabbatical Experience: A Fulbright Scholar in Slovakia A Transformative Experience
I embarked on my sabbatical leave during the fall of 2016 after earning my tenure in 2014. I had the privilege to receive a 2016 – 2017 U.S. Fulbright Scholar Award to the Slovak Republic. My sabbatical leave together with my Fulbright award provided me firstly with the opportunity to enhance my research spectrum by working with Dr. Magdaléna Májeková at the Institute of Experimental Pharmacology and Toxicology (IEPT) of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAS) in Bratislava, the Slovak Republic. Dr. Májeková is an expert in biophysics and medicinal chemistry. My sabbatical leave and Fulbright research focused on sarco/ endop-lasmic reticulum Ca2+-ATPase (SERCA), which is a transmembrane enzyme that plays a central role in regulating cytosolic Ca2+ concentration and maintaining calcium homeostasis within the cells (Figure 1). This enzyme is involved in Ca2+ signaling mechanisms in many biological functions, including muscle contraction, gene expression, cell motility and apoptosis. SERCA dysfunction has been associated with age-related diseases and various pathophysiological conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, muscular diseases, inflammation and cancer.
Figure 1 Cross-section of the computational model of SERCA (cartoon: pink, yellow and blue) embedded in a biological lipid membrane (licorice: cyan) surrounded by water molecules (spheres: red), and potassium and chloride ions (spheres: pink and cyan). Rutin (surface: green) is displayed bound to SERC
Figure 2 Members of the Department of Biochemical Pharmacology at the IEPT of SAS (Top-Left Panel); Slovakia Fulbright Grantees 2016 – 2017 at The Slovak National Theater (Top-Right Panel); Slovakia Fulbright Grantees at The High Tatras, Slovakia (Bottom-Left Panel); and Collaborators at the IEPT of SAS (Bottom-Right Panel).
An article about our research has recently been published in the Computing Center of the Slovak Academy of Sciences HPC Focus. In addition, during my sabbatical leave, I was able to disseminate my research as a guest speaker at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, attend a conference in Verona, Italy, and meet with my collaborators at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas in Madrid, Spain with whom we recently published a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.
Secondly, my sabbatical leave also played a key role in letting me get to know the Slovak culture. The cultural exchange was very enriching (Figures 2 and 3). I was introduced to folk dancing, yoga, and drumming. Thirdly, my sabbatical leave also allowed me to travel and expand my horizons in new worlds, new cultures and new people. The sabbatical leave gave me time to reflect personally and professionally. It was a period to reflect about what to do next, how to become a better person, a better colleague, a better scholar, and to place things in perspective. I feel truly humbled and honored and I am thankful for this opportunity. My current and future students will benefit from this experience as I will increase their research visions as well as instill in them the determination and passion to remain in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. I am very thankful to Hostos and my colleagues at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York who have supported and helped me through my scholarly and professional growth during my tenure at CUNY.
Natural Sciences Department