Senior’s interest in biology grows through summer internship at Stanford

October 22, 2017 — by Alexandra Li

For the past two years, senior Ananya Chakravarthy has worked as an intern under the direction of graduate student Caitlin Roake in the field of biology at Stanford University. Being exposed to this path of research has allowed Chakravarthy to set her college major and decide on a focus in biology in the future.

Her journey began during the summer before freshman year, when Chakravarthy attended the Stanford Explore Lecture Series, a four-week program that includes lectures from faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars with the intent of stimulating students’ interest in biology and medicine.

One of the lecturers was Roake. Chakravarthy emailed her at first with general questions about her research and later asked for an internship.

When Chakravarthy started working at Stanford in the summer of her sophomore year, she spent much of her time observing Roake, who focuses on Dyskeratosis congenita, a disease that mainly affects the skin but leads to bone marrow failure and early death. By studying the causes of the disease, Roake hopes to eventually find methods of halting it before it expands in patients.

At the start, Chakravarthy learned to perform small steps, such as examining individual patients. However, now she is able to carry out full procedures like splitting and cloning cells on her own.

“While she's still my mentor, we're on much more equal footing now that I have experience there and have been there for so long,” Chakravarthy said. “She treats me closer to an equal than an intern.”

The past summer, Chakravarthy worked as a full-time intern and focused on an independent research project that related to Roake’s work. Due to time restrictions during the school year, Chakravarthy goes to Stanford twice a week to do basic data analysis for Roake.

Chakravarthy’s most memorable project at Stanford included performing assays, or tests, on cells of patients who are infected with Dyskeratosis congenita. The tests that Chakravarthy carried out on her own showed her value to the research team and reinforced her interest in biology.

Although Chakravarthy has not yet decided on what field of biology she hopes to go into, she’s leaning toward biomedical engineering. Since she realized she wanted to focus on biology in middle school, her early decision has made her high school path simpler, enabling her to concentrate more heavily on her science classes.

“Knowing that I want to go into biology has affected how I’ve picked my courses for high school,” Chakravarthy said. “It’s also made it easier to find extracurriculars, because I’m not trying to explore what I like because I already know what I like.”

Chakravarthy also said that her experience at Stanford has provided her with important interpersonal skills and taught her how to act in a professional environment. Besides gaining technical skills from being able to work hands-on in a lab, Chakravarthy emphasizes that her work alongside a graduate student has opened her eyes to more specific fields within biology.

“I'm not sure whether I want to be a researcher or doctor when I grow up, but I know I want to be helping people,” Chakravarthy said. “When doing research, the helping part can be pretty indirect. But working with actual patients’ cells made the helping part feel more direct and reminded me why I wanted to go into the field in the first place.”