I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, a city surrounded by mountains, and grew up playing outdoors. As far as I can remember, I’ve been surrounded by science. My father was an economist and my mother is a chemist. I was fascinated by the work that my parents did. I knew I was going to be a scientist, but I ended up in molecular biology by pure chance. A good friend of mine convinced me to enroll in the Biotechnology Program at The University of Sofia. I started my studies with a passion for science, and especially chemistry, but had no clear idea what biotechnology meant. During my first year in school I was enticed with the mysteries of the living cell and particularly with the problem of immortality and cancer. I decided then and there that this is what I wanted to do.
I’ve always done things the hard way. This is why I decided to leave my home country Bulgaria after my undergraduate education and come to the US. My parents advised me to go to Germany instead, because we had lived there for a while, so I knew the language and
D. Dimova in MGH Cancer Center lab, Boston, MA, 2003.
it would be easier for me to get established. But I boldly refused.
In the US they have a saying that “What does not kill you, makes you stronger.” But I found that the hard times I had also took their toll on me. I was on my own without family and friends for the first time in my life. I did not speak English very well, and had a very hard time finding a job. But after I survived the first two years, I felt pretty good about myself - hey I can do this. I worked for two years for Dr. Hannah Klein at the NYU Medial Center. Hannah has been one of the most important scientific influences in my life. She taught me so many things, helped and supported me long after I had left her lab. She has been a mentor, a friend and a role model.
At home, both my parents were strong on education, and I was raised with the idea that I could do anything I wanted to do, as long as I studied hard. But my parents were also critical, suggesting ways to improve myself. Both Hannah Klein and my Ph.D. advisor, Mary Ann Osley, were the same way: encouraging and supportive, yet very critical and demanding. They taught me something that's often overlooked - encouragement alone does not make anyone successful; you also need constructive criticism and the ability to take criticism is one of the most important characteristics of a good scientist. After completing my Graduate studies, I went on to do post-doctoral training at the MGH Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School. Here I found myself surrounded by great scientists and very smart colleagues, challenged beyond anything I had experienced before.
I love being a molecular biologist, there is never a shortage of problems to be solved, questions to be asked, because when you think you've solved a problem, the solution will immediately raise more questions. Following my earlier passion, I chose fundamental cancer research as a field.
Currently I work on the E2F/RB pathway, a pathway that is disrupted in every human cancer. The retinoblastoma (RB) gene was the first tumor suppressor gene to be cloned. We have discovered, however, that RB in addition to inhibiting can also promote cancer in certain contexts. The fact that cancer is a complicated disease fascinates me as a scientist. But on a personal level, it also frustrates me. I have several friends and family members diagnosed with cancer and I lost my father to the disease. I know how difficult it is to live with the disease and hope for a cure that may not come in your lifetime.
I’m married to a scientist, and we try to balance our work with raising our son, our proudest achievement. That balance usually comes at the cost of time for myself. But I am getting wiser with age, I take a two-hour yoga class every Wednesday and I go jogging once a week.
Being a scientist presents many challenges, while being a female scientist has its own challenges. Over the years, I've drawn support from many friends and colleagues, and I am grateful for continuous support and encouragement, and especially for the supportive environment here at Rutgers.