As the Program Director of the Office of Postdoctoral and Graduate Affairs at the Gladstone Institutes, Dr. Sudha Krishnamurthy says that the most rewarding part of her career is working with graduate students and postdocs on their career and professional development. Sudha began her own professional career in 1999, when she entered dental school in India, a five-year program that she completed in 2004. During this time, she became interested in clinical dentistry—specifically early prevention and treatment—and decided to pursue a doctorate in oral cancer research. When she searched for the best schools, it was important for her to find a university with a dedicated cancer institution. The University of Michigan met her criteria and she came to the United States to begin the doctoral program in Oral Health Sciences in 2005.
Based in the School of Dentistry, Sudha also collaborated with the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her research on head and neck cancers required clinical sampling of patient tumor samples. By investigating these samples, Sudha discovered where head and neck cancer stem cells exist and how targeting these cells using an antibody (tocilizumab) helped to decrease the cancer stem cell population and prevent the recurrence of cancers. The antibody she studied is currently part of clinical trials for cancer therapeutics.
In 2010, Sudha’s research was recognized by a prestigious Barbour Scholarship, which was important for her both professionally and personally. “I’m a big proponent of women in science,” she said. “The acknowledgement of winning a prestigious award helped me to move onto a good postdoctoral position. On a personal level, it was important for me to be a part of a tradition. I felt honored and humbled at the same time.”
After completing her Ph.D. in Oral Health Sciences in December 2011, Sudha worked as a postdoctoral researcher for two years at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston—one of the top clinical cancer centers in the country. At MD Anderson, she was awarded the Odyssey Fellowship, which sponsors outstanding postdoctoral fellows to pursue innovative cancer research at MD Anderson Cancer Center for a period of three years. This competitive award is given annually to only 6-8 researchers—and Sudha was one of them. “The Barbour Scholarship was recognized on my fellowship proposal,” she said. During her Odyssey Fellowship, Sudha worked in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery, specifically focusing on stem cells and cancers in genomics. “During this period I was very involved with the MD Anderson Postdoctoral Association and the National Postdoctoral Association,” she recalled. Her experiences working with postdocs led her to her current position.
Sudha currently works as the Program Director in the Office of Postdoctoral and Graduate Affairs at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco—an independent and nonprofit biomedical research organization focused on understanding, preventing, treating, and curing cardiovascular, viral, and neurological conditions such as heart failure, HIV/AIDS, and Alzheimer’s disease. In this position, Sudha serves graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in many ways. As a career educator, she contributes professional and career development resources, assists with mentoring, and provides individual career advising. She also developed an 8-month career exploration program for their (Gladstone) postdocs and graduate students. On an institutional level, Sudha assists with recruiting postdocs, building a strong and interactive postdoc community, and helping to implement policies and guidelines. “I love working with people on a daily basis and helping them achieve what they want to do,” she said. “I love the interaction—I work with different sorts of people: faculty, administrators, postdocs, and grad students. It’s never boring, never monotonous. You never know how your day is going to be.”
On a national level, Sudha serves as the public face for interactions between the Gladstone Institutes, industry, and universities. “It’s a very collaborative kind of role,” she said. In addition to her work at the Gladstone Institutes, Sudha is a very active member in the national scene for postdoctoral advocacy—through her various roles in the National postdoctoral Association and assisting with post Ph.D. careers, program design and development, and mentoring.
When reflecting on her career, Sudha remarked, “It’s important to be open to new things, opportunities, and experiences. Follow your intuition and interests. We have more skills to contribute than we often realize. The Barbour Scholars are a global population—the program makes a big difference to a lot of women.”