Interviews with Scientists: Adviti Naik
Adviti Naik is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute in Qatar. She specialises in breast cancer research, and was commended by our judges in the Lab Heroes Awards 2020 after receiving an impressive 35 nominations from current and former colleagues who praised her leadership qualities, her willingness to help others and her passion and dedication to cancer research.
Adviti gained a Masters in Genetics and Molecular Cell Biology from the University of Sheffield, UK and was awarded a joint PhD in Systems Biology from the Eberhard Karls University of Tubingen, Germany and the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, funded by the prestigious Marie Curie Initial Training Network European Union grant. She undertook a postdoctoral position at the Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), Oman, where she was involved in a clinical breast cancer study assessing the biomarker potential of the neuropilin (NRP-1) pathway for the diagnosis of breast cancer and prediction of chemoresistance. In 2018, she joined the Cancer Research Center at the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) as a postdoctoral researcher. She was awarded the William Ferdinand Memorial Award and several scholarships for educational excellence, and gained experience in the pharma-industry through an industrial placement with AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, UK. She is co-editor for her institute's science outreach newsletters and co-organizes and moderates professional development seminars for early-career researchers.
We loved speaking to Adviti about her current research, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on her work, her admiration for women in STEM, and more.
Thanks for speaking with us, Adviti! Firstly, please do tell us a bit more about your current research...
I’m currently working on dissecting the role of certain cancer testis antigens (CTAs) in breast cancer tumorigenesis. These proteins are great candidate targets for anti-cancer therapy as they are expressed uniquely in tumor cells and in adult germline cells. I’m particularly interested in understanding the role of certain candidate CTAs in regulating genomic stability and mitotic fidelity, in addition to their influence on the tumor microenvironment and immune surveillance. The ultimate aim is to identify and validate novel targets to improve treatment strategies for breast cancer subtypes with poor prognosis.
What is it about your field of research that motivates you the most?
Cancer is a multifactorial complex disease. Considering the high prevalence of breast cancer in women worldwide, it is imperative that we are able to understand in-depth the various facets of this disease and strategize personalized targeted therapeutics. Although we've made leaps and strides in developing ground-breaking anti-cancer treatments, there is still so much scope for improvement, particularly for certain types of breast cancer that have high recurrence rates and develop resistance to standard-of-care therapies. Being able to implement my skills and knowledge to contribute towards improving the lives of women fighting breast cancer is what drives my excitement every day to continue doing what I do.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your research?
Our lab work was heavily impacted with a 6-month restriction to lab access. But we used the remote working time to analyze data and draft manuscripts and reviews. In addition, during the pandemic I was also able to utilize my skills to volunteer towards COVID-19 related research happening at the institute.
Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger?
No, I wanted to be a doctor until I got to grade 10. Once we were introduced to the concepts of genetics at high school, that got me hooked and I never looked back. I was fortunate to be exposed to good educators and mentors - this makes such a big impact on career decisions and satisfaction in the long run.
What advice would you give those at the beginning of their science career?
Don't be afraid to try new things. Take risks and learn new skills all the time. If you can, definitely try to do your PhD or postdoc stints abroad at international labs - it's a very enriching experience not just for learning science, but also gaining knowledge on how labs around the world function and the cultural experience is immense to grow into an empathetic scientist.
What's the most important lesson you have learned in your career so far?
Science and research is such a rollercoaster ride, with a lot of lows and highs. I think most academicians are so focussed on following a specific career path and ticking off milestones that we lose sight of the bigger picture and forget to enjoy the ride. Personally, I have learnt to believe that everything happens for a reason so don't stress too much when you've hit the lows. Things have a way of working out and most often recognizing serendipity in science is what turns projects/careers from mediocre to ground-breaking. Focussing on the bigger picture and remembering why you chose this career path is what helps me stay positive and love what I do.
What are you most proud of in your science career to date?
We recently filed a provisional patent based on the research I have been conducting over the past three years. There is still plenty to be done to get this through, but envisioning practical implementation and benefit from this piece of work gives me an immense sense of pride.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing life scientists today?
There are many challenges faced by scientists but if I had to pick one I think it would be the limited career options/positions in academia, resulting in lack of stability and job security for early career scientists. The constant pressure of having to find new opportunities or acquire funding every couple of years can be overwhelming.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
I like to have my experimental plan organized a week in advance. I start my day by diving straight into lab work, taking care of my cell cultures and conducting planned experiments. In the lab, I also advise colleagues/trainees and help keep the lab organized. When I'm in the middle of incubations, I get to my computer and check emails or analyze data. Once I'm done with lab work for the day, I grab a coffee and focus my mind on writing manuscripts, project reports and reading the literature. I usually end the day with an hour of yoga or a long run to disconnect and refresh my mind.
Outside of work and research, what do you enjoy doing most?
I enjoy being outdoors - camping, hiking, trekking, or spending the day at the beach. I love an active lifestyle, especially yoga which keeps me grounded, calm and mentally energetic.
If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing?
If I were not into science, I would be running a wellness brand, promoting holistic living and healthy eating.
Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?
I've been inspired by many amazing scientists but I have particular admiration for all the fantastic female scientists, colleagues and mentors I've had throughout my career. Their ability to shatter glass ceilings while successfully balancing good science and life skills, multi-tasking and implementing empathetic leadership is exemplary.
What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?
Working in cancer biology I may be biased, but I believe that immunotherapy has been a game-changer for treating many types of cancers that respond poorly to conventional chemotherapy and cancer treatments.
And finally, what's your favourite science quote?
It's not really a quote but an excerpt from the book "The Lives of a Cell" by Lewis Thomas. I was reading this during my PhD and it is also the prologue to my thesis:
"...the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you’d think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise... The normal, predictable state of matter throughout the universe is randomness, a relaxed sort of equilibrium, with atoms and their particles scattered around in an amorphous muddle. We, in brilliant contrast, are completely organized structures, squirming with information at every covalent bond... You’d think we’d never stop dancing." – Lewis Thomas (The Lives of a Cell).
Thank you so much for a fantastic interview, Adviti! We wish you all the best with your continued research.
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