Last academic year, Radhika Rawat was presented with an M2 Student Senate Service Award in recognition for her kindness and generosity toward the class. Since then, she has continued to strengthen the Feinberg community through her active involvement on campus.
Rawat, now a third-year student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), participates in a range of activities at Feinberg — from the wellness committee and curriculum review committee, to initiatives through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. She was co-chair of the 2017 Anatomy Closing Ceremony and serves as MSTP representative on the Driskill Graduate Program Student Council.
Now in the PhD phase of her training, Rawat is currently conducting research in the laboratory of John Kessler, MD, the Ken and Ruth Davee Professor of Stem Cell Biology. She recently published a review in Current Opinion in Cell Biology, providing a snapshot of the current research in deubiquitinase biology, with a focus on USP7, one enzyme implicated in cancer and disease. Rawat wrote the paper under the guidance of Panagiotis Ntziachristos, PhD, assistant professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics.
“I am incredibly grateful to be at Feinberg, where I have found great mentors,” Rawat said. “Individuals in the MSTP, Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Office of Medical Education, as well as the friends I’ve made here, are what make Feinberg special.”
Read a Q&A with Radhika:
Why did you choose the Medical Scientist Training Program at Northwestern?
The MD/PhD was a natural combination of my interests and the elements I wanted in a career. As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, I found that many of my most worthwhile experiences were at the intersection of scientific research, health policy and teaching, and my experiences working for an orthopedic surgeon made it clear to me that medicine was where I wanted to be.
Community and culture were key factors in my program decision. When I was applying, I felt immediately welcomed, challenged and at home with the Northwestern MSTP students and faculty. I also valued the opportunities and different perspectives afforded by a city like Chicago.
What is your research focus?
In the Kessler Laboratory, I study the effects of neurogenesis on affective behavior, specifically in the context of depression and anxiety.
Depression is one of the leading worldwide causes of disability and lost productivity, but we don’t understand it well. As our lab recently published in Molecular Psychiatry, the most widely used antidepressant medications seem to converge on a pathway that influences adult hippocampal neurogenesis, or the birth of new brain cells.
While there has been some controversy about the existence and importance of adult neurogenesis, there is substantial evidence for it and its relation to various neurological diseases. For example, a recent paper published in Nature shows that the rate of neurogenesis is related to progression in Alzheimer’s disease.
What we hope to learn from our current work is how new neurons contribute to behavior changes, and how these processes are altered by illness and medications. We hope that our work will provide mechanistic underpinnings for these important, but so far poorly-understood, processes.
What has been the most rewarding experience of medical school so far?
I frequently volunteer to work with high school and undergraduate students in the anatomy lab. There’s no better feeling than seeing a student catch the same enthusiasm and wonder that brought me into science. Seeing students light up when we talk about the heart as an intersection of mechanics, electricity and genetics, or how different parts of the brain are responsible for movement, senses and personality, takes me back to the awe I felt learning about them for the first time.
I love the questions that arise in those conversations. The amount of curiosity and engagement makes me excited for the future of the fields these students will enter.
Tell us about your involvement in other activities at Feinberg.
As part of the wellness committee, I help organize events and share resources with students, sometimes serving as a liaison between the student body and the Augusta Webster Office of Medical Education (AWOME).
I think it’s notable that the medical school administration has created a culture of investing in student development. The emphasis on our growth not just academically, but as professionals, team members and individuals, is something I value immensely in our medical school’s philosophy.
Last year, I co-moderated one of the inaugural groups of Sustained Dialogue, a program organized through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in which students speak more openly about issues that might stay under the radar in typical medical school conversations. I believe these kinds of programs give us useful tools for having productive discussions with our future teams and patients when we’re coming from different places. Disagreements can make teams stronger, and these programs help build the skills to make that happen.
My interest in communication around health issues more broadly led me to some of the patient advocacy initiatives at the medical school, including calling and meeting with regional and state representativeswho have the power to impact institutional decisions about patient care.
How do you maintain balance with interests outside of medical school?
I was on UC Berkeley’s Judo team, and while I didn’t expect to continue competing after graduating, sports and exercise have remained a part of my life in medical school.
When I was preparing for my first board exam (Step 1), I kept finding parallels with competition training. Step studying is a long process and comparing it to Judo allowed me to build skills, gain endurance, refine my strategies when there were setbacks, and ultimately, execute. There’s a famous saying I learned in training that translates roughly to “fall seven times, stand up eight.” Sports have always been a great place to practice that mindset for me. I recently started learning Jiu Jitsu, and beyond being a social activity and wonderful stress relief, it always reminds me to analyze and adapt.
Living in Chicago — with access to the lakeshore path and so many different events — has been fantastic. For example, last year, some friends and I participated in Tough Mudder, an obstacle race benefitting the Wounded Warriors Program. I’ve been a medical volunteer at events and sports competitions, which has been a great way to unite personal interests with the skills we learn in our academic training.
Besides exercise, I make time to read, draw, bake and try to take advantage of the city. There’s nothing better than soaking up the summer sun with friends by the lake.