Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology

Groupe de recherche en neurobiologie comportementale

Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology

Groupe de recherche en neurobiologie comportementale

In the ring with kickboxing champ and oncology advisor Sherin Al-Safadi

“The MBA opened my eyes to the real world.”
November 6, 2018
By J. Latimer

It’s no surprise that the winner of the first Canadian women’s belt in K1 kickboxing trains hard — five to six nights a week. Outside the gym, Sherin Al-Safadi, MBA 10, PhD 14, is equally driven.

Sherin Al-Safadi Sherin Al-Safadi, MBA 10, PhD 14

By day, Al-Safadi is a medical advisor in oncology at the Toronto offices of Bayer, the global pharmaceutical and life sciences company. Add to those credentials her role as co-founder and president of Fondation Amal, a non-profit organization that improves the quality of life of children with physical and mental impairments.

The Toronto-based neurobiologist, philanthropist and ranked athlete sees her time pursuing an MBA at the JMSB as playing a key role in her success. Al-Safadi, who was born in Saudi Arabia, had earned an MSc in pharmacology and therapeutics in cancer drug development from McGill University.

“The MBA expanded my perspective, taught me a new business language, grounded me and opened my eyes to the real world — working in teams and doing presentations. It was life changing,” she says.

Al-Safadi particularly appreciated Harjeet Bhabra, professor in the Department of Finance, and Tim Field, senior lecturer in the Department of Management and Miriam Roland Fellow in Business Ethics. “His ethics course had a big impact on me,” Al-Safadi says. “We explored how a food company’s decisions have real impact on the community. This forced me to think about the role of the pharma industry and it helped me build a mindset for how I would act in the field.”

From MBA to PhD

Al-Safadi earned her PhD in neurobiology at Concordia following her MBA. Her research at the Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology focused on how stress affects circadian rhythms.

At the same time, she took up recreational kickboxing at Concordia. She was a natural at all three forms of kickboxing — Savate (French), K1 (Dutch) and Muay Thai. Al-Safadi was part of Team Canada for Savate kickboxing from 2014 to 2017, competing in Italy, Bulgaria, Finland and Croatia.

“My kickboxing coach and mentor at Concordia, Raphael Martins Estevao, suggested I start competing and training forced me to leave the lab,” she says. “I learned how important it is to take a mental break.”

Al-Safadi’s kickboxing sideline hasn’t hindered her career — although it might have. She had a black eye during her first interview at Bayer in 2014. The interviewing committee understood it was an occupational hazard for kickboxers and offered her a job as medical science liaison in ophthalmology.

Sherin Al-Safadi a competitive kickboxer Sherin Al-Safadi a competitive kickboxer, showed up at Bayer for her first interview with a black eye. Now she’s their medical advisor in oncology.

In her current medical advisor role, Al-Safadi develops and executes medical strategy and tactics for the prostate cancer drug Xofigo, among other pipeline oncology drugs. “I’m passionate about translational medicine in oncology and bridging the ‘bench to bedside’ gap through patient-centric health care and innovative medicines,” she says.

Not satisfied to simply enjoy her dream job and training sessions, Al-Safadi rallied friends from her MBA at Concordia to start a non-profit for children. Fondation Amal has raised over $350,000 since its launch in 2012.

Back at the gym, Al-Safadi predicts she has one or two more years left to compete. “Kickboxing is physically and mentally tough, but you learn about yourself — your strengths and weaknesses, your fears and how to cope with your emotions,” she says.

“It teaches you humility and motivation and persistence — all good things for your professional life.”

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