Student Spotlight​​

Sohini Sengupta.jpgNinecia Scott

Molecular Microbiology & Microbial Pathogenesis program, incoming class 2014; 
lab of Dr. Shabaana Khader

What is your educational/professional background?
I completed my undergraduate degrees at North Carolina Central University, a historically black college and university (HBCU) in Durham, North Carolina (Go Eagles!). I earned both a B.S. of Pharmaceutical Sciences with a minor in Chemistry and a B.S. of Biology.

Why did you choose to attend Washington University DBBS? What is your favorite part about pursuing your PhD training here?
My first experience at Washington University was my first summer outside of North Carolina before my sophomore year as a BioMedRAP student. I was excited to come here because several of the NCCU faculty had trained at WashU so I knew I was going to have a great experience in training. Over the course of that summer, WashU made quite an impact on my parents and I. During my summer, I got to interact with a couple of black PhD students and understand the basis and rigor of research at a Research I institution, which made a huge impact on my career trajectory. WashU flew my parents out, received a tour of the genome center with Cherilynn (Shadding) and Latricia (Wallace) and learned about the people that became my "scientific" family during the summer.  

Throughout my undergraduate years, WashU's impression of great scientific training, embracing and integrating diversity initiatives and having a "family" feel remained and made me choose WashU. My favorite part of pursuing my PhD training here is the access that I have to experts within different fields to expand the scope of my learning and scientific reach. People sometimes laugh when I say, "I can't wait until my thesis update," but it is truly a great and enjoyable experience! 

What research are you currently working on? What is a fun fact about your current research?

As a PhD candidate in the Khader lab, I study Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), the causative bacterium of Tuberculosis (TB). My research explores whether neutrophils, an immune cell, are harmful or protective in those who have TB.

Fun fact: It has been almost 100 years since the discovery of bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG), a vaccine against TB, yet TB has not been eradicated.​ 

Are you involved in any student groups, volunteer work or other ventures outside of the lab?
During my time here at WashU, I have served as a tutor for YSP, Chair and Co-chair of the Association of Black Biomedical Graduate Students (ABBGS), Graduate Representative for the Student Advisory Committee (SAC), Graduate Senator and Co-chair of the Graduate Research Symposium (GRS), and a member of the Bouchet Honors Graduate Society. Currently, I am the Graduate Representative to the Washington University in St. Louis Board of Trustees. Outside of student groups, I volunteer with AfroStem, which aims at giving kids of all ages a positive experience with science and technology. I also do various volunteer projects at my church.

What is your favorite part about living in St. Louis?
There are many things I like about living in St. Louis. The music, free events and close proximity to larger cities are amongst the top reasons why I love it here. I love the musical artists that come to St. Louis! I have seen John Legend, Common, MC Lyte, and Kool and the Gang all for free. I have also had the opportunity to attend concerts of many of my favorite or new artists from a wide range of genres, like Stevie Wonder, Ledisi, Hiatus Kaiyote, Tonina Saputo, Corrine Baliey Rae, Metro Boomin' and Big Sean and Noname. I have also discovered so many local musicians, especially regarding jazz. So many good memories and so affordable! 

What hobbies do you enjoy?
As you may notice from the above question, finding and listening to music is a big hobby for me. I enjoy finding new artists, exploring new genres and going to concerts. In addition to music, I really enjoy painting, playing card and board games, cooking, hanging with friends and family, and traveling.

What is your favorite quote?
This is a really hard question, but Michelle Obama has had so many gems so here are my top 3: 

"If I made a commitment, I stood by that commitment -- and try to make it real. Because when you become leaders, the most important thing you have is your word, your trust. That's where respect comes from."

"We learned about gratitude and humility -- that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean... and we were taught to value everyone's contribution and treat everyone with respect."

"I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values -- and follow my own moral compass -- then the only expectations I need to live up tore my own"

Is a hot dog a sandwich?
I never considered it one. Interesting take!

What movie would be greatly improved if it were made into a musical?
Some of my favorite movies are sports and comic movies. I can only imagine if “The Avengers” or “The Justice League” breaks out in song.

Who is your biggest role model?
My biggest role model would be a combination of a lot of people -- a combination of my parents, and professors from NCCU. My parents for encouraging me to explore, ask and answer questions on my own. Dr. Daniel Williams, my undergraduate mentor, trained me to be an independent researcher and demonstrated a model environment for learning and training. Drs. Veronica Nwosu and Antonio Baines also demonstrated that I, too, could be a Dean or a Director of a PhD program, as well as teach and have an impactful research career

What career would you like to pursue after completing your PhD training?
My ideal career will give me the opportunity to understand basic molecular mechanisms responsible for prevalent human infectious diseases contribute to our collective scientific knowledge and make translatable treatments. Overall, I want to encourage and empower the next generation of scientists by sharing my journey, providing advice and opportunities, serving as a role model, and cultivating an inclusive and supportive community. 

What advice would you give to prospective graduate students?
“Whatever you want to do, if you want to be great at it, you have to love it and be able to make sacrifices for it.” – Maya Angelou 

“Some people have jobs, some people have careers… If you’ve got a career, thank God. If you’ve got a job, I hope you get a career one day. Because when you’ve got a career, there ain’t enough time in the day. When you’ve got a career, you look at your watch, time just flies…” – Chris Rock 

First of all, I am so proud and happy to welcome a future scientist in the making to the field. As you go through this journey, remember to assess the activities that you like, do not like, things that come easy and hard for you. Often times people overlook these things as they go through life. Determining these things will help you narrow down your focus and truly find your passion. You would not have gotten to this point without sacrifices, so remember your ​passion, dreams and goals in those hard times. They will help ground and motivate you.

“My ambition didn’t grow out of nowhere. It was planted in me by a community that nurtured me” – Michael Eric Dyson

“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required…” – Luke 12:48  

Remember that you did not get here by yourself. You have had parents, friends, classmates, mentors and perhaps siblings that have supported you throughout your journey, which I call a “love village.” As you go through graduate school (and life), create more memories with your love village. You have been given support, guidance, and opportunities up until this point, so return the favor. Reach out to those around you. 

“Celebrating the life no matter who you are /If you've been working hard give yourself a round of applause” – Ledisi (Bravo)

Take time to celebrate the little and big accomplishments that you will no doubt have! Life is not all about studying, so explore, be daring, and be bold. 

Grants, honors, and awards
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences travel awardee, T32 Pulmonary and Critical Care trainee, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program Honorable Mention, NIGMS IMSD trainee, Edward A. Bouchet scholar​

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