PhD, University of Florida

Samiksha Prasad: The biology behind phenomena that define us has always fascinated me

Interviewed by Nowreen 

Interviewer’s note:  Interviewer’s note: Thanks Samiksha for sharing your story and experiences as a Master’s/PhD student at the University of Florida. She is currently an Assistant Professor at the Southeastern University

Samiksha prasad

Samiksha prasad

Assistant Professor

Department of Microbiology at College of Medical Sciences at Nova Southeastern University

Samiksha Prasadis an alumnus from University of Florida, USA and obtained her Ph.D. degree in 2015 from the Department of Microbiology and Cell Science at the University of Florida, USA. Her research is focused on the causal agent of Huanglongbing pathogen CandidatusLiberibacter asiaticus.

The best thing about being a student here is the abundance of opportunities that are available. The opportunities are not only for professional career but also for personal growth and development for example sports and specific hobbies.

A little bit about Me

I obtained her Bachelor in Technology degree in Biotechnology (Genetic Engineering) in 2010 from Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture Technology and Sciences, India. During this time, I worked on the identification and characterization of clinical isolates of group A Streptococcus, mainly focusing on M-protein involved in the serotyping of the bacterium. After my Ph.D., I was working as a Post-Doctoral researcher at the University of Florida, where she worked on Leishmaniaspecies, which is a human parasite focusing on uncovering parasitic vacuole composition and identifying their role in the Leishmania infection.

Presently, I am an Assistant Professor at the Department of Microbiology at the College of Medical Sciences at Nova Southeastern University. For my faculty appointment, I am focusing on teaching medical students and also starting her own research projects.

I was born in Gujarat, India in 1988 and grew up in New Delhi, India. Besides professional goals, I want to travel around the world, be part of a team/organization contributing to education and welfare for underprivileged children and publish a novel that I am working on.

Why I chose University of Florida

It was a very clear choice for me to pick University of Florida for my Ph.D. studies amongst the Universities, which accepted my application. This was mainly due to the Department’s and the program’s standing on a national and international list of top courses. Another important factor was the stipend offered for my assistantship. Of course, the all year round great Florida weather and beaches were an added cherry on top.

My research and its importance

My Ph.D. project mainly focused on the characterization of extracytoplasmic proteins of Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus (Las), which is an intracellular plant pathogen. The affected host for my work was the citrus plant (all varieties), which is a vital contributor to the Florida economy similar to any citrus growing area. The citrus industry provides jobs and revenues and the citrus fruit is extremely nutritious. Thus the multimillion-dollar losses due to the infection caused by Las and the alarming rate of the spread of the disease makes the study tremendously important.

Another important aspect of this research work is the unknown and non-canonical mechanism of infection displayed by the bacterium makes it particularly interesting to work on and decipher from a scientific point of view.

What I liked about being a student at the University of Florida

The best thing about being a student here is the abundance of opportunities that are available. The opportunities are not only for a professional career such as exposure to attend/present at international conferences (USA home for many of these meetings held) but also for personal growth and development for example sports and specific hobbies.

From what I’ve observed, most universities provide a comprehensive environment for the overall development of a student. It is definitely up to individual students to welcome and capitalize on the available chances for professional and personal growth. The key is to be proactive and up to date with what’s going on in your university, the field of study, and the world.

Finding a research supervisor and settling in the department

It was definitely a tough job to find a supervisor. This is mainly because a lot of criteria need to be fulfilled by both the student and the professor in order to have a good fit. After all, it is a long (4-5 years) commitment and is extremely important for shaping your professional career.

While choosing a supervisor the key points I kept in mind were an area of research, funding, publication record of the working group, average years taken for graduation, work culture, etc. Nevertheless, it has to be a match and you too should fulfill the expectations of the supervisor as a graduate student.    

I have always been inclined towards the field of life sciences. The biology behind phenomena that define us has always fascinated me.

Life as a graduate student

It is hard because it is almost obligatory to have discipline, patience, and motivation on a day-to-day basis for your work. It is essential to keep the focus on your aims and goals. When I first joined, it was a little overwhelming, courses, rotations, journal club, teaching assistants and each of these aspects requiring time and focus equally. So time management and efficiency became the key to be able to keep up with all the work. Graduate school can be ruthless if one tends to have a little, dare I say a “slacker” attitude.

My lifestyle changed drastically over the course of my graduate studies, as it demands much more of your time than during undergraduate studies. Other than that, of course, being an international student and living in a new country changes a lot of things we are used to and take for granted in our home country. A big thing, which helped me, was a positive attitude towards new challenges.

How I became interested in this field of research

I have always been inclined towards the field of life sciences. The biology behind phenomena that define us has always fascinated me. During my undergrads, my Microbiology and molecular biology courses and lab work intrigued me and so I had no doubts that I would like to do my Ph.D. in this area

Advice to future students

My advice would be to obtain more knowledge and brush up on the basic concepts in the area you plan to specialize in before the beginning of your program. Another good skill would be to get in the habit of reading research articles, which will not only keep you up to date with what’s currently happening in your area of work but also enhance your skills to write in a professional and manner.

The city for my university is a typical college town. So there are plenty of student-oriented opportunities/ events happening all throughout the year for us to engage in. Another good thing is that there are plenty of places to visit around the city within a couple of hours’s driving distance. Florida has good weather throughout the year and so it’s great to have the whole year to participate in outdoor activities and enjoy the beach.

Standardized tests that I had to take 

I took GRE (as a graduate school requirement) and TOEFL (as I am not from a country with English as a native language).

Long-term career plan

I am planning a career in academia, however, I would like to be in a teaching track faculty position rather than the conventional research track faculty position. Therefore to become a professor one day, it is imperative to also get the training and exposure as a Post Doctorate Researcher and develop skills to not just carry out research work but also manage a team, mentor students and write grants and articles. Thus currently I am working as a Post-Doc at the University of Florida.

Other points to focus on during the graduate school

The employers now sort out to find productive and outstanding candidates. This makes it crucial to not just be productive but also show it, by publishing regularly and also participating in conferences and symposiums. It is important to reach out and network and present your work. Other than that volunteering for international meetings and even non-professional aspects, such as for a university society, a community event/organization are great ways to stand out.

What I do in my free time

The time when I do something other than work is almost sacred for me. It helps me relax and hone my creative and social skills (which are easy to neglect once you are in grad school). I like to do yoga and rock climbing for physical activities. I am proactive to make plans and fun group activities to stay social. And for rejuvenating my creative side I like to write poems and short stories and I plan to do some painting soon. I also like to travel and explore new places whenever I get the time to do so.  

Favorite books and/or TV shows

I do not watch a lot of TVs but just for some down time, I follow certain shows like The Amazing Race, Project Runway, and Friends, etc. I read a wide variety of books. Recently I have started reading poetry collections especially independents artists. Anything creative and original is a good source for relaxation and inspiration for me.