Meet Ayesha Islam, Adjunct Professor of Microbiology, Bunker Hill Community College.


Describe your job and what you do on a day-to-day basis.

I teach an Introductory course in Microbiology to prepare students for healthcare careers. Day to day, I prepare class presentations of the course material, I try to optimize activities and explanations for various types of learners. I lead the lab with support for preparation of materials required. Our department just changed from a very academic text (aimed at advanced Biology majors) to one with more case studies and less detail in molecular biology. I think this has had a powerful impact on student engagement since many students are returning to school after some work experience or are working concurrently while taking pre-requisites part-time: they can directly see course relevance to their work and their daily lives. I meet with students, correspond with them to clear up misunderstandings and offer advice when appropriate. I make efforts to accommodate learning challenges and try facilitate achievement beyond students’ initial expectations. If they are receptive, I offer mentorship. The most satisfying part is I get to write letters to support students when they apply for funding, programs and to support them in their next steps.

How did you get your first job out of academia?

I started preparing to make this transition during my postdoc: I completed a teaching fellowship offered by my professional society ASM, where Microbiology education seminars and relevant assignments were completed online. I mentored several students from high school and Masters’ programs in the lab. I was later involved with a massive online open course (MOOC) offered on Coursera about teaching Science to undergrads with in person discussion component at the institution I worked at. After multiple applications, I was hired as a Teaching Assistant for a Molecular Biology lab course and later co-taught this course with another Postdoc colleague. I mentored students and other postdocs in Association for Women in Science- Massachusetts chapter (MASS AWIS) mentoring circles (to learn how to coach) and copied this format of mentoring circles (except, making them co-ed and free of charge) with a colleague at my institution to help others make connections and work towards transitions (if desired) or to stay in academia. I applied to multiple roles at various institutions and was given the opportunity to teach at a small women’s college in transition to becoming co-ed. In the end, their department was small that there was not work for me after my first semester. I sought a connection within Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) to help me to pitch my application more effectively and to introduce me to the hiring team. I luckily was given the opportunity to start teaching multiple sections and had to turn down a competing offer for one section at another institution.

What is your favorite part of your current job?

I love interacting with my students. They are unique groups and I love when I can address their concerns in class and that this results in them getting more involved with the material. The college offers many resources to students. I can refer students and support their successes. Most important, my colleagues are respectful and supportive. There is a feeling of building community that students and faculty share. We “Imagine the possibilities” (the college motto) and leverage dreams to motivate us to make them a reality.

What are the unique challenges of this line of work?

The size of this Community College means we have access to decent equipment and all the students are given a chance to gain hands on experience in Microbiology. Some students have very complex lives, challenges and very little time to dedicate to their studies so we have to encourage them, inspire them and help them access support mechanisms offered on campus.

Tell us about your academic background.

I worked on HIV-1 transmission in women and the influence of hormones on susceptibility to Sexually Transmitted Infections. We tried to model how HIV established itself via sexual transmission in human primary cell models and worked with multiple collaborators (to assess compounds that might have potential to prevent infection).

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?

I would recommend getting as much experience as possible before making a transition. Speaking to as many people as possible in various capacities is empowering to get their perspectives on the market as well as the culture of the places you’d most like to work. Rejection is probable so try to reformulate feedback (if lucky enough to get it!) into action items for self-improvement and self-discovery. It’s powerful to make friends (and friends of friends!) internally to support your application.


Learn more about Ayesha here:

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