CSB Alumni Spotlight: Sanjay Mishra, PhD
What is your current job title and responsibilities? I am currently a staff scientist at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and a study coordinator for the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium (CCC19). CCC19 is a forum of more than 129 cancer centers and other organizations across North America, that come together to collect data about patients with cancer who have also been diagnosed with COVID-19. My responsibilities include coordinating the nearly two dozen ongoing sub-studies as well as communicating between the steering committee, the coordinating centers, the patient advocacy committee, the study PIs and the co-authors. I also oversee the legal, regulatory and data quality efforts for the CCC19 in addition to representing CCC19 at the NCI/NIH/FDA and other fora. I also write about non-academic science topics for various outlets, including National Geographic and The Conversation.
What was your path to your current job? After finishing my PhD in the Mchaourab lab, I did a short postdoctoral fellowship with the Georgiev lab. I cultivated many skills performing lab research, particularly project coordination, communication and conflict-resolution. Those proficiencies propelled me to my current position, which offers a mix of translational research and extensive social interaction. My non-official role of popular science writer emerged from my experience as a volunteer for the VUMC Reporter.
What is something you learned in grad school at Vanderbilt that has helped you in your career? Open collaboration, diversity of ideas, collegiality with healthy disagreement, scientific rigor, demand for reproducibility and an insistence on succinct communication are the notable things I learned during grad school that have helped me to excel in my career.
Do you use structural biology in your present job? How has knowledge of structural biology helped you in your career? Unfortunately, I do not use structural biology in my day job. However, as a popular science writer, structural biology helped me tremendously in writing articles on the emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2. My training helped me to stand out while chatting with the specialists in the field, and it’s possibly the reason why my articles have garnered over 5 million reads in last 18 months.
What advice would you give to young trainees? The most important advice I can give is to be driven by the fun of science and not by the glory of the individual project or idea. The novelty of techniques or topics wears out pretty quickly, so the skills learned during grad school should be broad. Students should value expanding the horizon of knowledge and curiosity when demand for specialization tends to be less pressing. I learned more from my failures than my successes.
Is there anything in the structural bio world (structure, technique, etc.) that you think is especially cool right now? It is clichéd to say that Cryo-EM is hot right now, but I am much more excited about new developments in computational structure predictions using AI methods.
Is there any other info, thoughts, etc., that you’d like to include? Utilize the excellent resources available across the Vanderbilt community to enrich non-scientific skills, such as communication, presentation, entrepreneurship and networking.