Talking Real Science with Tanishq Vaidya
This episode of Share Science features Tanishq Vaidya, a junior at The University of California Davis, and one of 10 students who were recently awarded the Scientist.com Stem Research NIL award for promising undergraduate researchers. This award is part of Scientist.com’s commitment to support and mentor students who are at the beginning of their STEM education and careers. In addition to a grant of $5000 each, the 10 award winners are collaborating with Scientist.com as brand ambassadors.
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Let’s jump right into the first question: where did you grow up? Have you always been interested in the sciences? And if not, what sparked your interest?
So I mainly grew up in Fremont, California, which is a town in the California Bay area, not far from San Jose. I was there pretty much until I began college, after which me and my family moved to Sacramento, California where we are now. In terms of my interest in science, I would say I’ve always had an inquisitive mind and loved asking questions in all my classes; I was always the one to have my hand raised wanting to know more about the topic we were covering.
I would always say that I kind of had a mind geared towards the sciences, but I wasn’t always specifically looking for the hard sciences. I was generally interested in all topics that we were covering from history, chemistry, biographies of people – pretty much anything. However, as I progressed in my early schoolings, I participated in a variety of competitions, science labs, and science fairs where I learned that the hard sciences were where I could really apply my passions and my natural inclination. So I followed that path.
So where are you currently studying? What is your major? And can you tell us a little bit about the research that you’re currently conducting?
Yeah, for sure, I’m currently studying at the University of California Davis, and I’m majoring in neurobiology, physiology, and behavior. This major is a combination of a variety of biological sciences, primarily focused on neuroscience, but it’s a kind of interdisciplinary major where it combines a lot of topics from biology, to psychology, chemistry, and all of the sciences kind of come together to give us a better, comprehensive understanding of neuroscience.
In terms of the research that I’m currently conducting, I’m working in the lab of Dr Aldrin Gomes in the department of NPB (Neurobiology, Physiology & Behavior). The lab as a whole primarily focuses on cardiovascular muscle physiology, and is interested in topics like protein degradation, specifically the ubiquitin proteasome protein degradation system, which is an intracellular pathway. Within this overall purpose, my personal work is currently focused on trying to understand the effects of prolonged ibuprofen use on the systemic health of mice, and looking into the ways that prolonged Ibuprofen use could contribute to increased inflammation. There are these markers or damaging byproducts called reactive oxygen species which are essentially chemical byproducts from ibuprofen use; I’m also trying to understand various pharmacological methods where we could prevent the generation of reactive oxygen species for safer Ibuprofen use.
You’ve mentioned before that your career aspirations lie in the medical field and that you plan on continuing to conduct groundbreaking research as well. Can you tell us a little bit more about your future career goals?
Yeah, so from a young age, I was kind of always fascinated by the human body and how it worked. I’ve always had a lot of doctors and engineers in my family background, so I was always really interested in talking with them about the cases that they were managing and understanding the work that they were conducting. So I was always really interested in medicine and the human body, and then as I progressed in my educational career, I took opportunities to further explore that interest. I really saw that becoming a physician would satisfy my curiosities and it was the perfect blend of Clue-like puzzle solving combined with having that human connection with patients. However, at the same time, while I did all these opportunities that would bring me closer to my goal of becoming a physician, I also started doing research.
“I really saw how, especially now in the modern medical field, the roles of researchers and physicians are kind of merging together because there’s so much ground breaking research occurring in hospitals and clinics, everything from basic wet lab research to clinical research. I saw that I wanted to go beyond just caring for patients. I wanted to take an active part in progressing education in the medical field, and so I knew that I wanted to be a physician researcher, kind of combining those two roles.”
So who was or is the greatest influence on your career, your academic journey thus far? Do you have a specific mentor that has played a significant role?
Great question. So I didn’t specifically have a direct mentor or guide in my early career who would give me opportunities or guide my thinking in any sort of way. I kind of just relied on the support of the connections that I had around me, especially my parents who were super supportive of my interest and allowed me to explore a variety of topics to guide myself into finding my passions. My other family members were also super influential, as I mentioned, I had a lot of engineers and doctors in my families with whom I could look up to and discuss my scientific curiosities, growing my scientific thinking. Then finally, my friends at the time were really important as well. I was lucky enough to have high achieving friends who kind of pushed each other and motivated each other to push past our boundaries. That really helped me achieve greater success than what I thought of myself at the time. Coming into college, I would definitely say my P.I. Doctor Aldrin Gomes has been a huge mentor. He’s always guiding me towards opportunities that I could pursue, giving me advice on my future plans. He was actually really influential in me gaining the N.I.L. scholarship as well. So I would say Doctor Gomes has played a huge role in my post college growth.
What would you say are some of the toughest challenges when balancing being a full time student, a researcher, and pursuing a career in the medical field?
It’s always really great that I get to partake in all of these wonderful opportunities and all of these various programs, but it definitely can be a challenge at times to manage all of the deadlines and requirements. So particularly, I would say time management is a big challenge that I have to contend with, especially because all of these extracurriculars have deadlines and submissions that go on at the same time. U C Davis operates on a quarter system, which is basically 10 weeks. So everything kind of descends at the same time, which means that time management skills, like goal setting and project planning become really important. So sometimes if I’m not always on top of things, at the time, things tend to slip past me. But I try to find avenues where I can mitigate that and I can always be meeting all those deadlines at the same time.
Connecting with my loved ones can be a little bit of a challenge, especially because of the deadlines, things can get busy, but their support and guidance becomes really important during those times. Finding the time to speak with the people that I love most and forming those connections is so important. Beyond the time management aspect, I would say that at times it can get easy to lose the motivation that I have for certain things just because there’s so much going on and it all seems kind of so far away. But at the same time it becomes really important to focus on why I’m trying to pursue those goals so that I can recenter myself and find that passion.
Awesome. So the last question that I have for you today, do you have any advice for younger students interested in getting into research but might be intimidated or not know where to begin?
Yeah, definitely. So firstly, I just want to say, I totally understand why first time researchers are often worried – I myself was really apprehensive about getting into research. At the start, it can sound intimidating, especially because it’s often portrayed as this kind of sterile, really difficult process where only traditionally smart people are able to be successful. But I would say that, having overcome this initial fear and really benefited from it, it’s not as scary as it sounds and teamwork and collaboration are such big portions of the scientific environment that it’s really the connections that are often the most important parts that drive a project’s success.
“I would also say that if young researchers are kind of apprehensive about the bench work and working with chemicals and things like that I would encourage them to explore the many other kinds of research that go on, like archival research, clinical research, and so forth where they can kind of dip their toes in the scientific process and then work towards wet lab research. Once they’re more comfortable with that aspect, great research doesn’t have to come from test tubes, it can come from books and the library.”
And then finally, in terms of finding research opportunities, I would just tell young scientists to talk to as many people as they can about their interests, teachers, family members, friends, anyone can be a great resource in finding scientific research. There’s so many people conducting all kinds of research that, even if the person that they directly talk to doesn’t conduct research, they can always connect them with somebody that is. So just talking with people and finding those connections is really important. I myself found my first research program through just talking with a tutor that I had at the time. So yeah, I would say just talk with as many people as you can about your interests and I’m sure that you’ll be able to find something.