PhD candidate Kasturi Biswas had never been outside of India until 2018, when she flew 21 hours across the world to begin her studies in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UMass Medical School.
“I’m from Kolkata, which is in West Bengal. That’s where I was raised,” Biswas said. “My uncle was a regarded scientist, and many people respected him. I was also a rather quiet kid. I spent my time reading the science books that my mother bought me.”
In India, young students in secondary education were required to pick a field of interest in which to focus. Naturally, Biswas picked science, and maintained an interest through adulthood. Now, she’s pursuing her PhD in neuroscience through the GSBS, working in the lab of Michael Francis, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology.
“The brain is the most complex machine known to humankind,” said Biswas. “I got my bachelor’s degree in microbiology from St. Xavier’s College, where I looked closely at the neurobiology of the suicidal brain. Then, I did my master’s in neuroscience at the National Brain Research Centre in India, studying the arrangement of microtubules in neurites. This work really influenced my passion for the brain’s functions. Now, I’m working on my thesis, looking at models of oxidative stress regulation at the neuromuscular junction.”
Biswas said leaving home for the first time and coming to the United States was intimidating, but she knew that the decision would pay off.
“It was shocking being in a new atmosphere and I was kind of nervous, but I was excited as well because I know that many people come,” she said. “There is a very large international intake each year at UMass, creating a diverse community that looks vibrant.”
Like many PhD students, Biswas had to adjust to the changes brought about by COVID-19. When it came time for her to take her qualifying exam, her adaptive skills were put to the test.
“Right when my exam was starting, one of my committee members was not logged into Zoom,” she said. “He works in a clinic, so I began to worry about him and his health. It turned out that he was needed and could not attend, so we had to reschedule. These are the kinds of things we need to learn from in a pandemic, how to be patient and calm.”
The Student Spotlight series features students in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Graduate School of Nursing and School of Medicine. Do you know an interesting student who should be included? Email UMassMed News at UMMScommunications@umassmed.edu.