Employee of the Month - Vishal Sharma

May 2016, General Medical Disciplines

Vishal Sharma

After completing a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Texas, Vishal Sharma wanted to explore a career path in research before committing to a PhD program, so he reached out to professors around the world looking for a mentor. He found one at Stanford: gastroenterologist Aida Habtezion.

In May 2013, Vishal moved to the Bay Area and began working as a research assistant in Habtezion’s lab, and he has spent the last three years gaining experience in both day-to-day lab work and the study of immunology. Habtezion says that during this time, Vishal’s been “an integral part of our lab/research.”

Vishal says he’s “still in awe of the caliber of intelligence here at Stanford. I still get star-struck when I see a Nobel laureate buying coffee in front of me, and I am still excited to attend PhD defenses and seminars. The opportunities to grow as a scientist (in training) here at Stanford surpass anything I could ever ask for. The programs that Stanford has for staff (STAP funds, BeWell and lectures/symposiums) are great resources that I have used to better myself as a person and a researcher.”

Now, as he moves on to begin his graduate work, it’s clear he’s contributed as much to the Department of Medicine as he’s received.

Vishal’s “Got it!”

“It won’t be the same when Vishal leaves for graduate school this summer,” says fellow research associate Linh Nguyen. “As our research assistant, Vishal has always shown team spirit, never shying away from the demands of a long experiment. With his smile – and enthusiastic ‘Got it!’ – he helps take care of things, from maintaining our animal colonies and ordering supplies to managing our research protocols. He performs these functions in addition to working on his own research project. Vishal is helpful, sensitive and very friendly to others. New interns and employees feel welcome with him, and lab mates and fellow employees value him.”

Part of that admiration can be attributed to Vishal’s humility and thirst for learning. Erika Hooker, a postdoctoral research fellow in the lab, says, “He accepts criticism with grace and always takes time to reflect on how he can make himself better. His passion for his work, care for his colleagues and drive to always improve upon himself makes him and exceptional person.”

The example he sets is inspiring. “His gracious attitude is a daily reminder to me of how I can better myself as an individual and Stanford University employee,” says Karla Tomlin. “Vishal is a very caring and compassionate individual, as evident in his interactions with his research subjects, colleagues and Stanford staff. His knack for making others feel at ease and comfortable has contributed to his success at training new lab members, while in turn providing them with the knowledge and confidence necessary to succeed in their research.”

The collective pursuit of success is more than theoretical: it’s actually happening, says Kimberly Pham, who attributes some of her own drive to Vishal. She says, “Vishal’s guidance throughout my research process has helped push my projects through to present at conferences and in papers. He cares about his co-workers' success and also the division's success, and he facilitates their successes through his guidance. The passion he has for his work is contagious. He speaks technically and with great animation about what he does, and it inspires me to continue to focus on my own research.”

A ball of energy

In his nomination of Vishal for Employee of the Month, Jason Martin admits, “I wish we had 30 more just like him!” It’s easy to see why he feels that way. Postdoctoral Research Fellow Yongfeng He says, “Vishal is the warmest person I have ever seen at Stanford.” And Hooker adds, “Vishal is one of the most enthusiastic people I have met at my time at Stanford. He has a contagious positive spirit that makes you feel happy to be at work. Just seeing this guy walking down the hall in the morning is enough to put a smile onto my face.”

Another colleague, Research Assistant Dariusz Wodziak, describes Vishal as “a ball of energy that takes the department by force.” Energy is precisely what it takes to tackle Vishal’s day. “I wake up at 5:15 a.m. and get to the Stanford gym by 6:40,” he says. “I work out between 6:40 and 8:00 a.m., get to the lab by 8:30 a.m and work until 4:30 p.m. Then if I am stressed, I will go back to the gym and workout from 5 ‘til 6 p.m. I get home by 7:30 p.m, get to sleep by 11 p.m. at the latest and repeat for the next day.”

Vishal’s hard work has helped him lose 75 pounds in the last year, but those strenuous workouts aren’t the only place he hustles. His work hours are also extremely busy and include everything from managing labor-intensive research protocols, completing lab orders, updating budget reports and caring for animal colonies. Vishal says, “I make sure that the researchers have what they need to carry out their experiments. If they need a hand, I will help them out. It is very important to me that everyone in the lab is happy and stress free (as much as they can be). I try my hardest to make sure their questions are addressed properly and their requests are taken care off immediately and effectively.”

While Wodziak marvels at this work ethic, he appreciates much more about Vishal than his energy. He says, “If you ask anyone who has worked with him, his energy is surely among the first attributes mentioned but it shouldn't overshadow his other irreplaceable assets. He brightens up the department with his humor, kindness and consideration. In addition to his great attitude, Vishal is not one to shy away from a challenge. Coming to Stanford, he did not have any mouse experience, and now he has become the department's mouse guru. His passion for learning and contributing to immunology and science in general is apparent from the moment you meet him.”