#IamIPN: Malosree Maitra


Malosree is a Ph.D. student in the IPN. She is in Dr. Gustavo Turecki's lab, where she uses techniques such as single-nucleus RNA-seq and fluorescence assisted nuclei sorting to measure cell-type specific molecular changes in the brain in depression. 


Welcome to #IamIPN, Malosree! Why did you decide to pursue your graduate studies in the IPN at McGill? 

My undergraduate degree is in neuroscience. Early on in college I knew that I wanted to pursue research and applying to PhD programs after graduation was the next logical step. Of my choices, McGill's was the only program based in a large city and to be honest the prospect of living in Montreal influenced my decision. In retrospect, I couldn't have chosen better, given the legacy of legends such as Wilder Penfield, Brenda Milner, and others in neuroscience research at McGill. 


When, and how, did you develop an interest and passion to study neuroscience? 

After high school when I was exploring my options for subjects to study in college I found it difficult to pick one over the other, especially given that in India the system requires students to choose their subject when they enter college. I knew that I was broadly interested in science and I had an interest in understanding the biology of mental health because of personal experiences. Both the interdisciplinary potential of neuroscience and the possible applications for demystifying brain function in health and disease piqued my interest in the area. 


Briefly describe your current research project, including its objectives and translation to the real-world.

My research project aims to understand how different cell-types within the brain may be affected at the molecular level by depression. In the Turecki lab, we perform molecular studies of postmortem brain tissue to understand, among other things, how gene expression and epigenetic regulation are altered in the depressed brain. For my project we are using techniques such as single-nucleus RNA-seq and fluorescence assisted nuclei sorting to measure cell-type specific molecular changes in the brain in depression. These methods allow the separation of cell-types based on their gene expression patterns and will provide insights into how different cell-types are involved in depression etiology.


Reflecting on the effects of COVID in India, what is your perspective on mental health in the country? Do you believe that sufficient work on awareness, research, and interventions is being done? What legislation do you believe should be put into place (or existing legislation that should be improved), so that mental health is prioritized in India? 

When I was a teenager,  someone in my close family received a psychiatric diagnosis. As a result, my family experienced first-hand the process of trying to secure quality mental health care in India, which was not an easy task at that point of time. The level of social stigma was very high. This incident took place more than a decade ago, and public awareness and perception has changed considerably since then, and for the better. However, prejudice against mental illness and against seeking treatment for mental illness is still present. I personally think that more emphasis on raising public awareness especially among the younger generations, through programs in schools and colleges, will help continue to sustain the positive trends. 


What helps you navigate times of discouragement when your research doesn't go as planned?

Every day, week, and month spent working on a research project brings with it many ups and downs. Failed experiments are a part of research, but they can still take an emotional toll. It's important to celebrate the small victories and to be involved with activities outside of the lab. For me, for example, being involved with BrainReach helps take my mind off technical difficulties in the lab and helps preserve my interest in neuroscience even when I'm facing disappointments in my research project. 


What has BrainReach taught you about yourself, the future generations, science education in general, etc.? 

I started volunteering with BrainReach North during my first year in the IPN. On the one hand attending workshops on teaching and inquiry-based learning as well as being involved in designing online educational content as a BrainReach volunteer has helped me hone my science teaching skills. On the other hand, it has connected me with a vibrant group of graduate students who share a similar passion for accessible science-education. In particular,  working with BrainReach North which focuses on indigenous outreach, attending workshops on indigenous perspectives, self-educating on indigenous issues in Canada, and most importantly coordinating outreach efforts to schools in indigenous communities has taught me a lot about indigenous peoples in Canada. I hope to continue this ongoing process of learning in the future. 


To end this interview, would you like to share some advice to our new graduate students? 

On a pragmatic level, I would advise new graduate students to familiarize themselves well with the program requirements, complete their course-work early if possible, keep track of deadlines for progress meetings, and apply to all funding opportunities they are eligible for. On a deeper level, completing a research project successfully is a long and difficult process. It's important to be engaged with student-life outside the lab, such as by taking part in GSAN or PGSS events. If possible, it is good to have a social circle outside the research context. Finally, it is crucial to prioritize one's physical and mental health as much as one's research. There are a variety of resources available for mental health support including (but not limited to) peer support programs from GSAN and PGSS, as well as counselling services through the Student Wellness Hub. I would highly encourage future and current graduate students to seek help whenever they need it as it can make a big difference to the grad school experience.


Thank you for your insightful and honest answers, Malosree. We wish you all the best in your endeavours!


Published on September 8, 2020


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