University of Washington, USA
National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis, Chennai
I wanted to teach poetry to children so I started my undergraduate studies at the University of New Mexico as an English major. I struggled for two years in literature and writing classes and it became pretty clear that writing and interpreting stories was hard for me. One of the luckiest events in my life was finding a genetics text book under the chair of a women who sat next to me in French class. I took the book home and browsed it cover to cover. I understood almost nothing and decided to change my major to biology.
The second lucky event that happened that year was that the plumbing in the biology department was down for one week. This is the same week that I started my research career as a lab-ware washer in Dr. Natvig's laboratory. Since I had no work to do, I followed around a post-doc, Dr. Marian Skupski and learned about her project and offered to help her in anyway that I could. Marian took the time to teach me to harvest DNA, design primers, and perform PCR. Soon, I was in a position to take over her project and I worked for two years on questions related to Neurospora meiosis. This first experience doing research changed the way I thought about my future and myself. In addition to learning that I enjoyed doing bench work, I found that more than this I loved being around other scientists and talking about interesting ideas.
I have been really fortunate to have had many wonderful and inspiring teachers. Dr. Rob Miller is one of them, he taught immunology and did research on marsupials in Australia. Unlike so many other professors who simply stuck to the text book, Dr. Miller talked about current immunology research and throughout his lectures highlighted the questions and areas of immunology that were poorly understood. T cell development and the concept of self:nonself recognition fascinated me and my decision to apply to the University of Washington Immunology Department was largely prompted by the quality of their T cell investigators. I was accepted to do my PhD studies in the laboratory of Professor Mike Bevan, an internationally recognized expert in fundamental immunology. I spent 4 years with Dr. Bevan and everyday, I was excited to go to the lab to design experiments and talk to him about T cell development. Dr. Bevan's mentorship has had a long-lasting impact on my scientific development and I know that he will be the best mentor I will ever have.
While in the Bevan lab, innovations such as MHC tetramers, intracellular staining and T cell receptor transgenic mice were being used to track the in vivo fate and function of antigen specific T cells in numerous models of acute infection. These exciting technical advances and my introduction to M. tuberculosis infection by a post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Kevin Urdahl, sparked my interests in understanding the underlying mechanisms of CD4-dependent defence. Upon graduation, I joined the laboratory of Dr. Eric Pamer at the Sloan Kettering Institute in New York and collaborated with Dr. Michael Glickman in order to peruse these interests.
There are two questions regarding CD4 mediated host resistance to Mtb that I think are interesting. Why doesn't immunization lead to sterilizing immunity? And, what are the cellular and molecular mechanisms required for CD4-dependent defense? I started to address these questions during my post-doctoral work and will continue to do so in my own lab.
In 2009 I married my husband Srinivasan Viswanathan, whom I met in a tiny video store in Manhatten. This year (2012) we had a son, Akash, and all three of us will move to India in 2012 to start our new life together.