Ask an Antelope: Surabhi Chandra prepares students for health care professions

Surabhi Chandra has been interested in biology and medicine since childhood.

Originally from Mumbai, India, she admired her aunt and uncle, who were both medical professionals. Because of the highly competitive medical entrance tests in India, she was not able to fulfill her own ambition in a health care profession. Instead, Chandra followed a different career path and passion – teaching health science students.

Chandra earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Mumbai and a doctorate from Tulane University in New Orleans.

In 2012, she moved to Kearney with her husband, Mahesh Pattabiraman, who was hired in the UNK Department of Chemistry. Impressed with the teaching environment on campus, Chandra joined the UNK Department of Biology as a lecturer in 2013 and currently works there as an associate professor.

“The student population at UNK is quite diverse, with a large percentage of first-generation college students,” she said. “It is great to see the motivation and passion of the students and guide them in the right career direction.”

What courses do you teach?
Undergraduate courses: Cellular and Molecular Biology lecture and lab, Anatomy and Physiology lab and General Biology lab.

Graduate courses: Biology of Brain, Cell Structure and Function, Molecular Biotechnology, Physiology of Stress, Pharmacology and Cancer Biology.

How do these courses prepare students for their future careers?
My courses are mostly geared toward health care professions, and I include several activities and assignments that keep the students abreast with the latest developments in the field. I also routinely provide examples of allied fields the students can pursue if they don’t succeed in the career of their choice. Life takes turns and we should learn to maneuver carefully with proper guidance. More recently, I have spearheaded the MCAT/DAT review course through the NU Advance platform, which prepares students for these entrance tests. We have had students register from across the state.

What do you research?
My research is focused on the molecular pathways involved in the progression and metastasis of breast cancer under diabetic conditions. Diabetic breast cancer has a poor prognosis and is highly metastatic and resistant to common therapeutics. We are investigating molecular mediators that cause advancement of cancer both in terms of increasing tumor growth as well as its metastasis. In collaboration with the physics department at UNK and engineering department at UNL, we also are monitoring the changes in cancer cell morphology and motility under high-glucose conditions. In pursuit of mitigating the spread of cancer, we have been exploring several plant-based compounds such as curcumin, gymnemic acid and black seed oil for their anti-cancer properties.

How do you involve students in your research?
Students are an integral part of my research. In fact, they do most of the benchwork, and I give them opportunities to enhance their communication skills by writing manuscripts or presenting at conferences. My students have received accolades and awards at local and national conferences, which has significantly increased their morale and enhanced their research interests. Some of my students who have graduated are still pursuing clinical research with their health care professions.

What sets UNK’s Biology Department apart?
The UNK Biology Department is the largest on campus and has the most diverse faculty, ranging in research from molecular biology to wildlife. Being an undergraduate institution, I am quite amazed at the cutting-edge instrumentation with assistance from Nebraska Research Initiative and INBRE grants, as well as research opportunities available for faculty and students.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
Teaching is a highly rewarding experience where your success is measured by the progress of your students. It gives me immense pleasure when students compliment me on how my courses and research in the lab helped them be better prepared for their entrance tests and their career. My personality has developed greatly through interactions with a new cohort of students each semester and interacting with some of them all through their college years.

Share a fun fact about yourself:
I like to cook Indian food, listen to music and do some painting and knitting when I find time. I love to travel and learn about different places. My longest stay so far has been in Kearney as I had never been in any place for more than six years, even through my school and college phase.