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!

Opportunities through Robotics: Kavita Krishnaswamy ’07

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. Today we’re talking with Kavita Krishnaswamy ’07, mathematics and computer science. Krishnaswamy has spinal muscular atrophy and has not been able to leave her house in six years. Thanks to Beam Telepresence Technology, a robotic program that allows her to remotely view and navigate spaces through her computer screen, she’s presented her doctoral thesis and attended conferences across the country. The current Ph.D. student talks about her experience with the Beam and her research on robotics and accessibility.

KrishnaswamyQ: What’s your most memorable experience/moment at UMBC?

UMBC is a journey to fulfill, not a destination to complete. Every day was a day to remember with milestones to accomplish, wisdom to be learned, and experiences to cherish. The accumulation of my UMBC experiences has molded (and continues to mold me) for the real-world. I am so grateful that each and every experience I encountered has brought me to my place now.

One of my favorite experiences was to go to the seventh floor of the library to study and look out the bow window on a pleasant view of the entire campus. Viewing outside the window often filled with positive energy and reminded me to appreciate the everyday journey and have the perspective to soar to great heights by overcoming obstacles and promoting feelings of humility relative to the grandeur and glory of Mother Nature.

Q: How has your life changed since using the Beam telepresence robot?

I have a more active and busy lifestyle since using the Beam. I am traveling all over the world to conferences, meetings, museums, concerts, and other attractions with the Beam. Meeting new people and networking to make new contacts has been productive to advancing my research and career goals.

Q: What do you see in the future for robotic technology and how it changes the way people interact?

The future is here now! Robotics technologies will become ubiquitous as time moves forward for the benefit of humanity. Ultimately, the quality of life will improve for all.

Q: Can you tell me more about your current work?

My research involves the development of robotic systems to provide assistance and increase independence for people with disabilities. I am developing several prototype robotic systems that will support transferring, repositioning, and personal care, with a focus on accessible user interfaces for control that are feasible for persons with severe disabilities. For example, I am investigating the use of brain computer interfaces, speech recognition, and facial gestures to control a robotic interface for repositioning the arms of users with disabilities to strengthen their muscles and relieve pressure on the joints.

Q: What are your plans after graduate school?

It is the blessing of continuing education that excites me. I will always continue learning. Within the next 10 years, I will have my PhD degree, be married to [the] man I love, have a happy and healthy child, be successfully employed as a professor and researcher, have my own home, invent a number of assistive devices and robotic technologies that help increase independence for people with disabilities, make my parents proud, and be thanking God for bringing all of my dreams into reality. In all aspects, I want to be successful and do the best that I possibly can to overcome adversities that may stand against my way.

Read more about Kavita and her research!

Celebrating Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement, 4/23

Join us as we celebrate the amazing work our students do during the Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day (URCAD) on Wednesday, April 23, 2014. URCAD celebrates research, scholarship and creative work carried out by UMBC undergraduates across all majors and areas of study.

coreyThe event will also feature as its guest speaker alumnus Corey Fleischer ’05, ’08 MS Mechanical Engineering, who is Senior Mechanical Engineer at Lockheed Martin. In 2013 Corey was chosen to be part of Discovery Channel’s “The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius.” He participated in several challenges that put his engineering skills to the test. In the final challenge, Corey’s team had to build a bridge to span a thirty-four-foot gorge. The bridge had to be mobile; all of the components had to fit in the back of a pick-up truck. The team had to build the bridge and prove that a truck could drive over it. After prevailing over nine other talented engineers, Corey won the competition.

Learn more and join us on April 23!