How did you choose this profession?

As a high school student I remember continuously pestering my high school science teachers with questions during class, and at the annual parent teacher meeting, they often commented on my ability to think beyond the course content and that I would excel in a science career. As a result of my teacher’s encouragement and my growing interest in science I took up a triple major undergraduate degree with chemistry, biotechnology and microbiology at Osmania University.

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I had an excellent chemistry lecturer during my undergrad. Although in a developing country like India, access to laboratory and state of the art facilities is very limited, but every time my lecturer taught us I realised how much I loved the subject. This is what inspired me to follow my love for chemistry and take a further step ahead to pursue a master’s degree.

What did you study? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

Being a female, and hailing from a conservative family in India it was quite a challenge to convince my parents so that I could study masters, but I was stubborn and knew exactly what I wanted to do in my life. I pursued my master’s degree in Chemistry at VIT University and secured a university medal. In addition to the course work and labs that were a part of the curriculum I was lucky to get an opportunity to work in research labs on various projects over the summer and winter breaks.

The first time I tasted the flavour of living an independent life and pursuing research independently was during my master’s research project for which I was selected to work on Material Chemistry at ENSCCF, France. It was a great learning experience and I enjoyed the high level of expertise and challenges I was surrounded with. I knew for sure that I had made the right career choice and wanted to further enhance my skills and expertise in the field of chemistry.

Without any hesitation I decided to pursue a PhD degree, so now I am a second year PhD student working with Dr Elizabeth New here in the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney. Travelling to a new country where I knew nobody was a big commitment but I am very lucky to have a supervisor who is extremely supportive, encouraging and understanding, whether my problem is research based or personal. So, settling in was so much easier.

Can you talk a bit about your research?

My PhD project involves designing fluorescent small molecule sensors that will help decipher the role of oxidative stress in various pathological diseases. Tweaking the structure of these small molecules, one can tune the colour of their fluorescence as well their redox potential thus developing sensors for application over a variety of biological systems ranging from cell monolayers, 3-D cell spheres to whole animal imaging.

After having developed sensors for redox state during the first year of my PhD, we have since been using them in biological systems. This interdisciplinary facet of my research has been extremely beneficial, I have extended my skill set and gained valuable experience. It is really rewarding to see that something you have developed can be used effectively and gives impressive results when used in different biological systems representative of various diseases such as diabetes, cancer and obesity.

Our research group is a perfect example of a healthy work-life balance; we come together and contribute our expertise to solve each other’s research problems. Our group activities include daily group lunch, football once a week and bowling once a month, just a few aspects of our vibrant social calendar. Towards the end of my PhD I would like to get a flavour of industrial research, following which I would like to decide whether I choose industry or academia as my career for life!