Hometown: Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Prior Study: BA Cognitive Science, St. Petersburg State University/Bard College, NY (dual degree)
Degree(s) Sought: Ph.D. Biology
Describe your graduate project and its purpose/applications.
My project is concerned with studying the role of the cytoskeleton in the way cells change shape and organization during development and organ formation. For this purpose I developed novel 3D cell culture systems for growing cells in conditions more similar to their natural environment. I hope that my research will help elucidate the fundamental processes at the beginning of every life. Additionally, novel systems of growing human cells in physiologically relevant environments allow for more reliable observation of cell behavior and assessment of drug effects. The pharmaceutical industry is moving to organ-on-a-chip models for studying drug effects and metabolism, so it is extremely important to develop systems that fully harness the potential of mammalian cell culture. Finally, in my work I study the role of the cytoskeleton in cell movement and invasion, two processes underlying the transition from normal to cancerous cells. By looking at the roles of specific proteins, we may identify future cancer therapy targets.
What are your hobbies/interests/special talents?
I enjoy rock climbing, skiing and hiking. I have also participated in the RPI Ballroom dance team and last year took part in my first ballroom competition. I love traveling, which works out well with many conferences, workshops, and friends and family living on three different continents. RPI is a great place to be since there are interesting people from all over the world, and so much to do with a rich cultural scene and beautiful natural surroundings.
List Information about your background and accomplishments in College and Work Experience
In college, I became fascinated with the idea of interdisciplinary studies in science, and focused my undergraduate studies on cognitive neuroscience. During my junior year, I was awarded a full scholarship to attend Bard College in upstate New York, where I continued my studies in cognitive linguistics. This first experience with a diverse, open and hardworking scientific community in the States was a game changer for me, motivating me to apply to graduate school in the States. For my last year in college, I was an intern in Russian Academy of Science Institute of the Human Brain, assisting in processing of fMRI data and writing my capstone project on neurological basis of cognitive control. However, I wanted to switch from computational work to studying human biology. During my last year in college, I was awarded a USAID/U.S. Department of State Opportunity grant, supporting my transition to the United States. After graduating college with highest honors, I was excited to be admitted to RPI and start research on cancer and morphogenesis in the laboratory of Dr. Lee Ligon, a cell biologist. During my research, I have collaborated with multiple scientists in several departments and institutions, presented at international scientific conferences, and am currently preparing to publish my manuscripts. Managing my own research project made me interested in the theory and practice of project management and entrepreneurship in life sciences, so I decided to take classes in the RPI Lally School of Management. This year I was awarded NSF I-CORPS funds to study bio entrepreneurship at I-CORPS workshop in San Diego, and became a member of the NSF National Innovation Network. This fall I will have a chance to use my new skills close to home, serving as a student scientific liaison between our lab, an engineering lab, and students in the Lally School of Management on a personalized medicine project.
What has been the most rewarding part of studying at Rensselaer?
I enjoy a lot of freedom pursuing my projects, and have both access to the state-of-the-art facilities of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, and a supportive and knowledgeable community of faculty, staff, students and researchers. This cross-disciplinary, open-to-collaboration and technology-focused environment has allowed me to use cutting-edge techniques and technology for my research, such as CRISPR genome editing and super resolution microscopy systems. One of my most fun side projects, done in collaboration with researchers at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, involved the fabrication of micromolds to study the cytoskeleton of individual cells confined to geometric shapes. As the project manager, I worked with integrated circuit fabrication facility engineers and outside vendors, as well as with colleagues from the Biomedical Engineering department, and the Wadsworth scientists. This experience shows how easy it is here to talk and work across department lines, both because of the institutional environment and the people: there is always an expert around the corner, and many collaborations have blossomed into great partnerships and even friendships.
What are your plans following graduation?
I am keeping my options open for industry positions both in R&D and science project management, as well as for consulting and industry analyst jobs.
Bard College PIE Program Scholarship 2011
High honors graduate St. Petersburg State University 2013
USAID/U.S. Department of State Opportunity grant 2013
NSF I-CORPS National Innovation Network training award 2017