Dr. Sowmya Narayanan has been busy. She’s just finished an MD/PhD program at the University of Virginia, and about to start her general surgical residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Still, she made time in her schedule to come back to her alma mater to be the keynote speaker at Chatham’s first annual Department of Science Student Research Day.
Narayanan majored in biochemistry, but during her second year, she picked up a second major, too.
“During my first semester, I took a mandatory first-year English seminar with Dr. Lynne Bruckner that introduced me to a completely new set of literature,” she says. Narayanan took another English class, then another—then added an English major. “I liked that we had a mix of traditional ‘English literature’ texts like a Tale of Two Cities and Huckleberry Finn, and then also novels like Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood,” she says, also mentioning a class with with Dr. Anissa Wardi that changed her understanding of what “World Literature” means.
Narayanan took biology and immunology classes with Dr. Pierette Appasamy. “Dr. Appasamy introduced me to some of her colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh and helped me get involved in large-scale academic research. I developed an interest in that, and decided to continue.” At Pitt, Narayanan worked in the Finn Lab, studying tumor immunology. “We looked at how you can use the immune response to fight off cancer or stop it from developing. It’s really blown up in recent years as one of the mainstream modes of treatment for quite a few cancers, and they’re trying it out in a number of other ones as well.” Double-major aside, she still had time to play tennis for a couple of seasons, sing with Chatham’s choir, and serve as a Resident Assistant during her senior year.
“I think the professors here are the biggest asset of the institution. They go above and beyond for you if you are willing to put in the work. So if you’re motivated and interested, let them know and they will get you the rest of the way there.”
Narayanan says that she wasn’t aware of the existence of dual MD/PhD programs until she met someone who was doing one at Pitt. “There aren’t many people in those programs, so they don’t get talked about a lot,” she says, but she found that it aligned closely with her interests. She worked with Chatham’s Health Professions Advising Committee who advised her at various stages of the process of applying, put together her letters of recommendation, and conducted a mock interview.
Narayanan tries to travel to a different country each year. This year, she visited Thailand and Cambodia, and in years past, Belize, France, and Canada. She plans to go to Romania and Namibia next.
What did she think of Student Research Day? “It’s far more than what we had when I was a student,” she says. “There were maybe three or four of us, but today, six students presented and 20 more did posters. It was really good to see that expansion. And the variety of subjects that they’re presenting on are really pretty diverse.”
Being back on campus back seems to be its own reward, too. “I love coming back to visit,” she says. “Almost every time I’m in town, I make an effort to stop by and take a picture and send it to my old roommate like ‘Guess where I am!’ She gets quite jealous when I send her those photos!”