Anis Barmada and Kingson Lin, two Yale School of Medicine (YSM) MD/PhD students, are among 30 newly named recipients of the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, chosen from a pool of more than 1,800 applicants. This graduate school fellowship is for immigrants and children of immigrants who are poised to make significant contributions to U.S. society and culture, or to their academic field.
The fellowship, now in its 23rd year, was established “in recognition of the contributions New Americans have made to American life and in gratitude for the opportunities the United States afforded the founders of the Fellowship, Paul & Daisy Soros.”
“I am very proud of what Anis and Kingson have accomplished, and happy that they have been recognized by this award,” says Barbara Kazmierczak, PhD, MD, Gustavus and Louise Pfeiffer Research Foundation MD-PhD Program Director and professor of medicine (infectious diseases) and of microbial pathogenesis. They join 11 other Yale MD/PhD students and alumni who have been honored as Soros Fellows, Kazmierczak notes, “recognized for their creativity, originality, initiative and sustained accomplishment—traits that we also look for when selecting students for physician-scientist training.”
Anis Barmada, first-year MD-PhD student: Immunobiology
Anis Barmada grew up in Damascus, Syria—including, for more than four years, during that country’s ongoing civil war—until immigrating to the United States at age 17 with his mother and two brothers. Upon arrival in the U.S., Barmada enrolled in his senior year of high school, learning English while taking advanced placement classes.
Barmada commuted four hours each weekday to pursue his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he double majored in chemistry and biological sciences and minored in mathematics, while working 11-hour shifts at a restaurant on the weekend; volunteering as a clinic assistant, college tutor, and research peer mentor; and serving on several campus committees. Barmada maintained a perfect grade point average, was selected as a Barry Goldwater Scholar for his research—including three first-author publications—and received the Riddle Prize, given to the most outstanding graduate across the university.
After college, Barmada received his MPhil in genomic medicine from the University of Cambridge as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. While there, he also conducted COVID-19 research at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and served as president of a global health think tank and deputy editor-in-chief of the Gates Cambridge Scholar Magazine, reflecting his passion for science communication and health policy. This further motivated him to write several opinion pieces, from describing his research in Scientific American to interviewing a NASA astronaut for The Scholar.
“I have been curious about the world for as long as I can remember,” says Barmada. “I recall when I was a kid, I used to sit for hours just observing flies or ants and wondering why they behave the way they do.” While his interests span from philosophy to history, he explains that as his education progressed, “I became even more fascinated by the sciences and specifically how they can be applied to improve human health.”
This curiosity is reflected in his initiative to reach out to YSM Assistant Professor of Immunobiology Carrie Lucas, PhD—who he met during his MD/PhD interview— prior to starting the program at Yale, to collaborate on a review article and gain a deeper understanding of immune diseases.
Remarkable research proficiency
When Barmada started the MD/PhD Program in August 2021, he immediately was integrated into the Lucas Lab, while juggling the demands of a first-year MD student. Because of his significant experience with complex data analysis approaches while earning his MPhil, he was able to lead single-cell RNA sequencing analysis of an important pediatric inflammatory syndrome that the lab studies. “His remarkable research proficiency has been truly impressive,” says Lucas, describing how he has a keen ability to read the literature both broadly and deeply to understand gaps in knowledge and generate creative and impactful new hypotheses as her team works to contextualize its data. Barmada, she says, finds time to routinely join her group’s lab meetings and broadly contributes his ideas and thoughts as an engaged and collaborative colleague in the lab.
In describing his focus on this project, Barmada says it is “a topic of pressing importance that I wanted to devote my time to solving.”
In reflecting on the challenges and rewards of research, Barmada notes the “cliché answer” is true—"things often do not work according to plan, and one needs to stay persistent and curious.” He does both experimental/lab-based and computational research, and mastery of both has had a steep learning curve, though he enjoys learning and applying new techniques. However, Barmada reflects, “These challenges are much overshadowed by the rewarding aspect of being the first person, even for a short period of time, to know how something new works! This is all the more rewarding when directly applied to patient care and the benefit of society.” Through medicine, Barmada hopes to make a positive impact on society, explaining, “I love immunology, in particular, because it describes how our own body defends itself from both external and internal threats on a daily basis, which is ultimately at the core of health and disease.”
Life experiences shaping personal values and mindset
When he learned he had been selected for this fellowship, Barmada felt “a deep sense of humility and was reminded of how grateful I am for the continuous support I receive from my mentors, friends, and family—especially my mother and two brothers.” Barmada, who credits his life experiences for shaping his personal values and mindset, considers his immigration to the U.S., with its easy and difficult times, as “the turning point in my life. This opportunity enabled me to pursue my biggest ambitions.”
“Anis’ accomplishments in context of his experiences growing up in Syria, immigrating to the United States at age 17 years, and still being so early in his MD/PhD training are truly remarkable,” says Lucas, adding that he “is a star student who has a unique combination of determination, intelligence, kindness, and intangible traits that will undoubtedly lead to his development into a leading physician-scientist tackling impactful immunology research. I could not be more excited for Anis’ recognition as a Soros Fellowship recipient.”