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  • Postcards from the Field: Setting Up Research Collaborations in India

    We landed in Bangalore International Airport after a journey of about 20 hours then took a bus for 6.5 hours to reach our destination: Shimoga - the original site of Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD) and the topic of my dissertation. Shimoga is part of the Malenadu region which means ‘heavy rainfall’ region in Kannada, which is the local language. The landscape here is interesting; it is crisscrossed with tons of paddy fields, coconut trees, areca, paper and rubber plantations. 

    Nestled in the Western Ghats of India, Shimoga is the district headquarter and our primary location for research on the epidemiology of KFD, a highly infectious disease system transmitted by ticks in India. The first cases of KFD were discovered here in 1957. The disease has been understudied, scientific information has been scant and repetitive and the disease itself is gradually expanding into newer regions. The first part of my dissertation showed a complete retrospective analysis of all KFD human cases from 1957 until 2017, which has never been done before. This information will be critical in developing interventions and understanding the eco-epidemiology of this disease.

    Our hosts were Drs. Ananda K.J. from the Karnataka Veterinary, Animal and Fisheries Sciences University (Shimoga) and Srikanta Ghosh from Indian Veterinary Research Institute (Izzatnagar). For the next couple of days, we held focus group discussions about the history of KFD with veterinary and medical officers and visited the primary health center in the villages and their officers. We also interacted with the local people and the social workers who help in disseminating information regarding the KFD vaccine. We visited locations which have recently been experiencing KFD outbreaks and we also got to visit the original locus of the disease, the Kyasanur Forest. With this knoweldge and networking, we were able to set up a collaboration plan for future research.

    While gathering information and making connections, I learned a lot about the animals that live in this region. This area also has a very distinctive breed of cow called the Malnad gidda meaning ‘small cows of the malnad area’. These cows are much smaller than the regular cows, are very independent and are free range and yield very small quantity of milk (about a liter and a half) which is believed to be highly valuable due to the medicinal quality of the milk. Shimoga is also home to the well-known Lion & Tiger Safari Park, the famous Sakrebyle Elephant camp and the beautiful Jog falls. The elephant camp is not just a hub for tourists to view elephants but also a center for research and care of the elephants. 

    Image caption: Dr. Marilyn O’Hara Ruiz and Sulagna at the Sakrebyle Elephant Camp in Shimoga

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    Sulagna Chakraborty is a Doctoral Student studying infectious disease epidemiology. Her research has aspects of vector surveillance, disease ecology, epidemiology and human behavioral changes that impact disease transmission. Sulagna is interested in One Health research and creating multidisciplinary initiatives. She loves to write poetry in different languages, traveling, cooking, watching movies and meeting new folks.

  • What to Do Immediately After an Interview

    You just finished a job interview. Moments ago, you hung up the phone or arrived back at your hotel room. What should you do next?

    Interviews are draining and stressful, so it might be quite tempting to follow an interview immediately with a run, nap or bowl of ice cream. (Tag yourself: I’m definitely a bowl-of-ice-cream person.) But if you do any of that right away, you are missing a vital opportunity to advance your job search and your career.

    Taking just 15 to 30 minutes to follow the steps I outline below will allow you to use your interview experience to set yourself up for success in the next stages of the hiring process and beyond. This advice applies to any kind of job search -- whether in or outside academe.

    Have you ever had the experience that, not long after an interview ends, all the details fade -- except for the bits you wish you could forget? If so, you’re far from alone. I advise hundreds of graduate students every year who are interviewing for jobs, and when debriefing with them after an interview, I can almost always predict what they’ll say: they won’t remember what questions were asked or answers they thought they aced, but they can definitely remember when they said the wrong word or couldn’t think of a strong response.

    And while that’s totally natural, it’s also not terribly helpful as you look ahead to the next interview or a potential offer. One of the most important roles an interview plays is to give the candidate an opportunity to learn more about the position, the employer and their maybe-soon colleagues. Understanding more about them lets you predict future questions, understand their priorities and assess whether you actually want to work with them. But if all you end up remembering is your own mistakes, then you won’t have the data that lets you do that.

    The solution? The instant you hang up the phone or get back to the hotel, sit down with your note-taking technology of choice (a Word document, a notebook and pen, a whiteboard, a voice memo app) and start writing. Spend at least 15 minutes -- and maybe as many as 30 -- recording everything you can remember about the interview.

    You’ll want to take a lot of notes. Check out the original post on Inside High Ed for questions you should consider in post-interview note taking.

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    Derek Attig is the Director of Career Development for the Graduate College. After earning a PhD in History here at Illinois, Derek worked in nonprofit communications and instructional development before joining the Career Development team. A devotee of libraries and all things peculiar, Derek is currently writing a book about bookmobiles. 

  • Where Are They Now?: Geethika Yalamanchili

    Where can a graduate degree from the University of Illinois take you? In this series, we catch up with one recent Graduate College alum and ask the question: “Where are they now?”.

    Geethika Yalamanchili graduated with a PhD in Chemical Engineering in December 2017 and now works at Ancestry DNA as a Computational Research Biologist and Research Scientist. Her work takes her back-and-forth between Salt Lake City and San Francisco where she completes research and brainstorms ideas and project with other scientists. More specifically, she studies the unique genetic code of human beings to understand what makes them similar and at the same time so very different from each other.

    How did your research and degree from the University of Illinois prepare you for your job at Ancestry DNA?

    The most important thing a PhD teaches you is patience. It teaches you that you have to prepare yourself to fall, to not give up, to understand and dissect your mistakes to see what exactly went wrong, and to learn from them and keep going. This process is what I experienced during all five years of my PhD. I think that this is the kind of attitude that a PhD program instills in you, makes you welcome in receiving feedback from others, and what helps you in improving yourself and improving your work.

    How did you become interested in DNA research? Were there any experiences that made an impact on your career choices?

    There are two types of people that you generally encounter in life: There are people who know exactly what they want to do and there are others who improvise and take what comes their way. I think that I fall in the second category. I came from a chemical engineering background and I wanted to study chemical engineering, but when I heard the projects described by different professors, I really loved the project my adviser described, which was in bimolecular engineering. It’s about using bacteria to create biofuels, and I thought that’s what we need right now. It’s what the Earth needs. It could keep us pollution-free. I had no skills to help me in that direction, but I really loved this project. Even if I could contribute a tiny amount to it, it would be really good. Once I started working on this project, I started learning more about DNA. And the point is, DNA is a black hole field—it just drags you in! There’s so much that is unexplored, so much that can be done, and for a researcher, this is a gold mine. You’re not restricted at all. You can let your mind wander into whatever direction you want. It’s amazing how much can be done in that particular area. So once I started with the bioenzymes project, I just kept exploring it more and more. And I would really like to thank my adviser Christopher Rao here because he gave me the free reign to explore whatever I wanted.

    What is a normal day like for you?

    When I joined industry, I was so afraid that I wouldn’t do research. I would just go through the daily grind and do repetitive tasks. But I am very lucky because right now, I spend a good chunk of my day doing research and another good part of my day brainstorming new ideas. There are different kinds of scientists here and each of them comes from a different background. It is really amazing. When you suggest an idea, everyone looks at it from their own perspective and keeps adding value to that idea until it actually becomes a product that everyone is satisfied with it.

    What do you think are the most interesting, rewarding, and/or surprising things you have learned at your job?

    It is really interesting that all humans have 99.5% similar DNA. The rest makes each human being uniquely different. Each time I do this work, it makes me reflect on the current global situation. How much bifurcation we’ve created among ourselves. How many divisions we’ve created. But it’s like – what are we even fighting for? When you look in the microscopic picture, we are all so similar. One of the most rewarding things about DNA for me is that you can actually find people – like long-lost siblings, families separated due to slavery, or families separated due to any other cause. So this really gives a nice motivation because we are narrowing down the microscopic part of life and showing that we are all similar. We are unique in our characteristics, but as humans we are very, very similar.

    What is one piece of advice you would give to graduate students at Illinois?

    Don’t hesitate to ask for help or go find help. With any type of graduate studies, it gets difficult. You’re putting five (or more) years of your life into solving an issue and very little of it is actually in your control. You have many ups and downs throughout the process. Illinois has amazing resources – there are so many people that you can actually go talk with. Surround yourself with a strong network of people (including friends and family) who can support you along the way.

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    This interview was conducted by Emily Wuchner who is the Thesis Coordinator at the Graduate College. She holds a PhD in musicology from the University of Illinois, and her work focuses on music and social welfare in eighteenth-century Austria. In her free time, she enjoys playing the bassoon, watching sports, and hanging out with her calico cat, Gracie Sue.