Meet Current Graduate Students

Students from all over the world join the Molecular Genetics program at the Ohio State University. Read on to learn more about their research and get their advice for first year graduate students...
 

Pooja Gangras

Photo of graduate student Pooja GangrasPooja joined the program in 2014. She came to us from SRM University in India and is jointly mentored by Dr. Guramrit Singh and Dr. Sharon Amacher. As of 2018, she has authored two manuscripts, and is supported by a competitive fellowship from the OSU RNA Center.

What sparked your interest in science?
I was very fortunate to have some of the best math and science teachers in the ninth and tenth grade, they nurtured my interest in science. In my tenth grade, I had decided to pursue a career in biology because I was fascinated by the Punnett square and genetics.  
 
What attracted you to the Molecular Genetics program?
As an undergraduate, I was looking for graduate programs with some structure as well as a good collection of PIs that work with different types of model organisms. I thought that the Molecular Genetics program fit the bill so I applied!
 
Tell us a bit about your research.
Currently, I am working on understanding the role of the Exon Junction Complex through its function in nonsense-mediated decay during zebrafish embryonic development. 
 
What dreams or goals do you have for you future?
My goal in the future is to go back to India and establish an NGO which makes genetic counseling and genetic testing services available to the economically challenged population of India. 
 
When I'm not in the lab, you might find me....
When I am not working I like to explore new places and try out interesting food!
 
What advice would you give to new first year students entering the program?
I would tell them to give more importance to the coursework because later in grad school grades can matter a lot when applying to fellowships, especially OSU's presidential fellowship.
 

Natalie Deans

Photo of graduate student Natalie DeansNatalie joined the program in 2014 and is completing her thesis in Jay Hollick’s lab. She completed her bachelor’s degree at Georgia Gwinnett College. During her first year, Natalie was supported by a competitive University Fellowship. As of 2018, she has authored one manuscript, and is a Doctoral Graduate Assistant supported by the Center for Applied Plant Science.

What sparked your interest in science?
I’ve always been the kind of person who asks a lot of questions. It excites me that as a scientist, I get to be the one coming up with the answers. The simplistic beauty of Mendel’s sweet peas initially attracted me to genetics, but now I find the complexity of epigenetics is even more interesting.
 
What attracted you to the Molecular Genetics program?
I like the amount of epigenetics research in the program and the variety of model systems being used. Also, nothing impresses my non-scientific friends quite as much as me saying I’m getting a PhD in “Molecular Genetics.”
 
Tell us a bit about your research.
I’m investigating the role of a CHD3 nucleosome remodeler in regulating epigenetic states and development in maize and the molecular mechanisms that underlie non-Mendelian inheritance patterns indicative of paramutation (meiotically heritable changes in gene regulation). I like that this project allows me to be part scientist part farmer.
 
What dreams or goals do you have for you future?
My goal is to one day enhance our understanding of how gene regulatory mechanisms evolve through research in plants.
 
When I'm not in the lab, you might find me....
Cooking and baking everything from cheesecake to bread. Rye bread sticks are my favorite thing to bake. I also enjoy making gummy bears and other candy. 
 
What advice would you give to new first year students entering the program?
Write everything down. You never know what obscure detail is going to be important when you look back at old notes.
 

Marcos Corchado

Photo of graduate student Marcos CorchadoMarcos joined the program in 2015 after earning BS degrees in Biology and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. He is pursuing a PhD in Helen Chamberlin’s lab. During his time here, Marcos has been supported by a competitive Dean’s Enrichment Fellowship and by the training program in Cellular, Molecular and Biochemical Sciences. In 2018 Marcos was awarded a Pelotonia fellowship.

What sparked your interest in science?
I like the creativity behind science, especially the process of designing experiments. I also enjoy the amount of input I have in my projects and overall, I think it’s fun to generate ideas and answer interesting questions.
 
What attracted you to the Molecular Genetics program?
I was interested in how diverse the research was in the program. As an undergrad, I participated in the Molecular Genetics Summer REU and worked in plant metabolomics. I had the unique opportunity of performing Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry and was surprised at how open labs were at trying new techniques and collaborating with researchers from different disciplines. Additionally, I met many of the faculty and graduate students during the summer. I noticed a strong sense of community, which felt more like a family, and a genuine feeling of support for each other’s success within the program.  
 
Tell us a bit about your research.
My work focuses on interactions between mesodermal and epithelial tissue during cancer and development. More specifically, I am characterizing a novel gene which is found to be a suppressor of oncogenic let-60/Ras in C. elegans when knocked down specifically in the mesoderm. I am currently investigating the mechanism by which let-60/Ras is suppressed by performing a genome-wide RNAi screen to search for a putative receptor and downstream effectors.
 
What dreams or goals do you have for you future?
My ultimate goal is to run a lab that works with human disease models and start my own science outreach program.
 
When I'm not in the lab, you might find me....
Rock climbing at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky or the New River Gorge in West Virginia.
 
What advice would you give to new first year students entering the program?
I would tell them not to feel as overwhelmed as I did back then. Working in a new environment with so many skilled people was a humbling experience, and at times I thought I might not meet expectations. I later learned that graduate school was a process and I wouldn’t be an expert in my field within the first year. However, the knowledge and problem-solving skills I needed to work effectively in a lab eventually arrived with the support of my P.I.
 

Priscila Rodriguez Garcia

Photo of graduate student Priscila Rodriguez GarciaPriscila joined the program in 2016 with BS degree in Biology from University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. She is working towards her PhD in David Mackey’s lab. Priscila was supported in her first year by a competitive Dean’s Enrichment Fellowship and as of 2018 she is supported by the training program in Cellular, Molecular and Biochemical Sciences.

What sparked your interest in science?
In school I noticed that science teachers often said "we don't know how this works yet". This made me realize that there is an immense world of unknowns that I could explain through science. So, teachers admitting that there are things science has not yet explained is what sparked my interest in science.
 
What attracted you to the Molecular Genetics program?
I had friends in graduate school at OSU who always spoke about how welcome they felt and how many resources the university has. This led me to look into the OSU science departments, which is when I found the Department of Molecular Genetics. I looked into the professor's research and I found a wide range of interests: RNA mechanisms, development, plant biology, cancer genetics, etc. This wide range of research topics meant that I would be exposed to a lot of different scientific concepts. So I decided to apply. Then I came for interview and confirmed what my friends had told me about the university; I felt welcomed.
 
Tell us a bit about your research.
I work with plant-pathogen interactions trying to understand the molecular mechanisms of plant immunity. In my lab we use maize and Arabidopsis as plant models to study their response to bacterial pathogens. Currently I am using the CRISPR/Cas9 system to produce Arabidopsis plants that have mutations in genes involved in plant immunity. I am also working with a maize gene that produces a disease lesion mimic phenotype, which is when the plant exhibits symptoms of pathogen infection in the absence of pathogen. All of this with the goal of deciphering the molecular mechanism of plant-pathogen interactions.
 
What dreams or goals do you have for you future?
I adjust my goals from time to time, but my ultimate dream has always been to go back to Puerto Rico and give back to the community. I want to make people curious about science.
 
When I'm not in the lab, you might find me....
Playing video games and watching horror movies. I also enjoy going to the park with my three-legged dog, Gonzalo.
 
What advice would you give to new first year students entering the program?
It may seem like the amount of work is overwhelming and you don't have time for activities outside grad school, but it's not true. Schedule time for everything during the week. For example, set 1.5 hours of every day for reading papers, give yourself 1 hour to have lunch and relax, factor in the time it takes you to move from one place to another. You will find it easier to follow a schedule than to think every day about how to organize your time, which can lead to something called decision fatigue.
 

Zhongxia Yi

Photo of graduate student Zhongxia YiZhongxia joined the program in 2016 and is pursuing his PhD in the lab of Guramrit Singh. Zhongxia completed a BS in Biotechnology at Huazhong Agricultural University, during which he spent a year as a visiting student at the University of Florida. In 2018, Zhonxia was awarded a graduate Fellowship by the OSU Center for RNA Biology.

What sparked your interest in science?
I found my interest in science during my undergraduate research on rice immune response in Dr. Shiping Wang's lab.
 
What attracted you to the Molecular Genetics program?
The Department of Molecular Genetics attracted me with a good RNA team and its focus on basic research.
 
Tell us a bit about your research.
I am studying different branches of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay in mammalian cells.
 
What advice would you give to new first year students entering the program?
My advice is always keeping an open-mind when it comes to rotation options.
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