Dr. Aathmaja Anandhi Rangarajan
-Chair of the MSU PDA Advocacy and DEI Committee discusses how taking the effort to engage and learn from fellow postdocs gives us new personal and professional perspectives.
Interview by Dr. Jenna Lee
Jenna Lee – Tell us about your background and what led you to become a postdoc at Michigan State University?
Aathmaja Anandhi Rangarajan– I was born in India and did my Undergraduate in Microbiology and Masters in Genomics from India. I then moved to Germany to pursue PhD in Microbial Genetics at University of Cologne where I studied gene regulation in E. coli. After my PhD, I did a Postdoc at University of Michigan in the lab of Prof. Julie Biteen where I studied gut microbial interactions using microscopy and analytical chemistry. Currently, I am in Prof. Christopher Waters lab at the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics studying gene regulation and signaling in Vibrio cholerae.
What was the reason you chose MSU to do your postdoc?
My career plan is to become an independent researcher in the field of microbial gene regulation. I have been following Prof. Waters work and was inspired by his science and wanted to do Postdoc with him. After interviewing with him I knew that doing a postdoc in his lab would be a great fit for me to get myself trained in all aspects to run my own lab one day. I also knew that Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Department was great in terms of facilities, collaborations, and their support to mentees to help them succeed. I also had a personal reason to choose MSU as my husband is working as a Postdoc at Plant Research Laboratory and we physically wanted to be in the same place as we had a toddler to look after.
How has your experience as a postdoc here been so far?
My experience as a postdoc has been great so far. Working in Waters lab is wonderful as I am surrounded by amazing colleagues who are very helpful and supportive in all aspects. I get to meet to amazing scientists in my department through seminars and other events from whom I am able to learn a lot of exciting things both actively and passively. I also took part in few events organized by MSU PDA where I got to interact with other postdocs in the MSU community.
Have your career plans changed since becoming a post-doc?
No, it hasn’t changed. I am trying to equip myself and learn all the things that are needed to run my lab one day. As a woman, immigrant, and a person of color, I am also aware of the additional challenges that comes along with these identities to secure and sustain an independent scientist position. I am fortunate to have amazing mentors who are as invested in my career goal as I am, and I also see several woman in science from diverse backgrounds who are doing well in science which gives me confidence that I can be them one day as well.
What is your advice on how MSU postdocs can get the most out of their experience here?
Postdoc phase can be isolating as there is no cohorts of fellow grad students or classmates and it is a transitionary phase, so it is important to take an effort to break the isolation and actively take part in events organized by MSU PDA and other Departmental level events to get to know and meet other postdocs and fellow researchers. It can be challenging to carve out time to socialize with others or attend events in our busy schedule, but I think talking and learning from diverse group of fellow postdocs can give us new perspectives in personal or professional life.
To wrap it up, and to know more about you, tell me what comes to mind first in this rapid round of questions!
Favorite food – I like to cook and eat Indian Vegetarian food. My favorite among them is Indian street foods a.k.a. chaats.
Favorite way to spend a day off– I like spending time outdoors during summer near any water source. Thankfully Michigan has many of them.
Job you would do if it wasn’t research?– If it wasn’t research probably I’ll be a teacher.
Who inspired you to pursue a PhD and postdoc?- My master thesis advisor Prof. Hussain Munavar who taught me microbial genetics inspired me to be a researcher in the field of Microbiology. The beautiful genetics he taught me is still etched in my mind.