Women Scientists in IISc – Dr Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan

Photo Credits – Mr. Haridasan

Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan is an Assistant Professor in the Centre for BioSystems Science and Engineering.  She joined IISc in 2014. Her area of research is quantitative cell biology. She did her PhD at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden, Germany.

  • When did you first realise that you wanted to be a scientist?

I think I knew from a young age that I wanted to do something related to science. Biology especially fascinated me due to its complexity. The summer project I carried out at the Indian Institute of Science with Prof. Utpal Nath (MCBL) during my undergrad was the first research experience that cemented my resolve to pursue a career in science.

  • Why did you choose this area of research?

When I landed in Dresden for my PhD, the very first day, a fellow lab-mate took me to a microscope to show what a fluorescently-tagged cytoplasmic dynein motor (a tiny machine in the cell that acts as a cargo transporter) looks like within a living cell. The time lapse we acquired had me transfixed. In my lab, we continue to use live-cell microscopy as a fundamental tool to understand the role of motor proteins and the cytoskeleton in biological phenomena.

  • What are the big unresolved questions in your field?

 The spatial and temporal regulation of the activity of motor proteins, the interconnectedness of organelles within the cell, and the role of external mechanical cues in shaping cell fate are some of hottest topics in the field currently.

“The concentration of talented researchers in both science and engineering is one of my favourite features of IISc”

  • If you had any women mentors or role models in science, who were they and what do you think you’ve learned most from them?

I’ve been lucky to have two strong female mentors/role models. The first is my PhD advisor Prof. Iva Tolić, who is currently at the Ruđer Bošković Institute in Croatia and the second is the co-Chair of my department, Prof. Sandhya Visweswariah. Iva essentially taught me how to do science. I emulate Iva in my mentoring style. Sandhya has always been available when I needed advice and I look to her when I need help manoeuvring the complex Indian academic landscape. Both of them have been instrumental in shaping my academic career thus far.

  • What is the most fulfilling thing about a life in science?

Personally, this would be the fact that every day is an adventure. This is what keeps me going.

  • What do you like most about working in IISc?

The concentration of talented researchers in both science and engineering is one of my favourite features of IISc. Without leaving IISc, researchers from disparate fields can strike up a conversation over coffee and start working on interesting questions that require multidisciplinary approaches.

  • If there is one thing you’d like to change about IISc, what would it be?

The representation of women at all levels – student, staff and faculty —  needs to increase.

  • What would be your advice for aspiring women scientists ?

Don’t let anybody set limits for what you can do.


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