Shiny Epi People

Hoda S. Abdel Magid, PhD on postdoc life and living with Gen Z'ers

October 17, 2020 Lisa Bodnar Season 1 Episode 12
Shiny Epi People
Hoda S. Abdel Magid, PhD on postdoc life and living with Gen Z'ers
Chapters
Shiny Epi People
Hoda S. Abdel Magid, PhD on postdoc life and living with Gen Z'ers
Oct 17, 2020 Season 1 Episode 12
Lisa Bodnar

Hoda Abdel Magid, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow studying inequities in chronic disease, talks about challenges and joys of her postdoc, her love (I mean LOVE) of journal club, her 2 Gen Z sisters, her wish to be a standup comedian, and much more! 

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/shinyepipeople)

Show Notes Transcript

Hoda Abdel Magid, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow studying inequities in chronic disease, talks about challenges and joys of her postdoc, her love (I mean LOVE) of journal club, her 2 Gen Z sisters, her wish to be a standup comedian, and much more! 

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/shinyepipeople)

Lisa Bodnar:

I will send you a draft of the episode. So that's logistics. Do you have any questions?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

No. I just love that you called it a draft. A draft. I love that so much. Yeah, no, I'm okay reviewing the draft. Oh God. No, yeah, no, that sounds awesome. Thank you so much.

Lisa Bodnar:

Hello friends, I'm Lisa Bodnar. Welcome to Shiny Epi People, or as my daughters like to call it Peppy Epi People. Today we're going to talk about post-docs. Many of us epidemiologists finish our PhDs and go on to do a post-doctoral fellowship. Postdocs have the opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills in a method or a substantive area, or sometimes both. There's also an expansion of responsibilities as a post-doc. No longer are we working on one project, our dissertation and three papers, we now have many projects, more collaborations, and many papers. We're often juggling finishing our thesis work as well. We have new mentors and new colleagues. It is an exciting time, but as with every step along the way in our careers, it does have its challenges.

Lisa Bodnar:

Today I'm speaking with Hoda Abdel Magid who's in her second year of a post-doc at Stanford University in the department of epidemiology and population health. Hoda received her MPH at Johns Hopkins and her PhD at UC Berkeley. Her doctoral research focused on understanding adolescents and young adult's use of new and emerging tobacco products. Now she's studying social determinants of health and disparities and chronic disease risk factors in both cardiovascular outcomes and neurological outcomes today. She and I talk about the challenges of a post-doc. Choosing her mentors, how she integrated herself into her department and much more. I hope you enjoy this chat.

Lisa Bodnar:

Hoda! Hi!

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Hi, Lisa, how are you?

Lisa Bodnar:

I'm great. I'm so glad to see your face, really nice to meet you.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Thank you so much. I'm so, so happy to be here. I remember messaging you I was like, "Do you have the right Hoda? Just to be clear, do you have the right Hoda?"

Lisa Bodnar:

There were so many Hodas. I'm always looking for someone who will post something self-deprecating and then I'm like, "Okay, they're my person."

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Oh, do I got stories for you.

Lisa Bodnar:

I don't know what you posted. Oh, that you were waving when you were off camera on a zoom.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Oh my god. Or my life with my Gen Z sisters is just the bane of my existence right now.

Lisa Bodnar:

You live with your Gen Z sisters?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Yeah. We're all in lovely quarantine together. So I was telling the youngest one, I was like, "Hey, I'm going to be on here." She was like, "Please don't tell them you want to be a standup comic." I was like, "Why? That's what I want to be!" She's like, "Bro, you're not funny."

Lisa Bodnar:

How old are your sisters?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

One's 22 and the other's 16. They are just in another world. A couple of months ago they walked in to the house with a puppy, with a seven week old German shepherd that they just walked in to the house with a puppy. My dad's super allergic. He has all the allergies in the world. My mom grew up with a lot of pets, but she's just like, I don't know why, she just started crying. My dad's like sneezing.

Lisa Bodnar:

Wait, did they want you to take in the puppy? This wasn't like a puppy visit?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

They got the puppy. They went to Target, got all the puppy's materials. They named her. I'm visiting a friend, having an existential crisis about something else and I never get messages from my sister unless, A, something happened or B, they want something on my way back. So I get messaged she's like, "Bro, where are you?" I'm like, "I'm coming soon." She's like, "Bro, you got to get here. We have a surprise." I was like, "What is it?" She texted me a picture of a puppy wrapped in a prayer blanket, my favorite prayer blanket, wrapped in a prayer blanket. Then I was like, what is going on? I coming.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Everybody's screaming. Then they're like, "Don't yell at Fai, that bothers Fai, don't yell." I was like, "Who is Fai? What is going on?" She's like, "Her name's Fairuz ." Which is like a very famous Arabic singer. "Her name is Fairuz or Fai for short. Don't yell around Fai." It was a shit show. They didn't know the amount of responsibility with a seven week old puppy. Both my sisters lost weight because they're not sleeping and not eating with Fai.

Lisa Bodnar:

So your parents, were they okay with keeping Fai? Do your sisters run the show?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

110%, they run the show. They just walk around with such confidence. My sister will get views for pouring milk on TikTok. I swear to you, that was one of her TikToks. I'm like, "What is going on? She's pouring milk and she's getting thousands of views." I'm sitting there drafting tweets and saving to my drafts. They just walk in with a dog, they just walk in with a puppy with such confidence. To move furniture around in my room it was like a proposal and LOI like a grant submission, a resubmission. It was still a no, and they just walked in with a puppy.

Lisa Bodnar:

How much younger are they to you?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

So the youngest is 10 years younger than me. Then the middle is four years younger than me. So that's something a lot of people don't know about me, I went to grad school pretty young and graduated pretty young. But no one can ever know how old I am. Anytime that conversation ... I remember in grad school some people wanted to go out or something I'm like totally fine with going out but then they needed to go to a place that you need ID to go in. I was just like, "Uh-oh."

Lisa Bodnar:

You were over 21, right?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I wasn't. I wasn't over 21. I was 19 when I started the master's program.

Lisa Bodnar:

Wait.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Yeah.

Lisa Bodnar:

19 when you started a master's program?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

When I was in high school my parents, because they overcompensate for everything, thought if I went to high school I'd do drugs all day long. I don't know where I would get said drugs. Anyways so they were just really worried about all this stuff in high school. So someone told my dad about Montessori. There was a program in our community that did this middle college program. It was where you took some high school level classes through their school, but also community college classes. So then I took both, they counted for both high school and college. Then I transferred to third year.

Lisa Bodnar:

Tell me how it felt going in to college as a junior, right? Essentially you were a college junior, you were 18, 17? 16?!

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I was 16 when I transferred, 18 when I graduated, I know. I know

Lisa Bodnar:

Hoda, you were a tiny baby going to college.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

That's the thing, while I may be ahead in school I'm so immature in everything else. I'm telling you it was a constant identity crisis because I was always trying to balance trying to fit in already, like at baseline. Right? How anybody would want to fit in sometimes. So trying to balance that, but also there was just some things that I would say or do that no one ... Just the puzzle doesn't fit, something's off, won't fit. I remember on the East coast when I went, one of my first days at Hopkins, I didn't know that, I don't know, there was just a thing with flip-flops. People weren't wearing flip flops and I'm coming from California, I'm going to lab. I was like, "Great can't wear my flip flops." I mean, this is like epi, I don't need ... It's not a wet lab and everything. The way that I looked I think it was just very kiddish. I looked like a teenager because I was. I looked like a teenager because I was.

Lisa Bodnar:

So how did you make friends when you were in college?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Honestly, I think it was the friends, the ones that we were really alike in terms of school. We just loved school. I loved school so much. I remember when I went to my first journal club, I was like, "What is this glory?” I need to hide it. I have to hide it. I loved it so much. Everybody's going to journal club for the food. I was like, "That's literally an added bonus. This is so awesome." I don't think anybody knows how much I love journal club. I love it so much. Oh my god. So the friends that love journal club, that's how I made friends.

Lisa Bodnar:

So you know my recording studio? AKA my closet. Here we are. And I cleaned out the whole thing today so that you can actually see the floor in here. I'll bring my mic with me. Oh shit. Then I was like, "That's embarrassing when I have to do the podcast in my closet." I always have my purses here or like my bathrobe. I need to put something behind me. So I'm taking suggestions.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Okay. I don't know if I'm the one for suggestions because I don't think you want to know where I am in my house right now.

Lisa Bodnar:

Where are you?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

You want to take a guess?

Lisa Bodnar:

Are you ... You're not in the bathroom are you?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I am! When you said today, I was like, "Great. I can do it from the car." No internet. "Can do it from the garage, nope that won't work. People are walking by all the time. I can hear them." My dad was like, "Why don't you do it from the bathroom? It's the quietest place." So I made sure nobody uses the other bathroom, nobody uses the water so the pipes ... I was like, "No one pee. If you need to pee go to 7/11."

Lisa Bodnar:

Totally. Did you see that video with that woman on the meeting, on zoom, where she brought her laptop into the bathroom and pulled down her pants and she was totally on the camera the whole time? 

How did you learn to be funny? Are your parents funny?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Yeah, they are too I guess. I'm submitting a grant. I told them, "Hey, please pray for me and my grant." They go, "When is it due? When does it get reviewed?" I said, "Like January, maybe February." They're like, "Okay, we've still got time then. Right?" I was like, "What?" My dad goes, "Yeah. We've still time. I got lots of other things to pray for. I got a queue." I'm like, "What?!"

Lisa Bodnar:

So how far are you into your post-doc?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I'm in my second year.

Lisa Bodnar:

What's been good? What has been hard?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Interviewing for postdocs in general was miserable.

Lisa Bodnar:

Really? What happened?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Yeah. I think I interviewed for like 13 post-docs.

Lisa Bodnar:

Wow.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I got the last one. I'm so fortunate because I really, really love the department that I'm in. I love it so much. But I remember just trying to finish up and wrap up all the dissertation stuff and trying to deal with that. Then also trying to manage all the interviewing process. It was not fun. It's a lot. It's really overwhelming. I remember at that time, I live in the Bay area right? So there was a lot of the, all the tech companies are here and people kept on suggesting and be like, "Hey, how about you try tech." So I interviewed at all the big tech companies. God did I hate it. They don't have journal club.

Lisa Bodnar:

What about the position made you excited?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

One of the things is that I got to work on topics that I hadn't worked on at all before. Then I also got to use different types of data sources that I had never used before. So that's something that was real interesting to me as well. I think it teaches you a lot. The department was also going from a division to a department at that time. So it was a really exciting time for me to be in the department. They were growing and I really love being able to have a say in that growth. So does everybody else in our department. So it's something that I love.

Lisa Bodnar:

Did you have a list of characteristics or a work style that you had in mind when you were looking for a mentor?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Yeah. Someone who's supportive. I know that's such a blanket statement. They're either keeping you at the top of their mind for funding opportunities or they're helping you with grants or they're helping you with papers or they're helping introduce you to other people for networking opportunities. They're not keeping you in a pigeon hole to just do one thing and they're letting you grow.

Lisa Bodnar:

Were you able to suss those out in the beginning before you accepted the position?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I think the thing that helped the most was talking to other students or other trainees in the lab.

Lisa Bodnar:

Yes.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I think there's a lot that comes through in just a simple conversation with someone over coffee about the environment, even the things that are unsaid, I think say a lot. So I think that that helped me the most and yeah it helped make my decision just that much easier.

Lisa Bodnar:

That's so good. Okay. So you chose the ... The podcast.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

No I did.

Lisa Bodnar:

So you chose the post-doc, how was it in the beginning and how has it changed over time?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Yeah, in the beginning it was really, really specific projects. Then later on, I was able to get a routine going and figure out my place and get dissertation papers out the door. That was a big thing, being able to get that off my plate so that I could focus on the post-doc I think was really, really helpful.

Lisa Bodnar:

I know that a lot of people when they finish their PhDs, and this happened with me certainly, is that you have this post dissertation depression where you're like, "Wow, this huge thing just happened to me and I finished it and now I'm going to go into this new position and I don't fucking know anything." A postdoc should be an uncomfortable time. Right? You should be learning something new. It should be uncomfortable. It's this high that you come off of off your defense and then you're just like, "And now I know nothing." Did you feel like that?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Absolutely. I went from all types of tobacco control research to neuro epidemiology. Yeah and spatial epi a little bit in the middle. I knew nothing. I knew nothing. So I was absolutely so, so uncomfortable at the beginning in terms of that content knowledge. Again, the supportive mentor says, "Hey, these resources will help you learn about this content, maybe you can spend some time before we start together and you can learn some of this material." I was like, "That's exactly what I want. Thank you so much." I wanted to be able to start having, at least known the vocab.

Lisa Bodnar:

I had that moment during my post-doc where he was like, "Here's a grant, read this and you can get all the references and whatever." There was no direction aside from just, "Dive in!" I was like, "I don't even know what that is. I'm just going to sit here all day and read literature?" It was so comfortable.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

It was so hard. I remember I'd read a page and it'd be like, "Okay, I need to read it again. No, no, didn't get it the second time. Third time's the charm. Sure."

Lisa Bodnar:

I think that discomfort is such a part of the human experience. So being able to figure yourself out in those moments and sit with it and decide what you need to manage some of that and get comfortable with the discomfort, I think is such an important skill that's going to take you way beyond your post-doc.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Amen. Yeah, agreed. Absolutely. I really made it a thing to talk to other people in the department. People see what their style is and research how they approach some of these topics, if they had any advice. I internally made a commitment to have coffee with two or three people that I didn't know a week.

Lisa Bodnar:

That's great.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

That was everything. I'd just email and say, "Hey, I'm new in the department. I'd love if I could have coffee with you." Some of them would email me and say, "Hey, welcome to the department and let's go have coffee and chat about research." It was so awesome. I got to like learn about all the different resources that were available and so on. All the different programs and training programs that were available. So again, I think it speaks to the culture.

Lisa Bodnar:

That's amazing. So it sounds like she is a mentor whose work style you respect, therefore watching her as a role model and how she manages her own time, has that helped you figure out how you want to manage your time?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Absolutely. I think that's one of the reasons why I felt comfortable with it in the beginning, because I realized right away that there were a lot of similarities in our work styles. I know that that is definitely not the case for other people. Right? Other people with my mentor may not appreciate that work style and vice versa. Right? Other mentors may not appreciate my work style. I definitely think that's something to also seek out. Yeah, if you don't want a million emails in a day about something, then some mentors are not for you. Do you want a meeting every week? Some mentors are for you and if you want meetings to play by ear then some mentors are for you. So you would just have to be honest and have a conversation about that. Yeah.

Lisa Bodnar:

A postdoc is often a time where, it's like a kid in a candy shop, right? You can just do all sorts of fun things. You're like, "Oh my God, I can write a paper on that. I can write a paper on that." How did you manage all those different possibilities?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Honestly, we had an open conversation about this a couple of times, because I am definitely the type to take on way too much sometimes and saying yes to things left and right. So we had a couple of conversations with this and sometimes it was me going to my mentor and being like, "Hey, I'm overwhelmed and I need help trying to figure this all out." That was really hard for me to do because I had never done that in terms of mentee to mentor.

Lisa Bodnar:

How are you able to balance work with having a life outside of work?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I think the answer to that is that I am really intentional about it. So for example, I have friends that I absolutely love, but sometimes I'm just super forgetful about checking in with other people. So I have a list, no one knows this, but I have a list. I call it my check-in list. I have a list of the people that I care about the most in my life. I just will go down the list during the week to check in with them. Sometimes we go for coffee, sometimes we have lunch. I think that, honestly, it keeps me sane. You can't work all the time. I can't work all the time. I don't know who can. Right? So I just need to not be doing epi sometimes.

Lisa Bodnar:

Yeah. How have you managed that since being at home with COVID? I mean, not home with COVID, you don't have COVID. At least as far as I know. I mean-

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

As far as I know too. Who knows at this point?

Lisa Bodnar:

Yeah. How have you managed that in this time with a pandemic going on?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I'm really intentional about not working on some weekends. Some weekends I will work. I'll be honest with you. Some weekends, I just need to, to be able to catch up on the work just for my own sanity. But some days I do not touch my email. I do not. I refuse to. I make a rule for that day.

Lisa Bodnar:

Yeah, because it's helping your mental health.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Absolutely. I always feel infinitely better afterwards. Yeah.

Lisa Bodnar:

Beyond your post-doc, next steps, what are you considering at this point?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I definitely want to stay in academia. I think that's for sure. I think it's been taking me a while to settle with that.

Lisa Bodnar:

When you say settle with it, what do you mean?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Because again, it was an identity crisis. Maybe I'm not good enough for this. Or maybe I should be doing something else. Maybe I should be doing the data science at some big tech company. Right? Or maybe I should do that. Or maybe I can make more money there, or I don't know just a bunch of different things. But yeah, so I think it took a while for me to settle with that and be okay with it for myself. It's like, if this is what you want to do and it's what makes you happy, then just do it.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I used to also swim and play water polo in college. I just loved being in the water.

Lisa Bodnar:

Did you really? You played water polo?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

First started out as swimming and a couple of friends were like, "Hey, why don't you join water polo?" So I was like, "Okay."

Lisa Bodnar:

That is so hard. That is so much strength.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I was really young when I was in high school and I joined my mom noticed that I was eating so much because it's water polo and it makes you eat everything around you. I really eat a lot. I remember one day my mom was like, "Hey, look, I can't keep going to Costco. I can't keep going to Costco. This is too much. This is too much." I remember after practice everybody on the team, we'd go to in and out or something or we'd go to a burger place. We would have competitions on how much you could eat in one sitting. It wouldn't even put a dent into our appetite honestly.

Lisa Bodnar:

This sounds a lot like the type of eating I did when I was breastfeeding. But I was just like, "I am like a bottomless pit, I could eat anything and I'm never full, like ever."

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Exactly, exactly.

Lisa Bodnar:

We were both burning calories in completely different ways, but still. 

When people come to you to ask for help, what do they usually want help with?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

College applications. College applications.

Lisa Bodnar:

Why do they come to you?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I guess I'm one of the first people in our community to go to grad school. So I think maybe just having done it a few times.

Lisa Bodnar:

Do you charge?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

No. Because I think it's so fun. Because I think it's so fun. I have this spiel that I give.

Lisa Bodnar:

Tell me.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

For any application, including college applications, I think if you can answer three questions then you're good to go. One. Why you? Two, why now? Three, why this?

Lisa Bodnar:

Hoda, what's something weird that you do? I mean, I have already gotten a lot of weird things from you, but let's talk about something that we haven't covered yet.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I tend to eat a lot of vegetables like they're fruits. So again, one time in a journal club, I'm like-

Lisa Bodnar:

Wait a minute. Hold on. It seems like most of the stories you tell you're like, "So one time I was in a journal club."

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I had two bell peppers and I was eating them like their apples. I ate them down to the core. Someone right as I started eating it was like, "What are you doing?" Like, "I'm eating my pepper." I don't think that's weird. They're like, "That is the weirdest thing I've ever seen."

Lisa Bodnar:

Hoda, You are so funny.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I got to tell my Gen Z sisters that, take that. Thanks Lisa, that means a lot. I'm going to take it to them.

Lisa Bodnar:

Did you ever have a dream of being a standup comic?

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Oh my god, all the time. All the time. I think the only thing stopping me are my non-supportive sisters that constantly tell me I'm not funny.

Lisa Bodnar:

They're just heckling you. You need to like ... They're just going to be there to make you stronger. Right? They're like reviewer number two.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

They are. They really are. That's a great analogy. They really are reviewer number two. Both of them individually and together. Oh my god.

Lisa Bodnar:

Thank you, Hoda.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Thank you so much.

Lisa Bodnar:

This was so much fun!

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

Thank you so much. It really was. It really was. You're so fun. I can't wait to see this on Netflix.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

I was listening to the episode with you and Erika. So she hears it, she's like, "This is actually pretty fire." Anytime she uses the word "fire" or "lit" it's her way of saying, got the Gen Z approval.

Lisa Bodnar:

Yeah. Yeah.

Hoda S. Abdel Magid:

They have a whole vocab. I was like, "Hey, do you think this is nice?" Showing her a necklace. She's like, "Yeah, it's ice." "What?" Why can't we just use normal words? Just it's so much work keeping up with the jargon and the vocab. "It's ice. It's lit. It's fire. That's what's up." Like what? I just can't, so many ways to say something's awesome why can't we just say the word awesome?