Q&A with Sudeshna Roy

When you walk into Sudeshna Roy’s laboratory at the University of Mississippi, you can’t help but feel amazed and overwhelmed by the organized chaos of all of the high tech lab equipment, chemicals, goggles and lab coats dispersed throughout the room. Since Roy joined the UM faculty in July 2017, she has devoted much of her time ensuring that her laboratory is a clean, organized place of learning to mentor her students and make life-changing discoveries.

Showing me around in the lab, Assistant Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, Roy’s passion for chemistry is visible and infectious — just like the diseases she is interested in.

I do not know much about chemistry, but what is your favorite part of the research process, is there a specific aspect of chemistry that you enjoy the most? 

It is so exciting to actually discover something, but thinking about new things is my favorite. The freedom to be creative. Every idea has to be new in the sense that no one has ever done it before. You have to find that niche where there is not much research done or totally unexplored and identify what all chemistry and science you can do that will help your career and make a mark in the scientific community.

You mentioned how you enjoy teaching and mentoring students. Was there someone who mentored you or inspired you to pursue a degree in medicinal chemistry? 

I always liked chemistry. I really enjoy the creative part of it. I thought what can I do, using my expertise in chemistry, particularly organic chemistry, to serve society. How can I contribute even in a little way to make an effect? I knew with my skill set I could really make an impact. Getting to teach the students is a very rewarding journey, it is like dissemination of knowledge. All along I had teaching experiences during my PhD and postdoctoral tenure,  I really enjoy lowerclassmen students, because I can help shape their career path. A teacher’s job is to enable them to make their journey as simple as possible.

You did your schooling in India and you got your PHD and Postdoctoral in the states. How different are the schools here compared to India?

The teaching methods are very different, but I guess having different exposure and different learning abilities helped me realize there is not one process of learning, it is a diverse process. Getting exposed to different kinds of learning methods helped me to understand more about it. When I’ll be teaching my students, I am going to integrate both my Indian way of learning along with here and merge them together.

Have you ever come across any discoveries since you have been researching or neat experiences? 

Yes, during my post doctoral experience in 2013, I did discover a small molecule probe that has been effective in treating mitochondrial diseases like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular disease. It has been patented and hopefully will be licensed to a company soon. We published our work in several peer reviewed  journals, and that has been a very rewarding experience for me.

Wow, that is amazing you got to experience and do that. What are you currently working on in your lab as far as research goes? 

I hope to do a similar type of investigation in my own research lab here, I want my lab to be developing new types of antibiotics against tuberculosis and “superbugs.” Tuberculosis affects the populations in third world and developing countries like Africa, China and India, wherever the population density is higher and has warmer climate. The sad part is the pharmaceutical companies are not interested in developing new antibiotics because they don’t make money out of antibiotics because of the problem of antimicrobial resistance. For example, for tuberculosis you have to take antibiotics for six months, so for the pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics, the cost will be so high that it’s not profitable for them. So, it is up to us, the researchers in the academia, to do something about it.

I did not even realize this. I’m not familiar with a “superbug” — what is that?

They are ancient bacteria killing millions of people around the world. The superbug is predominantly found in hospitals and the bacteria lays dormant so you are not able to identify them, but they get inside your system and they start killing,  and they acquire resistance against all the different types of antibiotics. None of the known antibiotics can stop them. This is one of the major challenges in the hospital and something I’m interested in researching and discovering.

Mentoring students seems to be something you have a gift for, what do you hope to achieve in the future in your lab? 

I want to be a champion for my students and have that constant motivation. Having the right tone is so important by being optimistic and hopeful in a student’s education. You have to understand that when you are doing research, 70 percent of the time it is going to fail, but you have to stick with it and find alternate solutions to get there and once you get there it is so rewarding. It is so easy to get demotivated overtime, but you have to be optimistic and self-driving.

You just joined the UM faculty, is there anything else you are affiliated with on campus? 

I’m very busy and struggle with time management. One thing about transitioning to an independent career is you get fifty to a hundred emails a day (giggles). I’m the cheerleader of my own lab, the fundraiser and I have to manage everything. It is fun but also challenging at the same time. I serve in different committees for the department and student body along with the school of pharmacy. I really love Ole Miss and the ambiance of college towns. Everyone is super helpful and welcoming in the department. Starting your own academic career can be really stressful, but I feel right at home.

It doesn’t sound like you have a lot of spare time, but when you do what do you enjoy doing? 

Oh, I try to find spare time. I enjoy all different kinds of music. I listen to Spotify a lot. Even though I am trained in Indian classical music but at the same time I love signing Indo-Western music or just humming the global viral hits! And I absolutely love listening to Western Classical Music. The Piano Guys and Yo-Yo Ma are some my modern-day favorites. I love hiking and exploring new places. I’ve heard Sardis Lake has great trails, but I have not had the chance to explore much. I have hung out a lot in the square and I have made new friends who are assistant professors in different departments we’ve have been doing the trivia night at the Blind Pig on Mondays. I love Square Books and is one of my favorite places to go in Oxford.

If there was any other occupation you would pursue what would it be?

I think I would have pursued a career in industry. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to join  pharmaceutical company or more of an academic career. After joining Ole Miss as an Assistant Professor, I truly feel that this is the best job ever!!!

Do you ever get to go back to your hometown in India and see your family? 

Yes, my mom and brother are there. I just went earlier this year when my father passed away. I am planning to go next year to spend time with my friends and family, they miss me.

You have traveled and lived all over the world, what has been your favorite place so far?

For me it is always the people who make a place special. Wherever you go you make it your home, right? I can’t pick a favorite. I love to experience different cultures and know more about everyone else. The newness draws me to travel and live at different places. Right now, I’m in Oxford and I am going to try and make the most of it.

Interview has been condensed and edited.

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