Meet Dawit Tesfaye, Ph.D.

Written by Laura Schultz as part of the #blackinrepro discussion

Dawit Tesfaye, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the Colorado State University. The research in Dr. Tesfaye’s lab focuses on understanding the gene and gene regulatory mechanisms associated with various aspects of female reproduction including ovarian functionality and preimplantation embryo development. Moreover, understanding and modulating the embryonic NRF2-mediated oxidative stress response is the main area of research to enhance embryo survival and viability under suboptimal conditions. Recently, his lab is investigating the role of extracellular vesicles and their molecular cargos in regulating various reproductive functions in cattle with potential translation to humans. In addition to deciphering molecular cargo of extracellular vesicles in biological fluids, the research group is investigating the potential use of extracellular vesicles as a vehicle to deliver stress-associated miRNA in granulosa cells, oocytes, and preimplantation embryos.

Check out our recent Q&A with him:

What is your background/current position and what does it entail?

I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at The Colorado State University. My responsibilities are distributed 50% research, 40% teaching, and 10% services. My background is in Animal Sciences and currently working on female reproductive biology with a special emphasis on understanding the molecular mechanisms related to oocyte and preimplantation embryo developmental competence.  

Can you talk a little bit about yourself, where are you from? What first attracted you to the world of science? And how did you get to be in your current position?

I am originally from Ethiopia, where I had my undergraduate studies. Afterward, I had the chance to come to the University of Bonn, Germany for my M.Sc. and Ph.D. studies. That was the time in which my inspiration for reproductive science started. After the completion of my Ph.D. studies, I have continued as a postdoctoral fellow in the same institution and after some time promoted to a faculty member in the Institute of Animal Sciences. I joined the Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory (ARBL) at Colorado State University in October 2019. Now I am part of ARBL, where a wonderful and dynamic group of people are working in the field of reproductive biology. I am married and a father of three girls.   

What impact has the pandemic had on your daily activities and position?

The pandemic started exactly five months after my arrival at CSU. Initially, I had to establish my research lab and group. The pandemic hit just after we completed the IVF and molecular biology lab establishment. Therefore, we had to wait another 4 months to start experiments. All in all, the pandemic delayed all the planned experiments, which were supposed to generate data to be used as an input for new grant proposals. Initially, meeting the pandemic requirements in our day-to-day activity was a challenge, and need to adjust a lot of things. Moreover, several conferences were either postponed to some other times or held virtually. 

What strategies have you adopted in order to create a new “normal” for your daily activities and position?

At the beginning of the pandemic when my lab was not functional, I used the time to read and write manuscripts. I took time to think about my future plans and research ideas. After the opening of the lab, I and my two lab members have tried to adjust ourselves to the new situation. The very important strategy during the pandemic was to follow the principle of allocating the time during the day for valuable tasks including reading and writing manuscripts and grants, managing e-mails, accomplishing scientific commitments by reviewing papers and participate in virtual meetings.  

Have you gained any valuable lessons from life during the pandemic?

The pandemic has taught me how vulnerable a human being is. I have learned that things which we thought to be normal like fresh air and social interaction, are valuable when we are not allowed to practice them. The best lesson I learned is the value of being able to do things through social interactions. Participating in conferences in person, going out to social events, are very important aspects of the life of a researcher.    

What expectations have you had to let go or remove from your daily activities and position?

I am a person of perfection. I mostly expect the same from the others. I must learn to be very flexible in this matter and adjust myself to the situation. I am very weak in finding the balance between work and life, which I need to improve in the future.  

How have you stayed connected with friends and family during this time?

As I am new at CSU, my best friends are my wife and my kids. After working hours and most weekends, I spent more time with them. I had enjoyed going out for dinner with my lab team whenever it was possible. I had plenty of Zoom and FaceTime calls with my family and friends out of town and abroad.

What are you most excited to do once the pandemic has cleared?

Traveling with my family and visit family and friends. Going to conferences in person.

What words of inspiration would you like to share with the future generation of scientists?

Looking into my career, my journey to my current position was possible because of two things 1. My dedication to the work and inspiration for science and 2. My luck in working with very helpful and wonderful people. I had the chance to work with people, who have inspired me and gave me all the support in developing myself into an independent researcher. Moreover, I had and still have the privilege to supervise and work with very hard-working and excellent students, who have a significant contribution to my career. Therefore, in addition to working hard, making the maximum output from the opportunities, is the best way to success. Even though it is sometimes very hard, try to find the balance between work and life. As some of the experiments in reproductive science are challenging and time-consuming, it is important to remain focused and enthusiastic about the work you are doing. Bear always in mind that you are doing valuable research, which can make a positive impact on the society.

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