Student Highlight: Archana Murali
On Monday, February 3, biology graduate student, Archana Murali, successfully defended her PhD thesis, “Characterization of an Inducible Model of Prion Disease in Drosophila melanogaster.” Prion diseases are characterized by proteinaceous infectious agents, and propagation is due to changes in a protein structure that lead to a disease state. The most commonly known prion disease is Bovine spongiform encephalopathy or “Mad Cow;” however, recent work suggests that understanding prion disease propagation may elucidate important characteristics of Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases (Dartmouth Life Sciences Symposium, October, 2012).
During her time at Dartmouth, Murali has used genetics, microscropy, and electrophysiology to dissect mechanisms of prion disease propagation in motor neurons of fruit flies. According to Murali, “I study an inherited prion disease in flies. Neurodegenerative conditions like the one I study are fascinating… understanding how they affect the brain and looking for ways to prevent the disease has formed the bulk of my thesis project(s).” Prion proteins are inherently difficult to investigate, and according to her advisor, Professor Patrick Dolph, this project was “frustrating,” requiring a “special kind of student… tremendous attention to detail… and a lot of perseverance.”
Murali grew up in India, although she was not born there. Before arriving at Dartmouth, she received her undergraduate degree in biology and a master’s degree in molecular biology. She chose Dartmouth because “of the research conducted here. I knew that there were a lot of good options for me in terms of research projects and labs, and this excited me!”
After graduation, she will embark on a new adventure as a life sciences consultant with Putnam Associates. When asked how she chose this career path, Murali says, “I decided that I would look into consulting as a career path pretty late in grad school actually! I think it was only very early in 2012 that I decided to try my hand at consulting.” For graduate students who may also be interested in a consulting career, Murali gives some helpful advice on how to be a competitive applicant: “The interview process for consulting is pretty rigorous and there was a lot I did to prepare. I attended Graduate Consulting Club meetings, practiced cases with friends, kept up to date with [the pharmaceutical industry] and biotech news (new drugs, etc.), practiced communicating science to general audiences, and also was involved with Social IQ consulting. It was after doing a consulting project with Social IQ that I really made up my mind about consulting. I really enjoyed working with my team and coming up with recommendations that our client really liked.”
When asked what advice she would give to an incoming student on the first day of graduate school, Murali says, “I would probably say don’t be afraid to explore areas outside of your comfort zone. You never know what you will find interesting, how it will connect with your work and what that can lead to.”
We wish Murali the best in her future endeavors!
by Jeanine Amacher