Rashmi Agrata

Rashmi is a PhD student at NCBS-TIFR, India, studying how different bacteria use simple tricks to hijack human immunity. She works with tiny molecules called proteins to understand the effect of bacterial infections.

She is a dance enthusiast and an art admirer. She believes in communicating science in different forms; SciArt being one of her favourites. She loves mentoring students and talking about several aspects of science including career, experience and opportunities.

Languages: English, Hindi
See also: Website / LinkedIn / Twitter

An interview with Rashmi Agrata:

Date: 09/02/2021

You’re currently a PhD student, trying to understand bacterial proteins that help them infect humans, could you tell us more about this project? How’s your day-to-day, at work?
There are tiny biomolecules in our cells called proteins; they perform a diverse set of functions. One of their roles is to generate immediate an immune response when a pathogen (bacteria/virus) invades. This, in turn, activates a mechanism that detects and kills the pathogen. However, pathogens have found several ways to hijack these mechanisms so that they can infect us without getting our ‘alarm’ activated. I study how proteins are targeted by bacteria and what changes they bring that inactivates the protein. To understand this, I make proteins in the lab and study their structure (how do they look) and their functions.

How did you decide to become a researcher in life sciences? Did you get inspired by anyone or anything in particular?
As a kid, I used to get intrigued by seeing cut fish that my mom would cook. I used to look at their internal body parts and wonder how tiny blood pipes could keep them alive. I wanted to know anything and everything about how our body works. I pursued my higher studies in zoology, where I got answers to most of my questions. I further wanted to understand how tiny molecules like DNA and proteins work, so I am currently doing my PhD in biochemistry and biophysics.

What’s your favourite part of your everyday work?
My favourite part of my everyday work is that I learn something new every day! Even if my experiments fail, there is so much to learn from what should not be done. Also, working with technologies that allow me to understand something as small as atoms excites me.

What’s the biggest challenge you feel that you (and/or people in similar positions to yours) face today?
Public engagement with science is a great challenge for us. The general public is not always aware of scientific intricacies and findings; that makes them vulnerable to superstitious beliefs etc.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt so far?
Everyone is unique and important.

Why are you interested in communicating science to students?
Young minds are a powerful tool to execute change in the world. As they grow older and have a critical thinking ability, they are more prepared for problem-solving and the next generation is more educated and equipped with solutions.

Are you involved in any other projects, apart from Lecturers Without Borders, related to science outreach? If so, could you tell us more about them?
I have done four classroom webinars (for 4th-6th grade), mostly in USA via a platform called Skype a Scientist. I have interacted with college students in India via multiple webinars. I am also a part of our Institute’s (NCBS-TIFR) outreach community; I have done a couple of classroom programmes and podcasts with 8th grader as a part of the community.

Outside your career, what do you enjoy doing?
Outside my passion for science, I love dancing. Trained in an Indian classical dance form, Kathak, I enjoy grooving to any and all dance beats. I also love painting, so I am using that as a medium to connect with people; I am a budding Sciartist!