Student Spotlight​​

Sohini Sengupta.jpgSohini Sengupta​

Computational and Systems Biology, incoming class 2013; 
lab of Dr. Li Ding

What is your educational/professional background?
I attended Johns Hopkins University (class of 2013) and double majored in Biomedical Engineering and Applied Mathematics/Statistics. My focus area within my major was computational biology; I was doing research in a cancer genomics lab, which was the inspiration for the work I am doing now. I came straight to graduate school after completion of undergrad.

Why did you choose to attend Washington University DBBS?
What is your favorite part about pursuing your PhD training here?
I chose to come to WashU DBBS because of how happy all the students seemed when I came to interview here. I wanted to be in a place where I would not only be able to explore an interesting scientific problem, but also thrive and be happy. During my interview weekend, the professors were also equally enthusiastic, very much involved, and very approachable. My favorite part of pursuing my PhD here is the very collaborative environment that allows for open communication among peers and professors, and also the very interconnected DBBS student population that has become family.

What research are you currently working on?
I am doing my PhD research in Li Ding's lab, which specializes in cancer genomics and proteomics. My research is primarily focused on creating computational approaches to identify the genetic mutations that are directly responsible for driving cancer. Specifically, I am looking at cancer mutations in the context of how they cluster on protein structures with each other as well as with proximal structural/physical features and how we can utilize that information to distinguish causal and non-causal mutations.

Are you involved in any student groups, volunteer work or other ventures outside of the lab?
I was involved with the Young Scientist Program for a portion of my graduate school helping with tutoring high school kids, helping with the Summer Focus program, and various other aspects. My biggest endeavor was planning the YSP 25th Anniversary Gala, which was a very fun and enriching experience! I was a python tutor for students taking the Genomics course. I also like staying well connected to other DBBS students and have served as social chair for the Student Advisory Committee, ran the Comp Bio student run seminar, and been on the CSB recruitment planning committee to help recruit future graduate students to our program. I also was part of the Lethal Mutants softball team which is part of the WashU intramural softball league. I love planning social events in general because we all know you have to strike a balance. 

What is your favorite part about living in St. Louis? 
OMG. So much. I did not expect to love the Midwest so much being an East Coast gal. I absolutely love all the free things to do here. Every weekend there is some kind of free festival or concert going on that tends to be a ton of fun! Also, I love to eat and there is a restaurant for every type of food you are craving. I also got introduced to so many outdoorsy things here, which I had never done before like float trips, camping, and hiking!

What hobbies do you enjoy?
Aside from what I mentioned above, I love to hang out with friends and explore new experiences. I have been fortunate to have found a great group of friends in graduate school that I can explore new endeavors with in STL and beyond. I love staying healthy and fit by working out and cooking. I also love to dance every kind of dance. Being trained in Indian Classical Dance my whole life, I have wanted to expand and learn new types of dance. In graduate school, I have dabbled with going to salsa clubs, taking hip hop lessons, taking Zumba classes, and I've been consistently taking Argentine Tango lessons for 2 years now.

What is your favorite quote?
“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” -Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) 

Is a hot dog a sandwich?
No. Definitely not.

What movie would be greatly improved if it were made into a musical?
Cloud Atlas. Because that would be so confusing.

Who is your biggest role model?
Without a doubt, my parents. They are the source of my scientific and academic inspiration. They immigrated here to the United States from India at a very young age to pursue PhDs in mathematics, leaving behind everything that is familiar. They have sacrificed so much to ensure my sister and I get the best education and topmost quality of life. They have constantly pushed me to my highest potential, supported me throughout life, and have taught me to never settle for anything but the best.

What career would you like to pursue after completing your PhD training?
Currently, I am leaning towards working in industry and engaging in outreach in my free time.

What advice would you give to prospective graduate students?
The single most important skill I have learned in graduate school is how to strike a proper work-life balance. Graduate school has ironically been the least stressful time in my life because I have learned how to create my own work schedule and learned how to balance it with activities I love doing. My advice would be to:

1) Pace yourself in graduate school by balancing your work with focusing on yourself. Treat yourself and do the things you love doing outside of science, so that you can be so much more productive and rejuvenated when you try to do your science.
2) Never compare yourself to other graduate students. Everyone's experiences, type of research, lab environment, timelines, advisors, personal life, etc. are different. There is no ONE way to be successful in graduate school.
3) Stay connected to your fellow classmates and form friendships because these are the people who will relate and get you through the experience, when you are hardest on yourself.

Grants, awards, publications, or other honors:
I am an honorable mention recipient for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. I have a published first author paper entitled: Protein Structure Guided Discovery of Functional Mutations across 19 Cancer Types (Nature Genetics, 2016), and two additional first author papers submitted and revised. Fingers crossed! I also have multiple co-author papers as part of collaborations within and outside of the lab.​

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