MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

GSBS AMBR SpotLIGHT: Medina Colic

September 20, 2018
Celso Catumbela, GSBS AMBR

The Association of Minority Biomedical Researchers will be featuring interviews with its members as a way to highlight GSBS students and life inside and outside of the lab. This feature will be posted on the group's website and Facebook page. AMBR’s first spotlight features an interview with GSA Secretary Medina Colic conducted by AMBR Event Coordinator Celso Catumbela. 

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AMBR member and GSA Secretary Medina Colic joined the Graduate School in 2017.  She credits her successes in her graduate education to the sage advice of her peers and her newly found passion for self-improvement that extends beyond the laboratory.

With all the eloquence of a villager during the Middle Ages, I greeted Medina with a bumbling “Fair day to you, Madam.” Being a fellow member of the GSBS Entering Class of 2017, she had by now grown accustomed to my greetings, which can be most accurately described as a combination of an odd grasp of the English language, peppered in with a Twilight-inspired sense of humor, and a genuine belief that Ed Sheeran writes songs just for me — I can’t explain it but I just know this is true.

Nonetheless, I was left wondering how the same individual who only a year ago voiced her concern that a sparse background in biology would make it impossible for her to succeed, had somehow attained two publications out of her tutorial rotation experience; and to top it off, an incredible first year. She was not only the recipient of two separate Travel Awards, but was also accepted into the competitive Summer School Program, VISUM (Vision Understanding and Machine Intelligence).

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To decompress from the stresses of grad school life, Medina rock climbs, does yoga, runs, paints, and cooks.

In her trademark soft-spoken Bosnian accent, Medina reflects on the contrast between who she was at the beginning of her Ph.D. journey versus the person sitting across from me today.

“A year ago I was still just as excited about science as I am today, but my insecurities were at the forefront of so many of my decisions,” said Medina. “That insecurity is what made me reject a lot of opportunities early on due to a fear of failure, or not being good enough.”

When I asked Medina what helped silence this voice of doubt — which many of us are all too familiar with — she said, “...being surrounded by people who are inspiring, passionate, and in pursuit of their goals despite the obstacles... that environment is what led me to open up my mind and look forward to polishing my skills [and weaknesses, in particular].”

Her apprehension and self-doubt are understandable; after all, soon after arriving from Bosnia in the summer of 2013 she began her B.S. in Computer Science, in conjunction with a Minor in Math and Physical Sciences, at the North American University in Houston. She credits not only the sage advice of her peers, but also a newly found passion for self-improvement that extends beyond the laboratory.

“I started doing yoga intensively, as well as rock climbing, and running,” said Medina. “I also cooked throughout college, but never shared it with anyone, and did it mainly as a way to decompress. Importantly, I focused on painting again, and used it as a way to express all the different highs and lows of grad school. It was also a great way to deal with the personal transition that comes with moving to a new environment and living alone; and ultimately, these lifestyle changes allowed me to pay attention to myself as an individual and become a person that felt the same, yet different.

Interestingly, the ability to convey her emotions on canvas ultimately garnered her another accolade, as her art pieces were selected for the Chocolate & Art exhibition held in Houston in the spring of 2018. 

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Medina poses with her artwork at the Chocolate & Art Exhibition.

Perhaps due to an intimate knowledge of self-doubt, or simply owing to a desire to touch the lives of others, Medina’s array of responsibilities now include the duties of Secretary for the GSBS Graduate Student Association. In this new and exciting role, she will have the opportunity to impact the careers of graduate students, including those who are now going through the same steps that she underwent as a first-year Ph.D. student — and likely, also experiencing a similar initial cascade of emotions. As I remind her that she’s now qualified to provide sage advice of her own, her sunny disposition now becomes more attentive, making evident the seriousness with which she accepts her new role.

Medina first takes note of how to maximize tutorial rotations, as well as effectively integrating into one’s lab of choice. “Make it easier for your PI to truly know who you are. We all want to impress our PIs but giving them a genuine look into who we are makes it easier for them to guide you," said Medina.

Additionally, she remembers the key ways in which she facilitated her Foundations Course experience. “Manage your time and engage in social activities, as these give you a chance to explore science outside of the lab and work on skills that can be integrated into different portions of your career," said Medina. “Most importantly, establish lasting bonds with your fellow classmates."

As she progresses through her Ph.D., Medina can now count among her accomplishments the ability to inspire the best in others through the sharing of her experiences. Her story is one of perseverance and a desire to push past perceived limitations—something that resonates with all of us.  

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