Shourya – PhD Candidate in Cell Structure and Mechanobiology

Who are you?

Hello! I’m Shouryadipta Ghosh, and I’m currently doing my PhD with the at the Cell Structure and Mechanobiology Group at the University of Melbourne.

We are a group of researchers passionate about understanding how the cells work inside our body using mathematics and engineering.

How did you get into this job?

When I was in my high school, I had a strong interest in space, and I wanted to design rocket engines that can take us to other galaxies. Sounds funny, but I actually took an  admission in a Mechanical Engineering program.

When I was in my third year, I had a accident, and I ended up being seriously ill for a long time. I eventually recovered, but my interest shifted 180 degree from space to my own body.

I started reading a lot of Internet articles (and YouTube videos like this one) on how our body works. What fascinated me most was the cells inside our body – the cells works just like the machines inside a big factory!

Afterwards, I did not have much problem in choosing cell biology as my interest and potential area for PhD research. It was bit difficult in the beginning to transit from engineering to biology, but it became easy as I started learning how I can use my expertise in computer simulations (something they teach in mechanical engineering) to solve unanswered questions in cell biology.

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Mitochondria (segmented in green) in heart cells of diabetic subjects (B) exhibit a different organisation pattern to those in control (“healthy”, A) heart cells. We are studying what the effect of this reorganisation is, how it reorganises and how we can control it as a therapeutic strategy

What do you actually do?

I am simulating a computer model of a living cell, more specifically a living cell inside our heart. Our heart contains many large cells called cardiomyocyte (see the picture above). These cells are always beating, and they together make the heart ‘beat’ and keep us alive by pumping blood. But when people suffer from diabetes, these cells get damaged and change their structure and function, leading to heart failure.

I am studying the cause and effect of the changes that happens inside the cardiomyocytes during heart failure.

But instead of doing real life experiments on these cells (which is very expensive in terms of money and time), I have developed a computer simulation of the cell’s metabolism and function. The model can simulate how the molecules like ATP, ADP etc move inside the cell and help the cell to beat.

It sounds complicated! but the simulation is built on very basic knowledge of physics, chemistry, math and biology. The model looks just like the algebraic equations we solve in our high school maths class, just that I have to deal with many of them.

I basically tweak the mathematical equations and create simulations of heart failure in diabetes. Afterwards, it is just like doing real experiments, I need to analyse the results and figure out what goes wrong inside the cell.

What type of building (or otherwise) do you work in?

My work is mostly on computers, so I don’t need to spend much time in the office or any lab. I often work from my home, and sometimes, exotic locations around the world.

Having said that, I have an office space with a very powerful computer and three monitors (No! not a gaming PC) where I run my simulations.

 

What STEM disciplines are involved with your work?

As I mentioned before, knowledge in physics, chemistry, math are very vital for my research.

Also, I have to use a bit of my knowledge from computer engineering to design the simulations and run them successfully without burning up the computers.

And most importantly, I need to be up to date with all the recent happenings and research in Cell Biology and Heart Physiology.

What other STEM People do you work with?

I work with Biomedical Engineers, Experimental Biologists and Physiologists.

What does a typical day for you look like?

Some days can be rough! I have to work the whole day (and night) trying to fix a small error hidden inside thousand lines of codes. Sometimes, it is even harder when the simulations don’t give me expected results. I have to run the simulations for days after days and wait for some ‘good’ results.

But there are many good days too.

I can wake up at 10 am on a Monday morning, and spend the rest of morning watching movies or hitting the gym. Research is always flexible as long as the experiments are working.

Usually in the afternoons, I attend research meetings at university where I get to hear about the latest research happenings in many interesting fields related to biology and engineering directly from the researchers (not just my own field).

The best part about working in University is the free food. If you are clever enough, you can find lots of free pizzas and BBQs on daily basis. To add over that, I also get to attend all the cool and crazy events that only happens in the University.

In short, I do something I really love on daily basis, and at the same time I can also pretend to be a student, except for the stress of exams and assignments.

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Presenting my work at a conference.

What do you like best about your work?

Presenting my research in the conferences around the world and travelling to cool new places at the same time.

I also get to work in a very specialised field which is vital for our health and well being.

What do you like least about your work?

It is always stressful when the experiments don’t work, or people don’t agree with the results from my experiment. But I have started to enjoy the stress because it pushes me to do better things and ultimately helps me to become a better scientist. Think it like going to the gym!

What advice would you have for a high school student considering a career in the STEM field?

You need to try out different things and find out which one you like most. There is no hard and fast rule, just follow your passion.

You can see more about Shourya’s work here.

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