An Interdisciplinary Pursuit of Immunology

Barsha Dash

Barsha Dash '14, Ph.D. candidate at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine

Major: Biochemistry, English minor

Internship:  Summer Undergraduate Researcher, The Mayo Clinic

Graduate School: Mayo Graduate School, Rochester, New York.

I am a second-year Immunology Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Virginia Shapiro’s lab at the Mayo Clinic. Our lab focuses on dissecting the development, maturation, and function of T cells, a group of white blood cells critical for immunity.

My research investigation in the Shapiro lab involves an intriguing subset of T cells called T-regulatory cells which are important players in tumor biology, autoimmunity and modulating the immune system’s defense against assaults of invading pathogens.

My love for immunology began in 2012, my sophomore year at Mount Holyoke when I first met Dr. Sharon Stranford. I joined her lab and took an introductory immunology class taught by her. I quickly understood that immunology is an interdisciplinary field. To fully appreciate its beauty and to unravel its mysteries, I needed a broad base of scientific knowledge.

I immersed myself in understanding complex subjects of antibody production and T cell receptor formation where genetics, evolution, biochemistry, organic chemistry became unified. I was encouraged by my advisors and professors of biochemistry, Drs. Lilian Hsu and Kathryn McMenimen, to pursue internships outside Mount Holyoke to amass technical skills and build connections which proved pivotal in gaining acceptance at the Mayo Graduate School.

I had two homes at Mount Holyoke College — the Biochemistry department and the English department. My professors in the Biochemistry department encouraged me to explore my literary interests through a minor in English. I had the wonderful opportunity to study various works of literature under the guidance of Drs. John Lemly and Eugene Hill. Here, I grew as a writer and learned the meticulous art of reading. These skills are indispensable for scientists as we strive to translate complex ideas into accessible terms for everyone to understand and appreciate.

I am deeply grateful for my rich and holistic Mount Holyoke education and for my professors who instilled in me the relentlessness needed for uncovering hidden truths of nature through scientific research.