Hutch United (HU) is proud to announce that minority graduate student and HU Organizational Committee Member, Biswajit ‘Bish’ Paul is one of the four finalists for this year’s Graduate School Medal awarded by the the University of Washington (UW). The honor is awarded to doctoral student candidates who demonstrate both academic excellence and a strong commitment to social awareness as ‘scholar-citizens.’ The selection process is highly competitive and open to Graduate programs across all UW campuses comprising more than 4,000 students. In a ceremony held on Thursday, May 21st, David L Eaton, the Dean of the Graduate School also presented Bish with a Citizen Scholar award.
Bish is a PhD student in the University of Washington’s Molecular and Cellular Biology program and is completing his doctoral work in the lab of Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem in the Clinical Research Division at the Fred Hutch. Bish is evaluating the enzyme megaTAL nuclease, a genetic engineering tool that prevents infection of human cells by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Bish’s work spans the effective delivery of molecular tools and their appropriate use in primary human cells and in animal models of transplantation. Bish received the ‘Best Scientific Poster’ award at the Conference on Cell and Gene Therapy for HIV Cure in 2014 for this work. He has also previously received awards from the Gates Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and NASA for research conducted as an undergraduate researcher at Fred Hutch and UW labs.
In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Bish moonlights as an advocate and community leader and organizer. He has shared his passion for science with the general public as a Science Communication Fellow with the Pacific Science Center and has become a leader in science policy serving on UW’s Graduate and Professional Student Senate and helping lead the UW Forum on Science and Ethics policy. More recently, Bish was selected to take part in Emerging Leaders in Science and Society, a yearlong leadership development program piloted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Bish and 15 other students from across the country are working collaboratively to develop solutions towards epidemic preparedness. Bish is also a leader at Fred Hutch. He is a very active member of the Hutch United Organizational Committee and is currently working with a team to help create the Hutch United Fellowship with the goal of bringing funds to Fred Hutch to provide salary and additional support for a minority postdoc and/or graduate student.
In the capacity of an advocate and community organizer, Bish has served both as Chair and Board Member for Trikone Northwest, a local organization committed to ‘supporting, empowering, and affirming community for LGBTQ and differently oriented South Asians in the Pacific Northwest.’ Bish spearheaded “Qahaaniyan,” the Queer South Asian Oral Histories Project to capture stories of queer South Asians on video. Short films from this project have screened at both the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and the Seattle Asian American Film Festival.
In his own words
When asked what drives him in his scholarly and citizenry endeavors, Bish stated that:
My central career goal is to advance biomedical research and socially conscious science policy through two main efforts. First, my thesis project focuses on making a direct contribution to HIV Cure by engineering T-cells so that they become resistant to HIV entry. Second, I am committed to science education and advocacy. Being an openly gay, immigrant, scientist-of-color gives me a unique perspective and an opportunity to bring that to the table. I believe that it is my responsibility to use my varied life-experiences and backgrounds to inform and influence policy change that helps the different communities I represent.
For example, stigma faced by minority communities has a significant impact on the success of HIV prevention strategies. Hence, I use community-organizing efforts to directly address the underlying problem– stigma against South Asian LGBT individuals– to foment social change.
As an international student (non-US citizen), I have experienced firsthand, the lack of opportunities in employment and the complete absence of federal funding to support my research. This motivates my work on the Hutch United fellowship that will hopefully secure funding for non-US citizens at the Fred Hutch.