Agni Naidu

About Agni Naidu

  • Agni Naidu_255x187

    Agni Naidu

    Undergraduate University: San Francisco State University (B.A. Creative Writing, B.S. Physiology)
  • Thesis: A role for MEK in arteriogenesis: Implications for vascular disease
  • Mentor: Bart Williams, Ph.D. and Nick Duesbery, Ph.D. 
  • Experience: Undergraduate research at San Francisco State University on epigenetic mechanisms in multiple species of ants, 2010 NSF-REU Fellowship recipient, medical internship at the University of West Virginia
  • Conferences:
    Gordon Conference on Angiogenesis (2013)
    North American Vascular Biology Organization (NAVBO) Conference (2014)
    Vasculata (2015)
    NAVBO Conference (2015)
  • Home State: California
  • Hobbies: Composing and playing violin and piano music, creating YouTube videos, selling commissioned artwork and hand-made artisan crafts, and learning to code video games

Patterns of DNA Methylation in Development, Division of Labor and Hybridization in an Ant with Genetic Caste Determination (2012) PLOS ONE

Anthrax Toxin Receptor 1 Is Essential for Arteriogenesis in a Mouse Model of Hindlimb Ischemia (2016) PLOS ONE



How would you describe your area of study to your grandmother?

My grandmother has a higher degree in the biological sciences, so I’d explain my research like I would to any other scientist. But if I were explaining it to someone outside the sciences, I would say:

Diseases involving the heart and blood vessels are the most common cause of death and impairment in our nation. My research will aid us in treating these diseases. Caused by the blockage of a blood vessel, a type of blood vessel disease called “Peripheral Artery Disease,” or “PAD,” results in hundreds of thousands of leg amputations every year in the U.S. In healthy individuals, when a blood vessel is blocked, neighboring arteries expand to allow blood flow to the rest of the leg. Unfortunately, people with PAD do not undergo this artery expansion, resulting in great pain, leg muscle damage, and, in some cases, death. Loss of life and limb could be prevented if we knew how to stimulate the growth of arteries. My research has led to the discovery of two proteins that are required for artery growth. With this knowledge, we can manipulate these proteins to promote artery growth, treat PAD, and prevent limb amputations in thousands of individuals every year.

What is your primary motivation for persevering through graduate school?

People should not have to suffer due to medical conditions. We know that certain poor lifestyle choices such as high fat diets or smoking can lead to vascular disease. But at the end of the day, there is always that exception: the smoker who lived over 100, or the completely healthy 30-year-old who suffered a stroke. Regardless of life style choices, no one “deserves” vascular disease. And since it is a problem for so many individuals, my research is the way I can make a contribution that will help the lives of all of them.

What do you want to do with your degree?

I want to be able to use my degree to impact lives, whether that is through research, through the advancement of public knowledge, or through government policy changes that affect science and medicine.

Did you take time off before starting your Ph.D. degree or come directly from an undergraduate or master’s degree program?

I started directly after finishing both of my bachelor’s degrees at San Francisco State University. Professors Domingo, Smith, and Wagner were instrumental in encouraging me to begin my doctorate right away, and it has been the best decision for me.

How has your previous coursework contributed to your breadth of knowledge?

While my PhD will be in Cell and Molecular Biology, my two undergraduate majors (Physiology and Creative Writing) were rather different. This definitely shaped the course of my project. My research has been very physiologically driven, and I find myself more interested in and having a larger grasp of the big picture – how tissues are affected, rather than the role of tiny cellular components. And creative writing gave me a love of communication that I think is vital for sharing my research and getting new ideas out there.

Do you think there is any value in social networking with other graduate students in non-related fields?

Definitely, for two reasons: to advance scientific discovery, and for science policy.

Microscopy is so important for my research, and microscopes would not be where they are today without physicists. Better microscope techniques will come from biologists and physics working together. Doing statistical analysis to make sure the patterns in the data I collect are real outcomes and not random chance would not be possible if I had not learned methods from mathematicians. Better ways to plan studies and analyze data will come from biologists and mathematicians working together. Pharmaceutical drugs used in many of my experiments wouldn’t exist without chemists. More specific drugs that help more people will be developed by biologists and chemists working together. If biologists limit their conversations to other biologists, they miss out on many opportunities to advance the biological sciences.

Science policy affects all of us as citizens. Changes to training, funding, and scope of research in our country impact every scientist, regardless of field. Policies that dictate the way we treat our environment and the way we regulate our society should be agreed upon with a backing of scientific knowledge. The knowledge can only be communicated if scientists are explaining their discoveries in a way that is accessible to everyone.

How do you think earning an advanced degree will change your role in society?

I believe that every level of a higher academic degree comes with a higher level of academic responsibility. A doctorate, to me, means that I will have the responsibility to communicate my own research, and scientific topics in general, to a lay public. I will have the responsibility to make sure the decisions of myself and others in my life are informed when it comes to science policies. I will have the responsibility to make sure I use the skills I learn to contribute to society, whether inside or outside of academic sciences.

Did your past experiences in life or education help prepare you for graduate school or did you have to develop different strategies to succeed?

Both. My time in high school and college definitely laid the foundation for my understanding of scientific concepts. Without that, I couldn’t have made it through my first year of courses in grad school. Additionally, because I had prior research experience, I understood what it meant to be in a lab and be in charge of a project. That being said, the differences between undergrad and graduate studies are immense. Not only was the first year of coursework far more intense and independent than anything in college, but the type of lab work was different too. Most undergrad students in research labs either don’t have their own project, or have a project of a very limited scope. Mine was a combination – I had my own small project, but it was directed by the master’s student I worked under, and all of the work I did was to help him with his thesis. However, as a Ph.D. candidate, I had to define the scope of my project, set my own goal posts, and test my own hypothesis – I have been responsible for myself rather than answering directly to someone. Therefore, there are ways that past experiences prepared me, and there were things I had to learn while in graduate school.

What is your favorite stress-reduction technique?

When I’m not working in lab, you can find me taking 2D art commissions, learning programming for a video game I’d like to make, sewing clothing and making jewelry for my online shop and convention sales, writing violin music for an album I’m working on, or adding chapters to the mystery novel I have in the works. All of these things are both more and less stressful than my thesis project. All of them have deadlines, even if they are ones I set myself. But keeping up a certain level of stress keeps me certain that I’m always accomplishing something. The stress of feeling like I’m getting nothing done is much worse.

What accomplishment (academic or other) are you most proud of?

I’m working on allowing myself to stop and feel proud of myself for my accomplishments, rather than writing them off as merely “lucky” or “unimportant” like I have in the past. I hope to reach that point when I graduate. Being able to truthfully say that I’m proud of myself for becoming “Dr. Naidu” will be a point of pride in and of itself.

Has your perception of this Ph.D. program changed since you began the program?

My perception of this particular program has not changed. I still admire the model of problem-based learning that the school centers its courses around. The heartfelt caring and guidance that the faculty and administrative staff have given me since I joined has not once faded away, and I am incredibly grateful for it. My perception of Ph.D. schools overall has changed, as it is in between school and a job rather than just school. It is very different from other types of health care schools, such as medical or pharmacy school, because Ph.D. schools do not prepare you for only one career path.

If you were asked to put something in a time capsule for each year you have been in the program and this capsule would not be opened for 25 years, what would you contribute?

From my first year, I would put in a napkin from Buffalo Wild Wings, to remind me of how the other students in my year were so kind in taking me out for my birthday, and set the stage for them continuing to be wonderful colleagues all the way through.

From my second year, I would put in a white board marker to remind me of my comprehensive exams, and all the hard work that went into my success in that.

From my third year, I would put in the Rocky cut-out that the Duesbery lab, where I completed the majority of my thesis work, had at its entrance. My mentor, Dr. Duesbery, always took on the role of Mickey in constantly encouraging us. My third year was the last year that the Duesbery lab was at Van Andel Institute.

My fourth year is still in progress, so I don’t yet know what would represent the year: perhaps a memento from the Williams lab, to remind me of the place that I am able to complete my project in.

If you hadn’t been admitted to graduate school, what do you think you would be doing right now?

If I hadn’t been admitted into a Ph.D. program, I would have accepted one of my M.D. offers and been close to completing medical school. If I hadn’t been accepted into any kind of post-graduate education, I would have developed my art portfolio and continued to take commissions, as well as attended more political events.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about your doctoral education experience?

I have learned many things from my graduate school experience that simply can’t be quantified. I learned that I can be very independent, and that I am capable of setting and meeting my own deadlines. I learned that I am able to generate my own ideas and design and carry out my own project. I learned that diversity is shaped by people’s experiences, and reaffirmed my belief that everyone has something amazing about themselves. And I learned that kindness always pays itself back tenfold.