Melissa’s Parisian search for a cure  

bajan in-01Dr Melissa Goddard is no stranger to living abroad as her studies have taken her to the United States and Canada. So that when the opportunity arose for her to travel to Paris on a postdoctoral fellowship, the 33-year-old naturally did not hesitate.

After completing a PhD in physiology and pharmacology, with a focus on regenerative medicine, Melissa eagerly wanted to get some experience working with the European scientific community as she had only worked with American scientists up to that point. She always had an interest in working on disease treatments, not only in a lab and publishing papers, but also doing research that would actually be useful and help others.

While working on her PhD project on muscular disease, Melissa had interacted with a lot of collaborators in France, an experience that gave her a good glimpse of the scientific world over there.  So that when the postdoctoral fellowship came her way, she started looking for jobs in France.

In front of Notre Dame with PhD classmate Dr Benjamine Rowe.
In front of Notre Dame with PhD classmate Dr Benjamine Rowe.
Our to dinner with French classmates.
Our to dinner with French classmates.
Dr Melissa Goddard (right) in cosplay with labmate Dr Despoina Mademtzoglou at Paris ComicCon 2016.
Dr Melissa Goddard (right) in cosplay with labmate Dr Despoina Mademtzoglou at Paris ComicCon 2016.

She soon came across the Mondor Biomedical Research Institute. What they were doing fitted her interests to a tee. They work on developing innovative treatments and then complete all the steps necessary to get them out to patients. After a successful Skype interview, Melissa made the move to Paris in May of this year.

She describes Paris as a very historical city. The streets and the buildings both have a very old feel to them. Also, the concept that French people are very snooty and arrogant could not be further from the truth. “They are actually very friendly and helpful. It is a fantastic place to live,” Melissa said.

The only downside about living in Paris is that everything moves at a slow pace and business is mainly conducted by paper. Even if a process is started online, you still have to wait for correspondence to arrive in the mail for the process to be complete. “They always ask ‘Why are you in such a hurry?’ Everyone has a very laissez-faire attitude, to use the appropriate French term.”

And that is one of the few French words that Melissa actually knows. When moving to Paris, she knew no French but has become a bit better at it over the past few months.

On July 14, the day of the alleged terrorist attack in Nice, France, that killed 86 people and injured hundreds, Melissa was sound asleep in her bed far away from the horrific scene. However, she still received several messages from concerned loved ones who wanted to be sure she was OK.

“I was worried about my workmates because I knew some of them were going with their families to watch fireworks but thankfully no one was affected,” Melissa said.

Despite the recent attacks in France, there has not been a sense of fear among the citizens there, according to Melissa. “The city has learned to cope with terrorism. Yes, when you go into a building, your bag has to be searched and you may be patted down, and you see the odd soldier with a gun but there is no atmosphere of fear here.”

She noted that she felt more scared when she was in the United States because of all the shootings. “I left the US in the middle of all those shootings. The last few months I was in Kansas, which is right next to Missouri where Ferguson is. And you read the news and you see Sandra Bland and you think ‘that could be me’, or you drive down the highway and see people pulled over and think ‘that could be me’.”

But Melissa consoles herself with the thought that bad things could happen anywhere so there is no reason to live with a constant sense of fear.

Family has always been an important part of Melissa’s life and, because of this. she misses them most during her lengthy trips abroad. Being so close to her father, mother, older sister and grandmother, she always makes sure to return home as often as possible to see them. And even the times she couldn’t make it home for the holidays, her family would make the trip up to see her. This year, she is adamant that she will be back home for Christmas.

“I was between coming home for our 50th anniversary of Independence or coming home for Christmas and I chose Christmas. It’s getting colder and I think ‘why did I leave the tropics to come here? I could be at the beach!” Melissa said with a laugh.

Brought up in a home where no Bajan dialect was allowed, Melissa has found she is now more Bajan that she was at home. She always tells people where she is from and even though people don’t understand the lyrics of our songs, she still plays them for others.

“I have a copy of Errol Barrow’s speeches and carry that book everywhere. It is one of my staples. Errol Barrow had a lot to say about the country as a whole and his vision for the country. And considering that I want to come home and do my part to make us a better place and to do something for my people, I keep that as a touchtone as it is very much fitting with my overall goals.”

And Melissa does indeed have big goals. Her main interest is in studying the effects of hereditary diseases that affect the degeneration of muscular tissue. Through her studies of therapies, such as gene replacement therapy, or gene editing, she hopes to someday uncover potential treatments for persons who suffer from those diseases.

One example of such a disease, and the one she is focusing on for her postdoctoral research, is Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Over the next few years, while in Paris, she hopes to find a way to correct the disorder using the gene editing technique.

Melissa does plan to come back home and bring all the knowledge she has gained from her research to help educate others. She told her family that Paris is her last foreign country, because as she said in her own words, “I love Barbados”.

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