Government Medical College Chandigarh Old Students Association
CAREER IN BASIC RESEARCH IN THE USA
Maneesh Gupta ('94) is currently a Research Assistant Professor in Molecular and Medical Genetics at the Oregon Health & Sciences University, Portland, Oregon, USA. He shares some of his experiences with us, which we hope will be helpful to alumni/students aspiring to go into basic research.
* Editors (Eds): Maneesh, which batch are you from and what are you doing currently?
§ Maneesh (MG): I am from the 1994 batch of GMC. I came to the USA shortly after completing my MBBS and have been at Portland, Oregon since then. I am currently working as a Research Assistant Professor in Molecular and Medical Genetics at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland.
* Eds: What is your area of current research?
§ MG: I am working on a knock out mouse model for SSADH (Succinate Semi-aldehyde Dehydrogenase) deficiency. I am using this mouse model to investigate the use of either pharmacological measures or gene therapy to treat this deficiency. Interestingly this model also has huge amounts of gamma-hydroxy butyrate (GHB), which is a drug of abuse. So the disease is also called gamma-hydroxy butyric aciduria. I have used recombinant adenovirus as gene therapy for the mouse. Currently, I am trying to clone this gene into a transposone vector which I can subsequently use for gene therapy. I am also doing hepatocyte transplant in these mice since this is a metabolic disease and can be potentially cured by liver cell transfer.
* Eds: There is hardly any impetus on basic research during MBBS, how did you get interested in genetics?
§ MG: I have always been exposed to an academic atmosphere, both at home and at school. My father retired as Professor of Microbiology and the Dean of Punjab University and my sister is a PhD in Biochemistry. During MBBS, I would often talk to ABC (for those who don't know, Amit Bir Chawla of ’92 batch) about genetics and how it is going to be the future of medicine and I have always wanted to pursue a career in it.
* Eds: How did you get a position in the current lab that you are working in?
§ MG: I initially volunteered to work in a genetics lab at the OHSU here at Portland. There was no formal interview or exam. I had to do a lot of work to begin with – had to learn many new things and experimental techniques (on my own). As I progressed, I was able to show that I could work independently and be productive. After I had spent some time in the lab, a position for a post-doctoral fellow opened up. I applied and was accepted for the position. That's how I started working here.
* Eds: Were you expected to have a PhD or other prior research lab training?
§ MG: No. We don't really need a PhD since our MBBS is equivalent to MD here in USA, and for basic research this is sufficient. The only disadvantage with our medical school training is that we don’t get much education and exposure to basic research and most Principal Investigators (faculty in charge of the lab) like to hire someone who already knows the nuts and bolts of lab functioning. You can of course pursue graduate course work towards a PhD and that is a good option if you want to spend major part of your time and effort in basic research.
* Eds: You did not have any basic research experience, what steps did you have to go through before you started as a post-doctoral fellow?
§ MG: Like I said earlier, I worked as volunteer for sometime. So I had some basic research experience at the time I applied for the post-doc position. I had learned most of the techniques you would need in a lab. Basically, after this, all you need are ideas and follow them up with experiments. My training as a doctor has been very helpful as I can also look at things from a clinical perspective, some thing a lot of PhD researcher’s lack. After all, the whole idea of gene therapy is to develop treatments that can be eventually used in patients. Overall, I think most of the time, people want to hire someone who is reliable, hard working and well grounded so that their project can move forward. Lot of experience is not expected, especially when starting as a post-doctoral fellow.
* Eds: What visa are you on currently?
§ MG: I was on a tourist visa when I started here as a volunteer, currently I am on H1B visa.
* Eds: What are your long term plans?
§ MG: I do intend to do pursue a residency because I think just doing basic research without clinical training here is not going to take me far. Almost half or more of the faculty here are physicians who see patients and also pursue bench research and I think this is the best combination. I intend doing a fellowship in Medical Genetics after finishing basic residency training which will train me to become a clinical geneticist.
* Eds: Any tips for people wanting to pursue careers in basic research in the USA?
§ MG: It is not easy for someone applying directly from India to get a basic research position here in the US. I was able to get it because I worked as volunteer for sometime. No one will pay to get someone here from India who has no experience at all. So if you have no experience, the best way is to work in a lab here as a volunteer and prove your mettle. A better option would be to take the GRE and then join a graduate program for PhD in an area of interest. For someone who has a green card, it is easier because they can work without having to be on a visa. I would like to emphasize again that hard work is the key to success.
* Eds: Tell us a little more about yourself.
§ MG: I am still a bachelor. I sing ... (just kidding). You know honestly, I have been so busy over the last few years that I did not get time for anything, especially with all the USMLE exams and work. Now I am looking for fun things to do, but don't have anything particular in mind.
* Eds: Thanks for your time and all the best for the future.
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