With her research activities examining more efficient and effective ways to feed a hungry planet, Dr Sunita Ramesh likes solving puzzles – but she explains that her fascination with plants isn’t purely scientific, and that she is greatly inspired by the next generation.
What is your role and what does your work focus on?
I’m a lecturer in molecular biology but also teach biochemistry, plant physiology and cell biology. My research focuses on two themes – food security and human health. The link that ties these two themes together is membrane proteins and associated signalling pathways that transport water, solutes and ions across cellular membranes. I examine how these proteins can facilitate abiotic stress tolerance in crops under adverse growing conditions (food security) and their role in disease progression and pathology with reference to brain cancer (human health).
What journey brought you to this point in your career?
I did my undergraduate (majors in chemistry, botany and zoology) and post graduate (cytology and genetics) degrees in India and was awarded a PhD from the University of Adelaide for thesis on “Mechanisms of zinc uptake and regulation in cereals”. I’ve worked on various grant-funded projects as a researcher and taught part-time in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine and School of Medicine at the University of Adelaide until 2020, when I joined Flinders University. Teaching in the School of Medicine was the starting point for my foray into studying the role of ion channels and transporters in cell shape and volume regulation in disease and pathology.
What is something you love most about your work?
I love teaching and I also love research. Research provides me with the opportunity to continuously learn and contribute to better understanding of unknown mechanisms. Through teaching, I’m able to share my knowledge with the future generations of budding scientists and entrepreneurs, which always gives me such hope for the future.
What is something you are most proud of?
I’m proud of being a supportive leader and mentor for my students and group members. I believe that we all have the capacity to excel in what we do and need a supportive and encouraging environment to do so. I’ve met some amazing people since moving to Adelaide and some have been very helpful as I have pursued my career. They’ve inspired me, so now I hope I can do the same for early-career researchers by mentoring them.
What does a normal day look like for you?
A normal day at work involves teaching, meetings, answering emails and setting aside some time for research activities – but the pandemic has morphed how we go about our teaching and other activities, and it’s a challenge to adapt and use our time efficiently. If I was given the option, I’d love to spend less time at my desk and computer, and spend more time doing research.
How do you like to relax or spend your spare time?
I like to read science fiction, paint and tend my garden in spare time. I also find it very relaxing to cook and love solving puzzles.