Since my childhood, I have seen people dear to me losing their loved ones to cancer. Hence, I wanted to make an impact on people who are battling cancer every day. When I moved to Purdue University, USA for my undergraduate degree in Biological engineering and Biotechnology, I was a step closer to achieving this dream.
Here, I joined as an undergraduate research assistant in Dr David Thompson's lab since my first semester and worked on two different research projects. My research areas are focused on cancer research and biochemistry. I am currently working on developing a biomolecular nanoparticle that can deliver nucleic acid anti-cancer agents. I specifically work on designing, synthesising and assembling the nanoparticle.
Fulfilling an inner urge
However, before I started working as a researcher, I wasn't even sure how I would be able to make a mark in the field of cancer research. But after working in the lab and getting experience through different research internships, I discovered my passion and became even more determined
to pursue my career in this field.
I come from a business family. Prior to me, no one in my family had ever thought of entering research field. Therefore, when I informed my parents that I have got a position as an undergraduate researcher, they weren't very sure of what I would do in future. I am sure that at the time they might have thought that it was not something I was serious about and it is just a momentary decision. Although my mother was very supportive from the very first day, it was when I got my research paper published and obtained scholarships that my family gladly accepted the researcher in me.
Apart from my time in the lab, my engineering professors have helped me realise my strengths and supported my career switch from engineering to pure science for my postgraduate degree. Through programmes like the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) and Discovery Park Research Internships (DURI) run by Purdue, I was able to get a glimpse of a PhD student's life as a full-time researcher. I also obtained scholarships for research. The supervisors in the lab have
become my mentors and helped me know in depth about the PhD programme and the ways how I can achieve my goals.
Reflecting on my journey so far, I have gained much more than mere experiences in the lab and grades on my exams. I have been able to grow into a person who is culturally sound with good leadership and organisational skills.
I developed many of these skills by participating in extracurricular activities and by being a part of learning communities like Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) and Women in Engineering Programme (WIEP). For instance, through EPICS I was able to put these skills to use by partnering with international teams. In my third year, I was appointed as Boiler Gold Rush international (BGRi) team leader to mentor and assist incoming students for the orientation week.
Such experiences acted as a catalyst for me to apply for the International Student Peer Coach (ISPC) position in the College of Engineering. Through this position, I was able to mentor both international and domestic students while fortifying my professional skills and underwent Cross-Cultural Leadership Programme which certified me as an intracultural communication leader. It was a life-changing experience as I learned to respect diversity yet embracing my own cultural roots. As I am also passionate about dance, I have been a part of Purdue Bollywood dancing team, Purdue Junoon.
All the opportunities I have gained here at Purdue, through my classes and work, have helped me develop both personally and professionally.
(The author is an undergraduate research assistant, Purdue University, USA)