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Biochemistry and Molecular Biotechnology Blog

Neha Samant

Sunday, July 24, 2022

This month, post doc Leonora Martinez-Nunez sat down with Neha Samant, PhD Student in the Bolon Lab. Read Neha's story below.

Neha Samant

I am from India, I moved to US for graduate studies. I am a PhD student in Daniel Bolon lab, I study how viruses evolve drug resistance in infectious diseases such as HIV and Influenza. Outside of science, I like to travel, hike, I love visiting national parks and

 remote places. I never got a chance to explore India as much as I wanted to but I have visited a few places in the US such as Alaska, Rocky mountain national park, Smoky Mountains. Apart from visiting places, I also enjoy seeing family and friends and spending time with them.

What set you on a trajectory of becoming a scientist?

We had an engineering college field trip in high school and the biotechnology department fascinated me. My cousin was a recent biotechnology graduate at that time, and I would love hearing stories from her working in the lab. That is where I first thought how happy I would be if I get to work in a lab too. Eventually I got into the same Biotechnology engineering school and that led me to love science and biology even more.             

Are there any setbacks you faced on your journey and what did you do to overcome them?

Where I grew up, it was not very common to pursue education abroad, financially; I had never thought I would be able to have the opportunities that I have been granted, but I am very fortunate that my parents never made me think twice about applying to the schools in the US, and always supported me in my decisions. After coming to the US, I have been very fortunate to have a smooth career path.

 What is your current research focus?

I use EMPIRIC – a deep mutational scanning approach to investigate viral protein function and evolution. I am currently working on HIV and influenza virus evolution.

 How would you describe your research?

I am very interested in learning how viruses evolve; does interdependency or epistasis play a major role in the evolutionary process. My work focuses on studying how viral proteins change under drug pressure and predicting sequence changes in the viral protein that lead to a more fit virus.

 How does your research apply to the broader world and why is it important outside of the scientific community?

Even though there are antivirals against HIV and Influenza, the worldwide morbidities and mortalities due to these infections are in millions. Many people still struggle to get enough antivirals for the treatment and yet are faced with disease relapse due to drug resistance. My work is very collaborative and these joint efforts from our labs would lead to robust antivirals that would not have drug resistance come up quickly.

 Why did you choose your current lab and/or UMass Chan?

When I applied to UMass Chan, during our interview event, I immediately noticed how friendly people are, and more so, after the first year of classes I immediately noticed that BMB department has many of those nice people. I wanted to find a lab that would be accommodating and supportive and I found all of that and more in the Bolon lab.  

What is the coolest thing about your research?

I like the idea that the methods and applications we use to study viral protein evolution and drug resistance can be quickly modified and applied to other proteins.

What are some of the lessons that you have learned along the way that you would like to share with trainees who recently joined our department?

Ask for help if you are stuck, our department is very diverse in expertise and you will save a lot of time by getting advice from the experts.

Any advice you wished you had gotten when you first started as a scientist?

When experiments don’t work, it’s not always because of you. One thing I wished I had known in the beginning that would have helped me channel efforts in the right way. 

 Is there something you would say to your younger self?

Do not stress about everything and have self-doubt.