Sana Nasim recalls meeting Nancy Cavalie at FIU biomedical engineering’s first annual Miami Heart Day Symposium. Little did she know that a short conversation with Miami Heart Research Institute’s Executive Director would steer her last few years as a Ph.D. student in a positive direction.

Biomedical engineering graduate student Nasim has recently been awarded a grant for $60,000 per year, and is renewable for an additional year. Nasim’s grant is funded by the Miami Heart Research Institute, also known as Florida Heart Research Foundation. They are a non-profit 501 (c)(3) organization with the major mission to stop heart disease through education and prevention.

Nasim introduced herself to Cavalie in early 2018 and spoke about her passion for research. This led her to the submission of a letter of intent, and later, the submission of a full proposal. This was Nasim’s first opportunity to write a research grant. It was solely intended for faculties and research scientists, yet Nasim decided to give it a try. “Ph.D. grant writing is very rare,” said Nasim. “I have always been a type of person who likes to go outside the traditional norms. As I have been leaning more towards a career choice in academia, I wanted to expose myself to grant writing opportunities. Since I have been at FIU, I have attended few grant writing workshops, which substantially helped with writing strategies.”

Nasim took the initiative to seek funding for pursuing her research goals. “This is an excellent example of a doctoral student showing leadership skills and independence,” said Nikolaos Tsoukias, associate professor of biomedical engineering and mentor of Nasim. “She is setting the bar high for all graduate students in our program.”

Her grant, titled “Phenotypic and functional characterization of neural crest derived-aortic valve interstitial cells,” will help Nasim in her research to understand how different cell phenotype that are present in the aortic valve regulate, the extracellular matrix protein, elastin.

Assistant professor of biomedical engineering and an esteemed mentor of Nasim, Joshua Hutcheson, says that this is an outstanding achievement. “Sana showed tremendous leadership in seeking out this opportunity, and she put together a really strong proposal that competed against faculty from across the state. The award speaks volumes about her ability and will allow her to conduct high level research over the next two years,” said Hutcheson.

In addition, Nasim believes that under the guidance of her academic mentor, Lidia Kos (Associate Dean of University Graduate School, Associate Vice President of Research, and Professor at FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences and Education), she has successfully tackled the grant writing process. “The Miami Heart award to Sana is a major accomplishment. I am so proud of her! Sana embodies the mentee that every advisor would dream of having,” said Kos. “She is extremely driven, pro-active, and takes complete charge of her project. She is goal oriented and gets things done. She is unafraid of trying new things and is always ready to do so. More important to me is that she is an absolute pleasure to work with and clearly values the interactions and relationships she has with everyone in the lab and at FIU.”

Nasim shares her most impactful advice to future grant writers:

  1. Grow from constructive criticisms. Take advantage of feedback from professors and mentors, which will potentiate in scholarly abilities.
  2. Push through your own barriers. If you feel unqualified, know that there are opportunities out there for everyone. You are a stronger candidate than you think you are!
  3. Find motivation to push yourself forward. Graduate school can be a stressful time for even the most successful and intellectual candidates. There will be times when you will be pushed to your intellectual limits and must find your own way forward.
  4. Find strength and motivation by always seeking for the next opportunity by continuously reminding yourself what you are most passionate about.
  5. If your heart yearns for something, negotiate your way towards it.

Congratulations, Sana, on your accomplishment! We look forward to learning more about your research endeavors!


by Jaclyn Abrahante