P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans


Looking Back at the Fellowship: PhD Student Sita Chandrasekaran

Sita Chandrasekaran
2021 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Sita Chandrasekaran is a PhD student at University of California, Berkeley. 

Sita’s affinity for science was inspired by her father’s work as an aerospace engineer. With her parents’ steady support of her curiosity, Sita became deeply interested in biology and biochemistry. She studied biochemistry at San Francisco State University where she learned the importance of inclusive communities in conducting purposeful and rigorous research. 

While at SF State, Sita worked in Raymond Esquerra’s biochemistry and biophysics lab, where she near-peer mentored over two dozen students in laboratory research and biochemical methods. She also led multiple research projects, resulting in a publication with co-authorship and poster presentations at multiple national and local conferences. Sita joined the first cohort of PINC (Promoting Inclusivity in Computing) students, a minor program for biologists with peer-mentorship to train and increase retention of diverse students in computer science. As she moved through the program, she became a mentor herself, teaching students Python and facilitating research projects.

After spending a summer working part-time refining microscopes for observing plankton behavior in drops of water with Simone Bianco’s lab at IBM Research through the Center for Cellular Construction NSF-STC, Sita was inspired to join the UCSF-UCB joint bioengineering PhD program. She then joined the lab of Patrick Hsu at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, upon which the lab switched focus to developing a fast and scalable diagnostic. After finishing her training, Sita aims to have a research career in developing therapeutics.

We caught up with Sita about what's next and what the Fellowship has meant to her: 

2021 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow Sita Chandrasekaran with her undergraduate lab partner and with her lab's stuffed animal.

2021 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow Sita Chandrasekaran in Bushwick, Brooklyn for the 2022 Fall Conference.

Where are you with your graduate program now? 

I'm pursuing a PhD in the joint UCSF-UCB BioEngineering program. Next steps include a dissertation progress meeting, writing my thesis, and graduating.

What is the main focus of your studies?

My project focuses on the development of transcriptome engineering tools to allow for highly modular edits.

There are so many paths beyond collegewhy did you feel graduate school was the best next step for you personally and/or professionally?

I felt graduate school was a necessary step towards becoming a scientist, whether in academia or industry. It was not a difficult risk, but I was not always aware of the option to get a PhD for reaching my goals until an undergraduate mentor directed me towards it. While I have not yet graduated from my program (joint UCSF-UCB BioE PhD program) I feel I am on my way to becoming a good scientist.

Over the past two years, what personal or professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the advances in my research and of my exceptional undergraduate mentee.

How do you describe The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program to others?

The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship is one that brings together many ambitious individuals from multiple disciplines.

Why did you apply to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?

I applied for the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship to obtain funding for a graduate education in the joint UCSF-UCB BioEngineering PhD program. That and the rich community fostered by the Fellowship have been valuable to me.

Do you have any favorite memories from the past two years as a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow?

The fall 2022 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships Cnference was fun, especially because I hadn't been to New York City since I was a small child.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans?

I would advise applicants to be genuine and ambitious in their applications. Any application will be held back by reservations caused by self-doubt.

Who has inspired you from the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship community?

It was inspiring to hear about Mikhail Shapiro's experience in academia during his PDSFA Town Hall. I also read about Pardis Sabeti in preparation for applying to this Fellowship, and learning about her work and commitment to community was also inspiring. ∎

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