INSIDER BLOG

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Associate Professor Sujoy Ghosh,  
Programme in Cardiovascular & Metabolic Disorders
Nationality: Born in India, naturalized United States citizen
Years in Duke-NUS: 1.5 years

The Insider (TI): Why research?  

Sujoy Gosh (SG): When I was in ninth grade, my grades in biology were unimpressive because the subject required constant memorization which bored me. My father, a man of commerce, began reading my biology books and summarizing every chapter into a small, 16-page notebook. That changed biology for me forever.

My earliest impression of research came from the glass jars containing formalin-preserved human organs in my high school’s Life Sciences department. When I graduated from high school, I decided to pursue an undergraduate program in Chemistry, Physics and Biology instead of the more popular Engineering or Medical programs. 

I majored in Chemistry and spent long hours in the labs. Part of my student coursework required us to identify organic and inorganic test compounds. To do this, we often had to test those compounds for 4-6 hours continuously. Even then, we could still get them wrong. My interest in research began in those chemistry labs. 

TI: What triggered your research study in identifying the early biomarkers of weight loss success and weight regain?

SG: When I was working with GlaxoSmithKline, I collaborated with Drs. Ruth McPherson, Robert Dent and Mary-Ellen Harper from Canada’s University of Ottawa and Ottawa Hospital to study the genetic causes of obesity.

They had observed that obese people on the same medically supervised low-calorie diet showed remarkable differences in losing and regaining weight. 

These findings suggested that weight loss and gain were, at least partially, genetically determined. This means that we can potentially predict if a person will lose weight or regain it by studying his or her genetic make-up. This possibility gave us the motivation to start investigating early genetic markers of weight loss and weight regain. The initial results of this ongoing study turned out to be quite promising and were published in the journals BMC Medical Genomics and Obesity

TI: Give an analogy for what you do…

SG: The closest analogy is that of a voyager on a journey. When we undertake a trip, we follow a map or a path to new places, without knowing what will turn up along the way. We discover new knowledge and experiences and, then try to apply them in context. 

Similarly, every experiment is a journey, with unforeseeable outcomes. Each discovery or outcome begets more knowledge which we then try to apply in the context of biological process, disease mechanisms, or clinical outcomes. 

TI: Please share with us your typical work day at Duke-NUS.…what are the most rewarding aspects of your role as a professor? 

SG: My typical workday consists of primarily three activities – working on projects, supervising my student and research assistant (RA), and having meetings with collaborators. 

I usually do not dictate to those I supervise how things should be done. I prefer to guide them with probing questions and lead them to come up with their own answers and methodology.  It is gratifying to see students overcome challenges, learn how to take charge of their research projects, resolve the issues and come up with their own solutions. Sometimes, they came up with better solutions than I would have! 

On a daily basis, I also set aside time to work on analytical work. Three or four times a week, I read or write for an hour or two. 

Meetings with internal and external collaborators are common in Duke-NUS and, are usually scheduled in the afternoons. These meetings, or rather discussions are dynamic and highly satisfying as a variety of topics are discussed. It is always exciting to find collaborators enthusiastic over the implications of the research results and together, we can think of how to fine-tune our research design and process. 

TI: Name three qualities that a researcher should have…

SG:  

Wide knowledge of the research field - He/She should be able to answer the important questions such as why his/her research is relevant, and where it fits. It is very important to have easy access to published research and be well-read in one’s field of specialization, so as to keep one’s research on the cutting edge.

Passion, Tenacity and Perseverance - Failures typically outnumber successes in research work. The challenge is to keep going, learn from past mistakes and let the data lead you (and not vice versa). This is only possible if you love your work.

Ability to work well with others - In today’s multi-disciplinary approach to science, a collaborative approach is vital for success. Collaborations require teamwork. This means meeting, engaging and managing people and their expectations, whilst keeping your own commitments. These skills may not be essential for your PhD but their absence will definitely impair the potential success of your research work.

TI:  Things that make you laugh

SG: I spent a large part of my adult life in the US and I came to enjoy the American sitcoms.  Of the many, I am mildly addicted to Seinfeld, followed by Friends. Both comedies never fail to make me laugh (often hysterically) even now, some 15 years later, when I watch the re-runs! I am always up for a good laugh and self-important people are a perennial source of amusement and entertainment.

  

American Sitcoms Seinfield and Friends were popular family entertainment all over the world in the 1990s

TI: I am thankful for...

SG: 2013 - 2014 is, in many ways, the proverbial turning over of a new leaf for me. I opted for a career growth and moved back to Asia with my family!

I am extremely thankful to Professors Patrick Casey and Thomas Coffman for this dual assignment opportunity in Duke-NUS. It allows me to work with other collaborators for their complex data analysis needs, and to carry out my own research in studying the genetic architecture of cardio-metabolic diseases, an arrangement that has worked out favourably. I am also really fortunate to have a talented and capable RA, Ms Chai Xiaoran, whose abilities have been critical in managing our multiple projects simultaneously. 

 

The appreciative boss, Sujoy and his capable RA, Xiaoran. 

Warning: This duo is dead serious about their work and finding joy in it!

I am also thankful for great mentors throughout my scientific career. These include my graduate advisor, Professor Subhash Basu, who instilled a rigorous work-ethic in me and taught me to be unafraid of making mistakes. My postdoctoral advisor, Professor Robert Bell, is a true friend who owns a special place in my heart as he gave me the confidence to be an independent thinker. I have always turned to him for career advice and this was instrumental in my decision to return to academia, and also to join Duke-NUS. 

Last but not least, I thank my wonderful family, who willingly traded a familiar, comfortable world of life with friends in an American suburb for a new beginning in Singapore with me. 

My family and I celebrating the *Durga Puja ceremony in Singapore in Oct 2014. (L-R): Saurish (younger son), Debjani (wife), Shraman (older son) and me.

*Durga Puja is the biggest socio-religious event in our calendar, held over 4 days, usually in the month of October. To mark the occasion, we usually put on new clothes in the traditional style and gather in a central area for worship and socializing.

TI: We heard that you are into Philosophy, would you like to share your favourite quote with us? 

SG: I was born and raised in India, the land of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. It would be hard to not delve in it.

Besides, PhD does stands for Philosophiae Doctor, which translates into Doctor of Philosophy. I do enjoy many works of Swami Vivekananda, Lao Tzu, Khalil Gibran and George Santayana. 

I would like to share this quote from Swami Vivekananda which describes the work of a researcher succinctly: “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life - think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success”