Interview with Faith Musenge

May 31, 2023
Yasmina Ibsen

Faith is a scientist at Beam Therapeutics and a dedicated Studylog user.

Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?

I grew up in a small southern African country called Zambia and went to a veterinary college called Zambia Institute of Animal Health.

What sparked your interest in science?

I grew up on a farm and I was curious as a young kid. I experimented with a lot of stuff and got in trouble a lot of the time. At a young age, I grew my own garden from pumpkin seeds. I also had a watermelon patch and made my own sort of planetarium. I used to sort of hunt for ants and insects just to put stuff in there. One time I tried to catch a bumblebee in a flower. It went in while getting pollen, so I closed it and I got stung! That still sticks in my head, I keep going back to that. That's how curious I was about the world around me.

Did you have any specific role models? If so, who were they?

My dad was my role model because he let me have the freedom to do anything. He didn’t put guard rails on what I could or wanted to do. Although at one time, when I graduated high school, he said “you should go into business school.” I did that for maybe one year. He took me to some private business school, and it was a waste of money. I went from going to an expensive private school to a public college which was small. There were just 12 of us in my class. It was cool because it was closer to what I knew. Growing up on a farm we had livestock like chickens, pigs, geese, and ducks, so I was comfortable with animals and wanted to be a veterinarian.

Before I graduated, I interned for one of my dad’s friends who was a professor at the big university. I guess now when I look back, he was looking for cheap labor because he didn't pay me, but he was doing cool research going around the country and collecting and documenting species of worms. I found that exciting even more so than doing veterinary work because in my mind I was thinking veterinary medicine was like science, but when I graduated and after I'd done my internship, and started working, I realized that veterinary medicine was not for me because the way I saw it, it was almost like selling or retail in a sense. You get to a point where everything that's coming through the clinic is the same, but you are the one who makes a difference. The dog cases are simple, but it's the human beings coming in that are complicated!

You must be a very good talker to either convince them to spend more money on their pets or talk them out of worrying about their pets. That was not for me. There were very few research opportunities back home, so when I came over here the first opportunity I sort of put my foot through was getting into research.

What would you say to a young person considering a career in science?

Keep the same passion and curiosity that you had as a kid because that is what science is. It's what it demands. That same curiosity you have as a young kid leads you to start opening stuff up. Like when you want to put your finger on an open flame and it's going to hurt, but you want to try anyway, or the stapler has got staples in it, but you still want to put it on your finger? Keep that same curiosity and energy because now you are much more mature. That's how you're not going to get bored and what is going to keep you going.

What is important to you personally? i.e.what things do you value most in life?

Family. That's easy. I'm a big family person. I try to do everything with them as I've got two kids, one who is going into ninth grade and she's really excited about it, and my son is in fourth grade, going into fifth grade. I'm the first in our family, so I've got siblings, and everybody sort of looks up to me. At one point I was almost like daddy to everybody by taking care of them. Last year I lost my dad and as he was the one person that I really looked up to, I’ve realized that everything else goes away but family will always be there.

What are some of the challenges you have faced either in your career or personally that you feel have helped you become the successful scientist and person you are?

I've had an interesting approach to life. Being an immigrant here was a challenge. Then being an immigrant trying to break into this industry presented another challenge trying to prove to everybody that you can do it. When I started in science here, I had to start from the bottom, and when I say the bottom, I was not even an RA or anything. I was working for a CRO that was doing research on diabetes in North Carolina. My first job was basically cleaning monkey cages!

I went from having all this education from back home to not having your credentials valued as an immigrant, even if you have all this knowledge in your head. It took one veterinarian to realize that whenever one of the monkeys was sick, I knew more than I was letting on. He would always call me into the surgery room so I could assist him with surgeries. One of the researchers noticed that, and he called me over to the break room one day when nobody was there. He said, “I would like to offer you a job, because I think you know more than you're letting on so I want to bring you on to my staff.” That was the moment. I started working, rising from an RA to a Senior RA, then I moved from North Carolina and got a job at Moderna as a senior research associate. I worked there for three or four years. One of the scientists I worked with at the CRO, had come to Moderna as a senior VP, and she has been my mentor for a long time.

She left Moderna to work for Beam, the company that I work for now. She called me up for lunch, and she said “You know what, this is the next thing in science. You need to come over to Beam.” And she hired me. I look at those challenges as opportunities because they better prepared me for what was coming next. Whenever there was a challenge, I worked harder and rose to the challenge. Then people noticed and that gave me the opportunity to advance.

How has Studylog impacted you or your team? Has Studylog saved you time, and if so, can you estimate how much?

My first introduction to Studylog was at Moderna. When I worked at the CRO, we didn't have a sort of study management system, but when I got to Moderna, that's when I was introduced to the system. I worked with it for three or four years there. When I came to Beam, they did not have it. They had this cool technology that they were trying to expand into oncology, all these ideas, and they needed somebody to do the in vivo work, so I was the first hire for their oncology department. When they hired me, they told me, “You're going to build this out. What do we need?” I noticed that everybody was doing everything on paper. They were taking body weights on paper and typing it into Excel. I thought “I'm not going to do that. If I'm going to work here, we need to get Studylog. I got one license and within a short period of time, I think we are up to 20-24 licenses now. We've expanded the in vivo team from just me to over 25 people. It makes our work so much easier. I don't have to do multiple things, especially with the integration of things like Prism in there.

The Studylog software has been a godsend. I don't know why everybody doesn't use it. I can't see myself without it, especially with what we do. When I onboarded the system at my current company, a lot of people that I work with came in from academia using Excel and doing everything the long way. Some people were still stuck in their way because they thought it would be too complicated. Then they use it once and it cuts their workload because they no longer have to copy and paste and write down things. A lot of people have come around and now swear by it. That's how much of an impact the software made.

What would you say to people who prefer to use Excel because it is free?

Excel to me right now is like the Flintstones age! We are doing science here, you know? Why are you using Excel? If you are doing anything in science, you're spending a lot of money elsewhere. Science budgets are multiple tens of millions of dollars. The cost of Studylog is a small percentage of what you have to spend, and it increases your output. With Excel, you are losing money because you are wasting time between sheets of paper and then copying and pasting from Excel to Prism or whatever you use. The amount of time that you're losing doing that adds up. They say time is money, so you're losing money there. You might as well invest that money in a system that makes better use of your time. Why are you torturing yourself? With Studylog, you can just click a button.

What do you do for fun when you’re not in the lab?

I completely shut down my science brain and spend a lot of my time with my family. Over the summer, my buddy and I like going deep ocean fishing. We have caught huge sea bass and tuna. If it's cold, I like to stay home. My two kids keep me busy. Right now, there's a lot of homework that is being done. Weekends are for activities! One goes swimming and the other one goes ice skating, so I'm kept busy. If it's not family time, I've got one friend who is also from Zambia and owns his own veterinary practice here in Massachusetts. He's been my friend from when we were kids. He was my intern when I was working at the veterinary practice back home. I spend a lot of time with him, and our daughters are the same age and also buddies so we do a lot of stuff together.