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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Doctoral student on his way to ruling the fungal kingdom

Doctoral student on his way to ruling the fungal kingdom


NOVEMBER 30, 2020 Sandeep Vellanki came to UTSA from India with no idea he would be attracted to study rare and lethal varieties of mold and yeast. He graduates from UTSA this month with his Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology and is now one of the emerging experts in infectious diseases caused by human pathogenic fungi.

“After I went through UTSA’s master’s program in biotechnology I knew research was the thing for me,” said Vellanki. “Coming to UTSA was a unique opportunity to focus on something very understudied in the fungal kingdom but also quite deadly to immunocompromised humans infected by it.”

“Coming to UTSA was a unique opportunity to focus on something very understudied.”

Vellanki took full advantage of the resources available to him at the university. He received numerous awards from the scientific community and was invited to attend conferences in the United States and Europe specializing in fungal research. As a doctoral student, he published seven papers and served as the first author on four of them.

“Any papers published or awards received was due to a team effort,” Vellanki said. “The faculty here genuinely care about the students. They are very approachable whether its stopping by their office or seeing them in the hallway. They’re always open to talk and help.”

Making the transition as an international student to a new country and culture is a huge adjustment for most, but Vellanki said UTSA does an excellent job helping international students acclimate academically and socially. Instead, it was the isolation of the pandemic during the final phase of his doctoral dissertation that he considers his biggest challenge.

“I had to transition to do most work from home while trying to get into to the lab to complete my experiments; it was stressful,” said Vellanki. “I read an article that Shakespeare was able to finish a play while he was in a quarantine situation, so I thought, I’m not Shakespeare, but I can at least get started with writing my dissertation.

From UTSA, Vellanki will continue his infectious fungi research as a postdoctoral fellow at the prestigious Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.

“Many people are focused on success, but that’s not what I chase,” Vellanki said. “I try to pursue something that’s meaningful, dedicate myself to it and then whatever I deserve will find its way.”

Bruce Forey

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