A young STEM student’s contribution to the COVID-19 global response

By Indira Laisram
Shruthi Mangalaganesh
A third-year student studying Bachelor of Biomedicine and Bachelor of Commerce at Monash University, Shruthi Mangalaganesh has always had a love and fascination for research in the fields of Medical and Health Sciences. “I have had a passion for biology and have always been fascinated by the science behind how the human body works,” she says. Soon she found her pathway into a science career when she was accepted into the specialist science school John Monash. It was here that Shruthi had the opportunity to complete an ‘Extended experimental investigation’ on the topic of antibiotic effectiveness and was able to present her findings to Monash University researchers, “which was really exciting”. Additionally, the opportunity to meet researchers from various institutes including the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute and the Hudson Institute, really strengthened her passion and desire to pursue a career in research.
Most importantly, Shruthi has been part of a team contributing to the global response to COVID-19. She tells The Indian Sun about her role, and more.
Let’s start first with your experience and role as part of the team contributing to the global response to COVID-19.

It has been such an enriching and amazing experience for me to work alongside world-class CSIRO researchers, to perform analysis on the different SARS-CoV-2 variants. This was one of my first insights into research, so it was very eye-opening to see how researchers approach a pandemic at a laboratory level and understand the in-silico and in-vivo techniques they use in order to learn more about the virus. Working on a project that is so relevant to the pandemic was highly rewarding, due to the research having an enormous potential to contribute to betterment of society in the short term.

Whilst the work of researchers often happens behind the scenes, I think the pandemic has really shown the crucial role scientists play in keeping our world safe and healthy. I feel proud to be studying in the impactful field of Biomedicine and am looking forward to entering the workforce in this sector and making a positive impact on society.

My team’s focus was mainly one analysing the different SARS-CoV-2 variants and determining the frequency of these variants in different countries across the globe.

Identifying these common mutations/common variants will be very useful when studying the efficacy of the existing SARS-CoV-2 vaccines for different variants.

Additionally, understanding the global distribution of the different variants will be helpful when analyzing the epidemiology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in different countries.

Can you briefly describe your educational journey to where you are today?

I chose to study Bachelor of Biomedicine and Bachelor of Commerce at Monash University. Most people are surprised to see the Commerce degree in this combination, but I find that combining these courses has given me a more multidisciplinary view of how we can approach the research problems of the 21st century.

In my degree thus far, I have especially enjoyed learning about the latest developments in fields of Transcriptomics and Immunology. To further my knowledge of these areas, I was on the lookout for any research opportunities, and I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to complete an internship at CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness. This experience has furthered my passion for research and opened my eyes into what a career in research looks like.

What is your X-factor or passion? What do you love about your job?

My passion lies in understanding how the human body works and the mechanism of diseases, so that we can tackle human illnesses. I really enjoyed my internship and would love to work in the research field in the future, because the projects we work on can really have a profound impact on people’s lives. Although the impact of research is not always seen firsthand, its wonderful how a day’s work in a COVID-19 project could lead to key findings that contribute to the betterment of people’s health.

Shruthi Mangalaganesh
Do you have any advice for anyone keen to pursue a career that links maths/data and health?

A career in STEM is especially very rewarding because you’re working towards improving peoples’ quality of life, whether it be in a direct or indirect manner. There are a vast number of career opportunities in STEM ranging from Engineering to Research, Allied health professions such as Physiotherapy, Biostatistics and many more. So, if you are interested in the disciplines of maths/data and health, there will definitely be a STEM career that is perfect for you.

I found that going to University Open days and talking to family and friends working in the field of STEM really opened my eyes to how many career opportunities there are and helped me make a more informed decision about which career would be the best fit for me.

Being a scientist is definitely stressful. What do you usually do to unwind?

In my downtime, you’ll most often find me beside a chess board! I’ve been an avid chess player for 10 years now and it has been a wonderful experience to compete regularly in chess tournaments whilst representing my school and also at Box Hill Chess Club. Being named the National girls chess champion in 2015 and being ranked within the top 50 female chess players in Australia have definitely been the highlights! Chess has really enhanced my problem solving and analytical skills and has allowed me to meet and develop friendships with like-minded people.

I also love being outdoors and playing sports in my spare time. I go on cycle rides and walks around my neighbourhood and have also picked up a new hobby of playing tennis during these lockdown periods!

I’m a big fan of music too; I enjoy playing the violin and find music to be such a great stress reliever.

(Shruthi Mangalaganesh’s contribution to the research at CSIRO can be found here.)

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