Please tell us about yourself
If you had asked young Shruti what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would have told you that she wanted to be a heart surgeon.
“I knew very clearly I wanted to be a heart surgeon, not just a doctor but a heart surgeon. It was at the orientation process of medical school that I knew the field wasn’t right for me so I switched to biotechnology.”
What did you study? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
She completed her bachelor of technology degree in biotechnology at India’s Jaypee Institute before coming to UT Dallas to complete her master’s degree in biotechnology. She is currently doing her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology.
It was by chance that she learned about the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health San Antonio.
“There was an alumnus of [UT Health San Antonio] on my thesis committee and he encouraged me to apply. I really liked that everyone was really friendly and the school seemed really student orientated,” she said. “I also liked that it was an umbrella program because I didn’t know what field I was interested in.”
Since coming here, one of her biggest highlights was the candidacy ceremony.
“I like that this school has a candidacy ceremony. It gives a sense of achievement after the qualifying exam.”
Currently, she is in the lab of Dr. Nu Zhang where she is working on autoimmunity research.
Tell us about your work
Broadly our lab focuses on T cell memory development and its implications in infection and tumor microenvironment. The hope is to prolong the life of memory T cells to have long lived immunity to infections and make better vaccines.
“There’s a cell type (CD8+ regulatory T cells) that hasn’t been studied much. It was very serendipitous. I observed an autoimmune phenotype in my knockout mice model while working on a different project and my PI let me explore it as a part of my dissertation project.”
“It’s interesting because no one knows about it. The phenotype in mice is very strong which suggests that it’s very translatable for autoimmunity diseases like Lupus disease.”
Mishra says that her research has become interesting to the scientific community because of the translational benefits that it has.
“I found that the cell type can indeed delay autoimmunity in mice. I also tested it on the blood cells in Lupus patients and the regulatory cells are less in them which suggests that there is a therapeutic potential.”
She recently presented at the Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics retreat where she was awarded the first prize for oral presentation. She also won the first prize for her poster at the 7th Annual Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio Conference. She was also awarded the 2018 MIMG Student of the year.
Recently she was invited to a symposium in Seattle.
What do you do outside of work?
Shruti explained that as an international student, she wanted to help the next generation have an easier time with their transition by giving them pickups or a place to stay for a few days. It eases their transition process because it’s a struggle when you come to a new country far away from home and don’t know the culture or simple things as to where to get a new SIM card or how to apply for social security number.
“When you come as an international student, you land at the airport and can’t book a cab or get an apartment. You don’t have a phone and many apartments don’t let you sign a lease online first,” she said. “Grad school is hard so we think if we can help figure their personal life, it might help them feel comfortable and perform better academically.”
Outside of graduate school, she is a part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
“A lot of girls don’t have a strong female influence so I wanted to make a difference in some girl’s life,” she said.
She also guest lectures at Texas A&M San Antonio University.
“I really wanted to see if teaching science is something I can do so I decided to guest lecture. It has helped me a lot with science communication. We take the knowledge of science terminologies for granted but when teaching at an undergraduate level we have to go back to basics and break down all the concepts.”
In the future, she would like to stay in science and will be looking for a postdoctoral fellowship position.
“I want to go to a place where I can not only utilize my training as a Ph.D. but also learn new skills and use more advanced instruments we don’t have here. I want to be able to apply my current skillset but also learn something new.”
“I love the idea of being in a lab and finding something new,” explained Mishra. “There are some points in your research life when there are things and concepts that only you and your PI know. The high of that is very thrilling.”