Please tell us about yourself

For Rupali Gupta, PhD, a day’s work is divided between her research in the Neurology Department, where she is investigating the use of external magnetic fields to stimulate neural circuits in the brain, and her work as a teaching assistant for neuroscience courses at Duke University. In this week’s Staff Spotlight interview, Gupta talks to us about this work, her experience studying on three different continents, and her enjoyment of travel, scuba diving, and orchestra music in her spare time.

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What are your responsibilities within the Neurology Department? What does your average work day look like?

My major responsibilities lie with my research project and project management like performing experiments, buying chemicals and reagents and learning new techniques to advance my project. For my project, I am working on a method which can allow precise control of neural circuits by stimulation of actuator molecules via an external magnetic field. This could represent a transformative change in the arena of translational neuroscience because of its non-invasiveness. However, since I am new and not getting promising data as yet, my average day is of 10 hours during weekdays and 5-6 hours in the weekend.

In addition to your work in the Liedtke lab, you’re also a teaching assistant. What does this work involve, and how did you come to this position?

Yes, I am a teaching assistant for Neurology/Psychology 101 and I also volunteer for Biobase 223: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience.

In Neurology 101; I lead two discussion sessions per week with a class size of 25 students/ session. Every week I present new topics such as neuroimaging techniques, optogenetics, stress, sleep, hormones, etc. Along with that, students are assigned with an empirical paper which they discuss in class and also attempt a quiz based on it.

In Biobase 223: I got an opportunity to teach an entire topic on somatosensory transduction of pain and mechanosensation which was part of my PhD research as well as current research. This was an enthralling experience for me. I gave demonstration to the students on “fooling your senses” and describe the importance of TRP-channels in sensory physiology.  Apart from that, I was involved in covering the class if one of the TA is busy or sick.

I was always passionate towards teaching and with the help of Prof. Liedtke and Prof. White I got this teaching assistant position.

How and when did you first get interested in neuroscience research? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

I would say my journey to neuroscience took a long way. As an undergraduate student, I was an engineering student with major in Biotechnology. Every year in summer holidays, I took trainings from India’s esteemed research institutes and learned a lot about the molecular and cellular biology experiments with a hint of neurobiology. Subsequently, I started my PhD in the department of physiology, the division of cell-signaling in Japan at The Graduate University of Advanced Studies. During my PhD I was truly introduced to the depth and complexity of neurology. How little we know about the brain and how much left to comprehend!

Among other locations, you’ve studied in India, Japan, and England before coming to the United States. How do the academic educational systems there compare to what you’ve seen here? Is there a system or location that has been your favorite?

For higher education like PhDs and above, I don’t think there is too much difference between each country, however, I found a significant difference between each place when it comes to school and undergraduate education. In India, high school graduation age is around 16-17 whereas in Japan is 17-18.

In India, respect and discipline are the two key factors throughout the education where teachers/professors are viewed as an uncompromising guru, not as friendly guides as they are viewed in UK and USA. Japan share the same concept of respect and discipline like India in their education system. In Japan, technological colleges (kosen) offers a five-year program to students for specialized areas of technological whereas in India and UK it is generally 4 years.

The Japanese system differs from the rest of the world when it comes to school life. They clean their own schoolyard and classroom, and prepare the meals and eat together. They go home by themselves even that means to take a public transport. Parents don’t need to be there for the after-school activity which in the USA makes working parents work like crazy.

I do like the way of teaching in Japan as a kid since they are transforming them to become independent and responsible in their early life. However, I feel on the flip side they are losing the connection with their parents.

What do you enjoy most about your job? What’s the hardest part of your work?

The most enjoyable, as well as the hardest, part of my job, is my project. I am enjoying the challenges coming forward in my project and at the same time, it is a nightmare…of what will happen, what I might be doing wrong, and how much I don’t know.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?

My dad used to be a professional mountaineer, so I am hiking throughout my life, which has now become my hobby too. Similarly, my mom used to be an international athlete, seeing her in action made me respect sports a lot, I used to play sports till my undergraduate but now I just like watching.

Apart from that, I like traveling, scuba diving, and adventure–things that bring a bit of adrenaline. And I like action adventure, horror, and anime movie and series. I also like orchestra and symphony.