This month’s Graduate Student Spotlight highlights Ananya Dasgupta. A graduate student in the Sachs lab, Ananya studies how nonsense mediated mRNA decay pathways help cells remove aberrant transcripts to stay healthy.
Nomoshkar! That is how we greet back home in Kolkata. It is a culturally diverse, highly populated and a city adorned with historical heritage in the eastern part of India. I have completed my schooling through my Master’s in my hometown. Being in Microbiology Honors for my bachelor’s and master’s from the University of Calcutta, a centenarian, I had enough exposure to the world of scientific research to have an everlasting impact on me. I was determined to pursue my doctoral studies which ultimately brought me to the United States.
Losing both my parents within a year, and in the very first year of grad school, while living in an unknown country, had been a challenge. But I soon learned to take life as it comes. I think people who know me have rarely seen me without a smile on my face! I am shy and always take time to know others, but once I am comfortable I can be a real extrovert. I did make a lot of friends and fostered a sound rapport with people around me. I am a foodie too, but not a great cook yet. Travelling relaxes my stress and I love to click snaps, but not selfies. I also visit home every two years and bring back loads of memories to cherish.
What projects are you currently working on?
I study NMD (nonsense-mediated mRNA decay) pathway which is a quality control mechanism empowering the cells to get rid of potentially deleterious protein coding messages. It can eliminate aberrant transcripts which can in turn form truncated proteins, and might result in cellular toxicity. This surveillance pathway is gradually becoming more intriguing as the current research has implicated its involvement in regulating a host of apparently non-aberrant RNAs. Thus using the filamentous fungi Neurospora crassa, which shares a wide variety of homologous proteins with higher organisms like humans, we are trying to untangle the molecular networks that function to fine tune gene expression. I am interested in a global approach like RNA-sequencing and ribosome profiling to identify genome-wide targets of NMD.
What motivates you to do your best?
Curiosity I would say! To me science is all about appreciating your “Whats”, understanding and analyzing your “Hows”, and more importantly seeking your “Whys”. My passion for biology has deep roots from my school days. The fact that attracted me was these tiny cells had such incredible power to control tons of biochemical pathways without fail, almost always. Gradually in my bachelor’s and master’s program, I got more inclined towards genetic regulations and to this day I feel awestruck at the marvels of the cellular signaling and control in order to achieve the desired expression of genes. Thus, to be able to learn something new every single day motivates me to keep working hard and to achieve my research goals.
I would not forget all my teachers and mentors who have been an inspiration and my family who have supported me and have helped me reach so far. But, it’s not always easy to pursue research and there are days of stagnation and troubleshooting. I am lucky to have a strong community of well wishers and friends who instantly remind me how to make the best lemonade from the lemons when needed!!
Describe your most rewarding academic experience.
I believe ‘the most’ rewarding academic experience is yet to come, as the expectation to do better is the driving force in life. However, there has been a series of experiences worth mentioning, be it the Science Talent search certificates from Indian National Science Congress as a kid, National Scholarship for Education in high school or other similar awards. I had seen lots of struggle as well; my initial doctoral research in my home country was cut short due to funding issues and I had to stay out of wet lab work, teach high school science and save for applying abroad. Though I loved to teach but being away from research was terrible for me. Finally, to be able to come back to grad school here at Texas A&M University after a lag of 2 years was a rewarding and satisfying experience indeed.
Describe a typical day in the life of Ananya Dasgupta.
Every day brings its own challenges and lessons to learn from. I like to spread out my work rather than confining it from 9-5. I find pleasure in spending my time for research, to plan and execute experiments, analyze results, and last but not the least updating my knowledge base with the publications that are revolutionizing research around us.
Apart from lab, I also teach undergraduate students twice a week as a lab instructor. I have taught various courses from Introductory Biology to Microbiology labs. I have also trained undergrads for their research credits in my own research lab. I love this opportunity to impact a larger community of our university and being instrumental in shaping their future.
However busy my schedule is, I always make time for calling my family in India everyday in the morning while I walk to work!
Tell us about your hobbies and interests outside of the lab.
I had hobbies which died due the sheer pressure of grad school. I used to be an avid reader of fiction, a painting enthusiast and curio collector. I still collect fridge magnets from various trips now. I love to travel with friends and can proudly put check mark on 20 US states, at least driving past them if not touring all of them! Also music is a great part of our culture back home and I am largely influenced by it; not exactly the classical stuff but I am addicted to melodies, pop and contemporary folk music from all over the world.
Another big chunk of my interest lies in philanthropies and social service. From representing graduate students in the graduate admissions and recruitment process for dept. of biology this year, STEM outreach events with BioGSA, or volunteering for BIG event, I have developed a connection with this huge community in and around Texas A&M. I had taken up leadership role as committee chair for “Quality of life” in the graduate student government, GPSC to advocate for student needs. I am thrilled to achieve a change in University ruling for pre-certification of English language proficiency from the OGAPS (office of graduate and professional studies) and the extension of transportation facilities for the English proficiency exam takers which was otherwise unavailable to new incoming international students.
If I had to choose any other job, I would join any organization that works for underprivileged children. I feel that you gain by giving, and if I can help someone to create a positive impact then that will be the greatest achievement for me.
What are your long-term goals?
I would like to work in an environment that fosters research after finishing my PhD degree. I enjoy learning new techniques, reading about recent discoveries, and applying them in my projects. I would look into a more translational application based research to utilize my skills and knowledge and put them into use for a better life for our future generations.