Career Q&A: Nilusha Jayasinghe ’13, biological sciences and Spanish, M.S. ’15 applied molecular biology

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. Today we’re talking with Nilusha Jayasinghe ’13, biological sciences and Spanish, M.S. ’15 applied molecular biology, about her work as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health.

image1Name: Nilusha Jayasinghe
Job Title: Intramural Research Fellow, National Institutes of Health
Major/Minor: Undergrad: Biology and Spanish, Grad: Applied Molecular Biology (AMB)
Grad Year: Undergrad: 2013, Grad: 2015

Tell me a little about the research project you’re involved in at NIH. I study the genetics of blood and lymph vessel development and differentiation during vertebrate development using the model organism zebrafish. We look at the genes that are critical in different signaling pathways that dictate proper vessel development, which can also play a role in cancer metastasis since tumors need these vessels to survive. Zebrafish develop rapidly and produce transparent embryos which are fertilized outside of the mother, which enable us to use them to study our topic very easily. Most importantly, development in zebrafish is very similar to human development, so we can translate our findings into the genetics behind circulatory defects in humans which is really interesting and useful!

How did your UMBC experience bring you to your current position in research? I was a pre-med student back then at UMBC (currently I’ll call myself pre-health, since I am also considering [physician assistant] school as well), and one of the things that make a competitive applicant is research experience. I also have skills and interests in the biological sciences which were especially refined during my master’s program, so I thought that I’ll take a few years post-graduation to do more research. I ended up at the NIH because of their amazing research facilities and track record, as well as their extensive pre-health community and resources.

Is there a particular class or professor at UMBC that inspired you? Yes! I’ll have to say that Dr. Richard Wolf (now retired, taught prokaryotic molecular biology and directed the AMB program) and Ms. Julia Wolf (taught the lab part of the AMB program) both inspired and challenged me a lot during my master’s program. They were excellent instructors and mentors, teaching with both care and the necessary challenge[s] to push their students to their [maximum] potential.

Having had the experience, what piece of advice would you give a new UMBC student? There is so much that I learned at UMBC and so many things I can say, but I think one of the most valuable things is to realize the amount of resources and great minds there are [here]. With that said, in order to make the best of your experience I think that getting involved and networking is so important! Tell people about what interests you and what you hope to do short-term or long-term, and I guarantee that they will want to help you! You never know what others may know about or can do for you that might open the doors for some of the best experiences of your life. This happened to me many times at UMBC [,and these experiences] helped me land graduate assistantships, learn about the AMB program, and finally get a spot in the NIH, for some examples. So, put yourself out there and let yourself be known!

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