10 Questions with Shilpa Bisht
Shilpa Bisht, 29, from India, is a PhD student at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India.
She working on characterizing the novel pathways associated with the pathogenesis of retinoblastoma, the most common childhood eye cancer. So far, the genetic studies in retinoblastoma has only investigated the role of RB1 tumor suppressor gene whereas the role of other tumor suppressor genes and oncogenes has largely been ignored. Her current study is largely focused on deciphering the role of cellular pathways (other than the one mediated by RB1 gene) that may have a role in the cancer phenotype associated with retinoblastoma tumors.
Shilpa will participate in the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.
Enjoy the interview with Shilpa and get inspired:
- What inspired you to pursue a career in science?
Since my early high school education, Biology was a magnet to me and I was very much fascinated by various cellular interactions, cellular pathways and biochemical reactions that makes up the human body. During my high school years, ‘Cell’ was the most interesting topic to me. The puzzling nature of cell functions has always raised my temptation, most of the time I used to wonder how the cell has acquired mechanisms to act viciously upon acquiring some small interferences. Since I started understanding more about the molecular biology of the cell during my Master’s in Molecular and Human Genetics I understood more about the puzzling nature of “Nature” and the hierarchy of organization that makes us what we called “human beings”. This has further boosted my enthusiasm to move ahead in this challenging world of “Biology”. So, I decided to shape up my career as a biology researcher as research is the only way to open new frontiers in the challenging and ever-changing world.
- Who are your role models?
My first role models have to be my parents. Because they have always taught me perseverance, hard work and dedication. They taught me what life is actually about and I have learnt how to remain calm and compose and to give your best, whatever be the situations. Without my parent’s support, I wouldn’t have been in the position where I am today. My second role model in life is my PhD supervisor Professor Rima Dada. She is an amazing human being and an excellent and emerging Geneticist. I have learned hard work, dedication and self-motivation from her. She proved to be the driving force for me as she only made me realize about my humongous potential and scientific acumen towards pursuing a career in research. She taught me that hard work has no substitute and it is the only key to success. Last but not the least, my third role model is my fiancé Dr. Abhishek Gupta (who is also a Lindau alumnus and has attended the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting) who has always been my right hand and has supported me academically and helped me to bring the best out of me in my career.
- How did you get to where you are in your career path?
Truly speaking, no one in my family has a research background. So, I think it’s my inner zeal and interest to learn about science that has emerged during my high school years which has greatly helped me to bring me where I am today. During my school days, I have participated in many of the national and state level science Olympiads which further raised my inclination to work in this astonishing field of “Biology”. I started my career with a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from a national level university in India (HNB Garhwal University). During my bachelor’s, I have been exposed to theoretical training in wide array of subjects (bacterial and viral genetics, ecology, immunology, prokaryotic and eukaryotic gene expression and regulation) accompanied by rigorous practical work which greatly helped me in getting a thorough insight. My enthusiasm about understanding biology rises to the peak when I was exposed to topics like protein trafficking, cell signalling, cell migration, cell division, apoptosis and many more. On the way through the college, I did well in the examinations and I was awarded first rank in my bachelor’s. Then after, I pursue my master’s in Molecular and Human Genetics from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India. Throughout my master’s program, there were laboratory courses along with theory, where I learned the fundamentals of biological techniques. Passionate about pursuing research, I have tried to assimilate research-related skills within and outside my course of formal study. To further build up my research career, I initially joined as a research trainee and then as a doctorate student under the supervision of Professor Rima Dada at one of the premier institutions of my country (All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India). Recently, I have been awarded with the senior research fellowship from council of scientific and industrial research, Government of India to support my PhD dissertation. I have few more achievements to add to this which I have earned during my PhD dissertation. I have been selected as one of the five students to receive the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Corporate Member Council (ASRM) In-training Travel Grant (2016) to present my work in ASRM Scientific Congress and Expo in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. I am also a recipient of travel grant (2017) from Indian Council of Medical Research to present my work in 49th Annual Congress of the International Society of Pediatric Oncology in Washington, DC, USA. In addition to this, I am also selected as one of the participants to attend the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting (dedicated to Physiology & Medicine) to be held from 24 to 29 June 2018 in Lindau, Germany. I am also selected by the British Council, UK and Department of Biotechnology, India under the Newton Bhabha PhD Placements Programme to work in University College London, UK for 4 months under the supervision of Professor Shin-Ichi Ohuma. I feel that everything in life comes with obstacles and brings new learning experiences with it. During initial days of my PhD dissertation, standardization of various molecular biology techniques seems as a major challenge to me.
- What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
My current PhD dissertation project I must say is the coolest project that I have ever worked on. I think research is the best way to do something good for the society and wellness of human being. Children were always being very dear to me and to see them suffering with such a dreadful eye tumor (retinoblastoma) has instigated me to do something for their betterment. In my PhD dissertation, I have applied the next generation sequencing approach to answer some of the unconquered and unresolved questions related to pathogenesis of retinoblastoma and I am trying to investigate the novel pathways associated with the initiation of these tumors so that in future these could be translated into gene targeted therapies. This will help for the better treatment of children with retinoblastoma and may help in their better diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. One more project with which I am associated is to decipher the role of oxidative stress in male infertility and impact of simple lifestyle interventions to combat oxidative stress, oxidative DNA damage and its associated pathologies.
- What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?
There are few such occasions which I would like to be summed up here. I felt immense pride when I got selected to pursue my doctoral studies at one of the premier medical institutions of my country (All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India). This has opened wide spectrum for me to build up my career in science, for which I had always dreamt of. The next such occasion is when my review article entitled “Oxidative stress and male infertility” was accepted for publication in Nature Reviews Urology. Publication in this journal which is considered as one of the most prestigious journal of Nature Reviews is very difficult and required thorough knowledge of the concerned subject. The another such moment of joy and pride in my life is when I got selected to attend the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting. I considered my self very much lucky to be a part of such a great event and I consider this as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
- What is a “day in the life” of Shilpa like?
I don’t follow any such strict routine. I usually start my day with some yoga, physical fitness and relaxation exercises. I reached my lab at 9 a.m. followed by checking my mails and then I plan for daily experiments followed by reading papers that may help to ease the standardization of my experimentation techniques. In the afternoon, I ate lunch with my lab mates which includes discussion on biology or my PhD dissertation work related topics. In the evening, I usually go for a coffee with my lab colleagues and the rest of my evening I spend in analyzing the data I retrieved from my daily experiments. I usually leave my lab at about 6-7 p.m. followed by some necessary grocery shopping. Afterwards I cook dinner for myself, read some of the research papers, listen to some soothing music and go to sleep at 11 p.m.
- What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
I want to build up my career as a cancer Geneticist. Presently, I am about to complete my PhD in a year. After that, I would like to carry out my post-doctoral studies in some good research laboratory so that I can gain good exposure and expertise in various molecular biology techniques. After completing my post-doctoral studies, I want to continue my career as an established Geneticist in India and would like to carry out further research in childhood cancers which may benefit these patients in diagnosis and their better treatment. I would also like to contribute my part on the establishment of women in research in India. India is a continually growing country in terms of research but the contribution of women in research in India is still meager. So, I would like to contribute in this aspect also. Moreover, I want to be a good researcher and a good human being and would like to contribute to the humanity by doing good science.
- What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
I have been away from my home for past 10 years and during all these years I developed traveling as my hobby. During my free time I use to visit new places such as places of national importance, monuments, religious places, etc. I am a solo traveler and in the past few years, I have visited many national and international places and had gathered an insight about their rich heritage and biological diversity. My first international trip was to Utah, United States where I had visited in 2016. Recently, I had visited Washington, DC in 2017. Traveling helps you to develop an inner confidence and boost up your interest to learn from people of various ethnicities and various cultures. I also love cooking and in my free time I try to prepare various restaurant delicacies with my own twist. I am a cordial person and love to spend time with my family and friends when I am not doing research. Recently, I had developed interest in photography too.
- What advice do you have for other women interested in science?
One should pursue her dreams. Once you decided to work hard to reach your goal “Sky is the limit”. Be selfless, self-motivated, believe in yourself because these is nothing called as impossible. Research is a never-ending journey and the knowledge gained in this aspect is always little. Women should strive and act impetuously to work hard so as to contribute something good for science. The acquisitiveness to gain knowledge and to do better in your field should not end at any stage of life. Always keep your spirit high and your goals highest as women are the most powerful creature of God.
- In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in physiology/medicine?
The usage of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing systems/therapies for curing various human cancers.
What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?
I could see that women has a prodigious strength to do best in their fields when they were compared to their male counterparts. In the past few decades, the contribution of female has been raised exceedingly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The number of female students who are pursing research as their career has also been increased immensely but still the number of women acquiring higher positions such as senior scientists and professors is very much lacking behind that of males. The need of the hour is to increase the awareness regarding research among the females who are in initial stage of their career. The women could also be encouraged to take up research as their career through some specific scholarships such as “Women in Science” which are solely dedicated to increase the inclination of women towards taking up science as their career. As women has to look after their families and children so they should be given preference during faculty or scientist recruitment at various research institutions and universities. There should be some governing body that can monitor progress of women in science as well as help to maintain gender equilibrium. In biology, the involvement of women researchers has completely changed the paradigm of research in various biological research arenas. Further raising the standards of research in biology necessitates the involvement of more and more female scientists and female professors which could only be possible through joint efforts of the females who had already established themselves in this field. Support from governing bodies that funds research related projects should also go hand in hand to support women empowerment and involvement of women in science.