1) When did you first become interested in science?
It was in 10th grade, when I had the good fortune of having teachers that sparked my interest in science. I remember in particular it was a lecture on vitamin deficiency and associated disorders that inspired me.
2) How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
I did my Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) (Microbiology and Biotechnology) and Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Lifesciences (Neurobiology) from University of Mumbai, I wanted to be in a program that had a history of accepting international students and had a broad variety of different aspects of biology in terms of research. The Cellular and Structural Biology Ph.D. program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio offered all the things I was looking for and I’m very glad I was accepted into the program.
3) What was your dissertation project about?
I was studying how altering the processing of a protein called neuregulin 1 contributed to mental illness. My research in Dr. Walss-Bass’ laboratory showed that a functional schizophrenia-associated mutation in neuregulin is associated with alterations in the immune system that can contribute to the disease process, and that processing of neuregulin 1 is affected in brains of patients with mental illness. This helped identify neuregulin processing as a potential target for therapeutic intervention.
4) What kind of research are you working on currently? Why is it important? Why do you enjoy working on this topic?
I currently work as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Amelia Gallitano’s laboratory at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine. We research the role of immediate early genes in psychiatric disorders. We utilize a mouse model that lacks a gene called early growth response 3. These mice show behavioral impairments that are schizophrenia-like and we study changes that occur in their brain using a variety of cellular, genetic and behavioral approaches. The insight provided by this mouse model is invaluable in learning more about the interplay between genes and environment in mental illness.
5) What are your career plans? How did the education you get at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio prepare you?
I plan to continue working as a research scientist. I would ideally like to be in a role that also involves teaching and mentoring students. The training I received, and the interactions I’ve had with faculty and students at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have helped me hone in my research, technical, presentation, managerial and soft skills.
6) Would you recommend that students do postdocs after grad school? What are some skills/experiences that you’ve gained as a postdoc?
Doing a postdoc is incumbent on a number of things. A postdoc is the norm now for a career in academics, particularly if one is targeting a tenure track position at research institutions in the biological sciences. If you are more interested in industry or other sectors such as government research, consulting, program management, science editing, clinical research, a postdoc may not be required. It is important to recognize your strengths and pursue a postdoc only if it aligns with your career goals. Educate yourself with all the career options available and then make an informed decision. As a postdoc I continue to build on my research, presentation, writing, teaching and mentoring skills. I was also fortunate to be part of a postdoctoral association at UT Austin where I helped organize career development events. This was a great experience in broadening my horizons in terms of careers available for Ph.Ds.
7) What has been your proudest achievement?
I’d say there have been two moments that stand out. One was when I defended my dissertation and saw my years of work come full circle and form a story. The second, was when I was awarded the Translational Science Training grant at UT Health San Antonio. I believe this was a turning point in my career and offered several unique opportunities that helped me develop as a scientist. I remain thankful to the Cellular and Structural Biology department professors and staff, my current and former postdoctoral mentors Drs. Gallitano, and Drs. Harris, Ponomarev, my graduate mentor Dr. Walss Bass, my dissertation committee members Drs. Leach, Vogel, Burton, Ran and McCullumsmith. A special thanks to Dr. McManus and Ms. Stappenbeck for their continued support!
8) What would you tell a current student interested in your career? Any advice?
To succeed in any career, it is important to go in with a game plan. As a postdoc/graduate student, it is vital that you know what funding options are available to you, what opportunities exist for career development in your institution and most importantly, ensure that your mentor is on the same page as you regarding your career goals. Always remember to network, build connections and gain information about different careers, the earlier you start the better! Succeeding, as a researcher in today’s competitive environment requires you to be at the top of your game when it comes to scientific communication (grants/manuscripts/presentations), lab and staff management, and being creative and innovative with your science.