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June 13, 2014

Spinning nature’s thread

How did you become interested in your current field of research?

I have always been fascinated by evolution and the fact that all living and extinct species are linked by a common thread—DNA, the basic code of life. During the time when I was an undergraduate student, Dolly the sheep was cloned from an adult somatic cell. This news really excited me because it revealed that a single cell can be reprogrammed to create an entire animal. I chose my current field of research because it allows me to ask questions about the evolution of DNA and the reprogramming of cells.

What made you decide to become a scientist?

I am from Bangladesh, which is a treasure trove of subtropical flora and fauna. The mangrove forest—now a world heritage site—near the rural area where I was born is home to the majestic Bengal tiger and beautiful spotted deer. Hordes of monkeys used to steal mangoes from our orchard and I would have to fight them away with a stick! Growing up around such marvelous animals and plants, I decided to become a scientist to learn more about them.

How and when did you join RIKEN?

During my PhD research, I had the opportunity to collaborate with my current supervisor, Haruhiko Koseki, at RIKEN. After obtaining my doctoral degree in 2008, I decided to join his lab. At first, I was supported by a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science fellowship. Then in April 2014, I became a permanent staff scientist under RIKEN’s Foreign Postdoctoral Researcher program.

What is the best thing about working at RIKEN?

picture of Jafar Sharif at his lab
© 2014 RIKEN
Probably, the rigorous mentoring program for young researchers like me. I still attend a weekly, one-on-one session with my supervisor. The meetings offer a bit of mental jousting, which I really enjoy, and an opportunity to learn. The overall international atmosphere at RIKEN is also encouraging for foreign researchers.

What do you wish you had known before you came to RIKEN?

I wish I had known that the science at RIKEN was so tough! It took me two years to get used to the relentless and thorough style of research at my lab and the center as a whole.

Please tell us about your professional and personal goals.

My personal goal is to bring happiness to myself, my family and the people around me through my work. As a professional goal, I would like to see myself becoming independent and pursuing challenging and exciting fields of research. I am very fond of Japan and expect to spend a large part of my professional and personal life here. Both my wife and daughter are Japanese.

How do you balance family life with your work at RIKEN?

I am grateful for the mental support offered by my wife. This year, my daughter was born and she has brought absolute joy to my life. There is a natural equilibrium between my family and my work and I hope to maintain it.