In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are sharing the journey of two exceptional women who work at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Research Institute. Both Brenda Gwafila and Namrata Choudhari grew up outside of the U.S. and have discovered that scientific exploration has no boundaries.
Gwafila moved 15 years ago to Philadelphia from Botswana, Southern Africa, looking for a place to live that was more welcoming to community members of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.
“I worked a for couple of years after secondary school, saved every penny I had, bought a one-way ticket, and then ultimately twice put myself through college — first for a business administration and management degree, and then a degree in nursing,” Gwafila said. “It has been a long, arduous, challenging, but ultimately and fundamentally triumphant journey. I have learned the importance of keeping my eye on the goal. It’s important to keep moving forward. I couldn’t have made a better choice in moving to Philadelphia.”
After receiving her nursing degree from Thomas Jefferson University’s accelerated nursing program, she joined CHOP as a clinical research nurse coordinator in 2010 for a study of Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome, a rare, genetically inherited immunodeficiency disease that occurs almost exclusively in males. During this time, she developed an interest in Food and Drug Administration regulations that govern investigational new drugs (IND) and investigational device exemptions (IDE).
Gwafila decided to shift from her study coordinator role to become an IND/IDE specialist for the Research Institute’s Clinical Research Support Office. Her main responsibilities are to provide administrative support and investigator guidance while promoting IND/IDE federal regulations compliance.
“I took the opportunity to profess my undying love for interpretation, implementation, and promotion of FDA regulations for sponsor-investigator INDs and IDEs,” Gwafila said. “The rest is history.”
She is passionate about doing her job “exceptionally well, in a measurable and meaningful way, to the study teams we serve, and ultimately in an impactful way to the patient populations in need of better treatments for their disease.”
Choudhari is another inspiring woman who works within the Research Institute.
She is a mother of two and recent winner of an outstanding Poster Day presentation in Laboratory-Based Research at CHOP’s 26th Annual Research Poster Day. Choudari entered the competition to be a role model for her children.
“My son is shy and doesn’t want to do any presentations — this poster day was for him, so he can use this as an example to [participate in] his science fair at school, which he didn’t want to do before,” Choudhari said.
A recently promoted research associate, Choudhari spends her workdays conducting experiments in a neurological study revolving around a new mRNA-based immunotherapy treatment for cancer.
Choudhari grew up in Lucknow, India, and earned a master’s degree in biochemistry. She moved to the U.S. in 2004, at age 24, after entering into an arranged marriage. In 2009, she obtained her second master’s degree (in biology) from Rutgers University, where she had a scholarship and a position as a teaching assistant. Shortly after graduating, she began working at the Research Institute. Her career became a lifeline and support system when her marriage dissolved due to an abusive relationship, and she found herself singlehandedly raising and supporting her children.
“Being at CHOP has allowed me to be there for my kids when they need me,” Choudhari said. “I have balanced both my kids and work pretty good so far. I don’t think I would have been able to do this in any other professional field and at any other place. My co-workers were always there to support me when I needed help; some have even babysat my kids on weekends. I love being at CHOP [and] I can’t think of any other place for myself.”