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Senior named Fulbright Scholar, plans cancer research in Botswana

by Greg St. Martin

Sarah Sherman points to her co-op at Massachusetts General Hospital in 2015 as a seminal moment in her Northeastern experience. Not only did she receive her first hands-on experience in cancer research—which has become her passion—but she also learned of the hospital’s work to enhance cancer care in Botswana, where she says poor access to pathology has hindered timely diagnoses.

Sherman, S’17, was recently named a Fulbright Scholar. After graduating in May, she plans to travel to Botswana to begin her eight-month Fulbright research project focused on evaluating whether recent improvements to the country’s pathology labs have affected the processing time for samples to generate timely cancer diagnoses.

Through this project, Sherman will partner with University of Botswana researchers and the Botswana Oncology Global Outreach program, or BOTSOGO, which works to improve access to quality cancer care through collaborations between healthcare professionals in Boston and in Botswana. She is eager to build upon her experiences in the lab, and said her Fulbright research will afford her the opportunity to bridge the gap between bench work and globally relevant solutions.

“Cancer is first and foremost an intensely human problem,” she said. “My passion for global public health is fueled by the knowledge that it is a deeply collaborative effort. I want to be able to work with other clinicians and researchers in Botswana, in order to ground my contributions to the oncology field in the human elements of the cancer problem.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers research, study, and teaching opportunities in over 140 countries to recent graduates, master’s and doctoral candidates, and young professionals in particular fields. In preparation for her Fulbright project, Sherman has enrolled in an online course in basic clinical trial research design to broaden her understanding of project design. She also plans to take two online courses in biostatistics to strengthen her data analysis skills.

Hand-on training, and global perspective

Sherman’s research and global experiences at Northeastern have collectively fueled her passion for global public health. On co-op at Massachusetts General Hospital, her work included planning and coordinating experiments to test novel chemotherapeutics as part of preclinical breast cancer research. She secured that co-op through Northeastern’s CanCURE program, which provides undergraduates experiential learning opportunities in cancer nanomedicine research.

“That was my springing-off point,” she said of her CanCURE co-op. “I was interested in cancer research but had no conception about how to do that type of research. I learned so much through this experience.”

In summer 2016, Sherman interned at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where she trained in the Pediatric Oncology Education program. Later that year, she completed a co-op at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she gained more hands-on experience as an undergraduate research assistant.

Sherman also underscored the value of her global experiences at Northeastern—a Dialogue of Civilizations program in Italy and Alternative Spring Break in the Dominican Republic. “I was immersed in new environments and surrounded by new people and cultures,” she said. Her Alternative Spring Break experience, she added, opened her eyes to the fact that many countries don’t have the same healthcare resources as the U.S.

At Northeastern, Sherman discovered not only her research passion, but also the importance of persistence and patience—qualities that came to shape her academic path. She entered Northeastern as an undeclared major, but knowing that both biology and English fascinated her. While attending a “What’s in a Major?” event freshman year, she spoke with a professor about her struggle to decide which track to pursue. The professor encouraged her to do both. That five-minute conversation, Sherman said, set her on an almost two-year journey to establish a combined major in biology and English.

“Although the combined major I wanted did not yet exist, I learned there was a process in place for creating it,” she said. “That experience taught me the value of persistence, and that if you really want something you have to ask for it and advocate for it.”

Following her Fulbright, Sherman plans to enroll in a doctoral or medical program to continue her studies in oncology.

Originally published in news@Northeastern on April 10, 2017.

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