Hi! I am Mukta. I live with my partner in Oxford and am a researcher at the university. I am originally from India but have lived and worked in the UK for many years. In addition to my work as a scientist, I enjoy food, travel, books, gardening and bird-watching.
I am a research scientist working at the University of Oxford. I grew up in Pune, a wonderful city in western India that has a rich history and a vibrant educational environment. I went to school and university in Pune and then moved to the Bangalore in the south of India to do my PhD. I was excited to come to the UK, not just for the exciting research but also because I love travelling and discovering new places. It is so much fun to try out local food, learn about the history of the place and its peoples. I’ve have also always loved reading, particularly fiction. Give me a good story book, and I need nothing else till I am done with it!
I first learnt about the immune system and its many specialised cells during my undergrad microbiology degree. I was fascinated by these cells that are always on the lookout for pathogens, protecting us from infections and ready to respond to the unknown.
I also like trying out new skills and activities, though have met with varying degrees of success. I have tried to knit (made a few wonky scarves for friends), taken up painting (mainly, paint-by-numbers), and also done a bit of trial-and-error gardening (actually harvested some tomatoes for the first time ever this year!). I view cooking as a lot like being in the middle of an experiment in a lab, but I do enjoy cooking for friends and family 🙂
My pronouns are:
I am an immunologist working at the University of Oxford. I study B and T cells, hoping to understand how these respond to infections and vaccines.
I study immune cells that form our body’s defence system, mainly B cells and T cells. These cells can recognise, remember and respond to a mind-boggling variety of pathogens: bacteria, fungi, viruses. At the same time, B and T cells also learn to recognise our own body cells and to not react to our own cells. I find their ability to respond to almost all harmful agents and yet not respond to our own self very fascinating. I study how B cells are made, how they identify and remember pathogens (immune memory) and how they respond during infections or vaccinations to become antibody secreting plasma cells. If we understand more about what leads to a strong immune response, we can make better vaccines and develop better ways to treat people who are immuno-compromised or who have auto-immune disease.
My Typical Day:
Most days I start work at the lab by 8:30-9 am. At the lab, I plan and do experiments or analyse results from data that I’ve previously collected. I also have to write up about the science I do so that others can read my results and provide feedback. I attend meetings and seminars a few times every week, and enjoy discussing my science with others in the lab. I usually work till about 6 or 7 pm which is when I head back home. I love that a lot of my colleagues at work are also my friends. I like my job because I love the science and find it exciting to learn about the things we do know and to think about the many things we don’t know!
The fun about doing research is that there are very few typical days. I really enjoy that every week I might be doing a different experiment or listening to someone else’s new work. However, most work days have a similar structure: when I get to work, I usually check my plans and meetings for the day, start my experiments in the lab, catch-up with colleagues and students for coffee and discussions, and usually have lunch together with lab mates. In the afternoon I might carry on with my experiment or analyse and plot data, working at the computer. Some days I might spend most of the day writing up my results so that I can put them all together into a logical narrative, much like a story.
Usually I spend at least a couple of hours every week reading about new research from other labs and thinking about how their new discoveries might help me with my work. I also enjoy teaching undergrad and postgrad students. This means that I have had to really study when I prepare lectures for my students. I like this aspect of my job, that there is always more to learn, especially even when I am preparing to teach.
What I'd do with the prize money:
I would like to use the prize money to to make short cartoon-like videos that can introduce concepts about the immune system in a friendly and accessible manner.
School and GCSE equivalent: N.C.L. English Medium School, Pune, India
A-level equivalent: S.P. College Pune, India
BSc: Abasaheb Garware College, Pune, India
MSc: Department of Microbiology, University of Pune, India
PhD: Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India
GCSE equivalent: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, History, Geography, Languages: English, Hindi, Marathi.
A level Equivalent: Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Biology, English, German
BSc Microbiology: Microbiology with Industrial Microbiology specialisation, Chemistry and English.
PhD Biochemistry & Immunology
I was awarded a CSIR Shyama Prasad Mukherjee fellowship during my PhD. This wasn’t a salary but the scholarship supported me during the 5 years of my PhD at IISc, Bangalore. I then worked for a year as a research associate at the same place after my PhD. My next job was as a postdoctoral fellow at Oxford and I have worked at the university as a researcher for the last few years.
University of Oxford
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
What did you want to be after you left school?
Work in a bookstore, meet famous authors, and travel a lot!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Sometimes when I would be reading storybooks in the class when I should have been doing my lessons.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Work in a bookstore and take long holidays to travel to far-off places.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
Chocolate and a good barbecue
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1. A library with a never ending supply of books, chocolate and coffee. 2. Ability to time travel, so that I can have unlimited time with family and friends in far away places. 3. A world where people are kinder and nicer to each other.