In CHOOSEMATHS grant winner profiles
CHOOSEMATHS Grant recipient profile: Gunjan Dixit

Gunjan Dixit

The Australian National University

I finished my Bachelors of Science in Biotechnology followed by a Masters degree in Bioinformatics from India. I stood first in my batch and was motivated to continue research. For my dissertation, I implied Molecular Dynamics Simulations to wild-type and mutant forms of tar-DNA binding Protein (TDP-43) to study the mechanism of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). After my dissertation, I was appointed as a research assistant allowing me to gain insights into multiple research projects and therefore helping me in deciding my area of interest. I got more passionate about research during this time and gained experience in different disciplines. I moved to Australia this year and started my PhD at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University. My current research involves single-cell RNA-seq analysis to study bone marrow immune landscape.

Can you give me a quick overview of the type of mathematics you are studying and its potential impacts for the broader community

I use discrete mathematics in my research; it involves building/implementing various mathematical models to understand data obtained from single-cell technologies and answer biologically relevant questions like cell/tissue heterogeneity. I majorly use statistical methods for analyzing the sequencing data. While several methods have already been developed for single-cell analysis, certain limitations persist when identifying different cell types. Digging deeper into limitations and finding valid solutions will help the broader community and speed-up the single-cell data analysis.

What did you want to be when you grew up? If not mathematics research, what would have been?

I always wanted to become a doctor; I enjoyed taking care of people and was very curious about how diseases are caused. I am glad that I’m pursuing a PhD in medical research while combining different disciplines including biology, maths, bioinformatics and genomics.

If not mathematics research, I would see myself as a teacher/lecturer because I really admire that job. A good teacher not only makes the subject interesting but also teaches the importance of education and how knowledge impacts our daily life. I believe it’s one of the toughest jobs to educate people in the right manner.

You attended AMSI BioInfoSummer, what drew you to this event? What was the most valuable part of AMSI BioInfoSummer for you in terms of furthering your career in mathematical sciences?

I am a first-year PhD student, and I am very keen on grabbing such opportunities where I can learn more and increase my skills/knowledge. The different streams and workshop sessions, especially ‘single-cell analysis’ drew me to attend this event. The most valuable part of AMSI BioinfoSummer was networking, meeting new people and discussing science.

In what ways has the experience impacted your maths studies? Did this event lead to any new contacts, projects, collaborations?

I came to know about useful resources which I didn’t know earlier. The workshop sessions were quite valuable for the basic understanding of maths and statistics. The event led to several new contacts from across the world and a few potential collaborators as well. The Poster presentation and Fast forward sessions were a fantastic opportunity to present my work, thereby inviting audience interested in similar work to collaborate or discuss my work.

Where do you see yourself in five or ten years time?

I want to improve my statistical knowledge in coming years and indulge in building mathematical models myself. In five or ten years, I would have finished my PhD and would be continuing research in bioinformatics. Also, I might be giving lectures in Maths/Bioinformatics encouraging early researchers to understand the importance of mathematical sciences in every aspect.

Did you learn about new career options available to you that you were not aware of prior to attending AMSI BioInfoSummer?

Yes, indeed, I came to know about specific internship opportunities (APR Intern) available to PhD students while they are pursuing their degree for them to gain industrial experience at the same time. I was not aware of such programs earlier, and I am really looking forward to applying for some of them in the near future.

Who are your mentors? Who do you admire?

My biggest mentor is my father; he has always supported me and given me the best advice possible. I have various mentors whom I closely follow on the social platform (LinkedIn and Twitter) to seek their methods. This includes all my previous teachers/supervisors and people whose work I follow.

You received a CHOOSEMATHS Grant to assist your attendance at AMSI BioInfoSummer. How important was this in terms of your ability to attend and fully participate in the sessions throughout the week?

I feel privileged to receive a CHOOSEMATHS grant as it helped me in covering financial expenses. Being an international student, it sometimes gets challenging to afford additional expenses to attend conferences and therefore restricts students to apply for it. I am grateful to AMSI for choosing me as one of the candidates, without the grant I would be unable to attend this symposium. My supervisor mentioned about the grant and encouraged to apply me and present poster as well.

How important are initiatives such as the CHOOSEMATHS Grants in terms of fostering the participation and achievement of women in mathematics, particularly in terms of access to networking opportunities and further training opportunities?

If we consider the stats, the numbers of women attendees for the BioinfoSummer were more than the male attendees; this clearly indicates that mathematics is one of the most popular options among women and more women are pursuing or willing to pursue a career in it. Such events provide an excellent opportunity to motivate people in choosing Maths, especially women.

The CHOOSEMATHS Grants are part of a broader program being delivered by AMSI Schools with support from BHP Foundation to turn the tide on Australia’s maths deficit and strengthen maths education and participation of women across the discipline. What do you see as the big challenges facing maths in Australia, particularly for women?

One of the biggest challenges with maths is that students consider it as a difficult subject and are afraid of it without even trying it. It is therefore crucial to spread the awareness about the subject itself and also the opportunities and support available from AMSI.

Best piece of advice you’ve received?

The best advice that I have received is to be invested in research not only to generate data or analyze data but to find a solution/cure to a biological problem.

If a peer asked you if they should attend AMSI BioInfoSummer, how would you describe the conference to them?

I would definitely recommend my peers to attend AMSI BioinfoSummer as it is a fantastic platform to meet new researchers and make potential collaborations as well as for learning from excellent mentors. It is very beneficial for early researchers or Masters student because they can learn about available research projects and develop some essential skills in Maths.

The entire event was very well organized, and I am very grateful to be a part of it. I am looking forward to being part of it next year as well.