From an early age, Baindu Bayon, PhD set the bar high. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, her list of potential careers was all encompassing, ranging from U.S. Surgeon General to a Supreme Court Justice to an astronaut. It’s no surprise that by the time she entered middle school, Dr. Bayon had her heart set on pursuing a career in medicine – an interest and passion that never faltered, leading her to become a biomedical researcher at IU School of Medicine.
Born and raised in Indianapolis, Dr. Bayon is a Hoosier through and through. She received her undergraduate degree in biology from Indiana University Bloomington, followed by her PhD in medical and molecular genetics from IU School of Medicine. Now, a postgraduate researcher within the Department of Psychiatry at the Stark Neurosciences Research Institute, Dr. Bayon reflects on her education and training, and offers advice for those interested in pursuing a career in biomedical research:
What made you pursue biomedical research?
I have always been a very curious person. I probably could have been some sort of detective, but I was pretty good at science and math. The combination of encouraging parents and educators who recognized my talents led to an opportunity to conduct biomedical research at the oncology center at IUSM while in high school as an American Chemical Society Project SEED scholar. This exposure sent me down a path toward my pursuit of understanding medicine and therapeutics.
What are your overall career goals?
I ultimately see myself involved in medical affairs and science policy.
What is your greatest career accomplishment thus far?
I was recently able to present my research during an oral presentation at the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, U.K. this past summer. It was a huge honor to present my work on a global stage among others passionately working toward understanding this devastating disease.
“Being an effective, well-rounded thought leader requires creativity, clarity and curiosity that does not simply end because we’ve left the laboratory for the day.”
Has there been a specific mentor or mentors at IU School of Medicine who have helped you get to where you are now?
I feel privileged to have studied under the guidance of my thesis advisor Debomoy K. Lahiri, PhD, MSC. During my third year, I lost my mother to a rare cancer and had to regain focus on my purpose in science. His valuable words of wisdom and encouragement helped me to begin looking at my doctoral training as part of a greater continuum of my life’s journey. He encouraged me not to compartmentalize my life as a young scientist from the rest of my personal life. Dr. Lahiri taught me that being an effective, well-rounded thought leader requires creativity, clarity, and curiosity that does not end simply because we have left the laboratory for the day. He modeled the type of leadership that I wanted to take from the lab out into my community and career, which is what he allowed me to do in addition to my PhD training.
What advice would you give someone who was interested in pursuing a career in biomedical research?
My advice to students interested in biomedical research is to look for aspects of therapeutics, pathology, or scientific approaches where there are gaps of knowledge (there are plenty!) in the field of your interest and pinpoint the gaps about which you’re most curious. Medical research is different from being a clinician because your goal is not necessarily to answer “what,” but it will be to answer “how” and “why.” You will then ask new questions in numerous ways once that question is answered, so I would also recommend gaining a tolerance for delayed gratification!
What research initiatives are you currently working on? How do you see this research translating clinically for patients?
I am currently interested in the transcription factor regulation of amyloid precursor protein (APP) and of beta-secretase (BACE1) which is responsible for the formation of plaques that develop in the Alzheimer’s disease brain. We have developed a primary human neurosphere culture system to use as a neuroscience model for testing compounds that may modulate transcription factors themselves or the epigenetic markers altering transcription factor binding sites. Some of the compounds we are testing have been previously used in patients for other indications. The use of compounds that have a well-characterized toxicity profile could ease the progression of drug development through a clinical trial pipeline if promising preliminary results in a primary human system are first seen in vitro.
What’s the best piece of advice you received throughout the course of your education/training?
I was taught to question results, to be skeptical of data, and to very closely scrutinize everything I read. I think for students, especially budding scientists, this spills over into a constant questioning of your own abilities and knowledge. You’re constantly surrounded by people who are experts, proven innovators, and basically geniuses who seem to understand everything! It’s difficult not to feel small in a world where a Nobel Laureate could be giving a talk at a conference you’re attending. There is also the unspoken pressure of being in the room where likely no one else will look like you. The most valuable advice I was given was that if you’re in the room, not only do you most certainly belong there, but that your presence is necessary. It is important to understand that those experts were once like yourself, and no matter how much they seem to know, there is so much that they do not understand, which is what makes science a field for all of us at any stage of our careers.