Email interview: Sree Gayathri Talluri, Chemist
What made you interested in going into chemistry?
The idea of making molecules fascinated me in chemistry. Back in India during my high school, I used to spend most of my free-time building reactions on paper for any molecule that pops into my head. I used to enjoy the process a lot. When I graduated from high school, chemistry is my obvious choice because I was happy studying it in high school.
What are some obstacles you have faced, maybe specifically due to being a woman in a male-dominated field?
Gender gap is a big issue in science. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by great mentors who acknowledge the importance of diversifying science. My mentors have been very open about the current gender gap in science and made me aware of the potential obstacles in my path of becoming a scientist. There were issues along my way but having known them earlier, I discovered ways to overcome them very early on in my path before it became an obstacle.
How do you think we should encourage more young girls into science?
I strongly believe that science is an experience more than a subject. We should encourage girls to interact with scientists in their neighborhood or through platforms like skype a scientist to gain a perspective on what it’s like to do science from living scientists. We should motivate girls to attend and participate in science fairs or local science events to gain first-hand exposure to what science is all about. These experiences are key to spark their interest in science.
Who inspires you and why?
It is hard to point out one person. I seek inspiration from my mentors, coworkers, friends, and family. Every person I met has something unique about them which inspires me to be a better version of myself. For example, my older brother is an aspiring neuroscientist, his passion for science inspires me to appreciate science even more.
University and High School
What should a prospective science student start doing in high school to demonstrate their interest? What did you do?
I advise them to look for local platforms that provide opportunities to demonstrate their interest. Volunteering with a science organization (for example, the science world), participating in science fairs or Olympiads are great ways to express their interest in science. I started by looking at opportunities in my city. As I began to attend local science events, I met new people and became aware of the opportunities in my province and nationwide. Doing this, I have built my network of mentors and also got to know about the platforms through which I can express my interest in science.
What advice do you have for students interested in STEM?
Be vocal about your interest. Let your teachers or people in your circle know that you are interested in STEM. Don’t be afraid of failure. There will be roadblocks in your path. Instead of looking at them as obstacles, look at them as a learning experience. Seek out for help whenever required, people will be more than happy to help you. Find mentors along your way who can guide and inspire you. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun studying STEM.
What was your first internship/job experience like?
It was a great learning experience. During my second year at the university in India, I got an opportunity to work in a research lab in the UK for about 2 months as a summer student. I had so much fun doing experiments, understanding the subject thoroughly, and experiencing a cross-cultural team environment. I had hands-on experience on how a scientific method works like framing a question, developing a hypothesis, reading the reported science, and developing key experiments to test the hypothesis, analyzing the data, and drawing conclusions. The internship took me out of my comfort zone and taught me the skills needed to survive in a new environment. I felt satisfied at the end despite all the struggles that took me there. I continued going out of India for summer internships in the following years after having a fantastic experience in the UK.
What did you learn in your internships/jobs that you couldn’t have learned in school?
Summer internships during my undergraduate degree taught me to apply the theoretical knowledge I gained in the school into a practical setting. I have experienced science rather than studying it. I also got to know about graduate school opportunities and found potential groups to work in the future. From the industrial internship I did during my grad school, I learned about the business side of science which is often undervalued in a university setting. During grad school, I learned how research turns into knowledge but the industry taught me how knowledge turns into innovation.
What personality type/sort of person suits what you are involved in?
A resilient person who keeps on trying and doesn't stop when encountered with a failure. Resilience and curiosity take you to heights in science.
What are some cool projects you’ve worked on in the past?
During my internship in the industry last year, I have worked on a project for the downstream processing of RNA based lipid nanoparticles. Use of RNA as a therapeutic has gained a profound interest for pharma companies in the recent years. However, RNA is unstable and degrades the moment it enters our body. To avoid this, scientists have developed a platform to put RNA inside a delivery vehicle which takes it to the target site. These delivery vehicles are made of lipid nanoparticles. In the lab, when scientists make lipid nanoparticles they make in milliliters and purify them using methods like centrifugation. However, in industry nanoparticles were prepared in large scale batches (in liters), purification by centrifugation can be a daunting task. In this project, I along with the team developed a standard method for purifying the nanoparticles in large batches. We were able to show that our method is fast, preserves the integrity of nanoparticles and retains their properties.