PI Personals: Dr. Ranjita Betarbet

By Elaine Pranski

Originally published Summer 2009.

When did you start at Emory?

I started at Emory in 1993 as a post-doc in Neurosurgery. In 1996, I moved to Dr. Tim Greenamyre’s lab. I became an assistant professor in 2002, and in 2005, I became affiliated with Dr. Allan Levey and Dr. Jim Lah’s lab. In 2007, I received my RO1 funding to begin my own research.

sulcus106Tell us about your research.

I have always been interested in Parkinson’s disease. My initial research began looking at transplantation as a tool to treat Parkinson’s disease. When I moved to Dr. Greenamyre’s lab, I became more interested in the mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease, in particular with regards to the basal ganglia. I then started gravitating towards the environmental and genetic factors responsible for the pathogenesis of the disease. Currently, I am beginning new projects concerning the overlap between Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.

Where did you work/ study before Emory?

I received my Ph.D. in 1989 from All India Institute of Medical Sciences in India. I worked at University of Pitt sburgh and University of Cambridge, UK before coming to Emory.

What first sparked your interest in science when you were young?

I was always interested in the brain and how it functioned. I was especially interested in movement circuitry, which is probably how I became interested in Parkinson’s. When I was younger, I felt like discovering something new would be fascinating.

What do you enjoy doing outside of lab?

I love to cook. I also like being outside and enjoy walking along nature trails. I enjoy spending time with my husband and two children (currently 14 and 16 years old).

What is your favorite restaurant in Atlanta?

My family and I went to Bonefish last weekend. We all loved our meals and I think that would be my current favorite.

How do you balance your work and home life?

At first this was very tough for me; I wanted to perform at 100% at both. In the lab I would see everyone working so hard and spending such long hours in lab finishing up experiments. I knew that I did not have that freedom; I had only a certain amount of time that I could be at work before I had to take care of my children. I also did not want my children to suffer because of my work either. Now, I’ve reached a healthy balance between the two. I try not to set my expectations too high for either. I spend as much time with my children and husband as possible. I schedule weekly meetings with my lab members so I’m up to date on each of their projects, but I’m usually around the lab enough that if they ever want to discuss something with me, I am available. My husband and children are also very helpful and understanding, although sometimes it was very tough managing everything when my son and daughter were younger. I am glad that I had my children closer together instead of spread apart so that this time period was as short as possible.

Have you had any challenges as a woman in science?

I have faced some challenges in my career, but I’m not sure if I could directly attribute them to being female. I didn’t have a green card to begin with. However, I have never faced any type of discrimination in the neurology department. I have been allowed to develop on my own terms, without any pressure. I do think that the amount of time it took me to develop my independence took more time than it would have if I were not a woman.

If you could be something besides a neuroscientist, what would you be?

There is nothing I can think of that would make me as happy as I am currently. I enjoy my work and couldn’t imagine doing something else. If anything, I could distantly see myself as a chef since I enjoy cooking.

What do you like most about Atlanta?

The weather -it allows me to be outside and enjoy myself. What are three things you know now about science as a career that you wished you knew in graduate school? One, the importance of a good advisor. This is much harder to find than I expected and it can take much longer to understand if the relationship is working. Two, that it is still hard to manage your life as a female scientist despite having a supportive partner. Three, the importance of developing your writing skills from the beginning of your training to prepare you for grants and scientific papers. Do you have any general advice for the neuroscience graduate students? It is crucial for your scientific development to find a good environment where resources are shared and the exchange of ideas is encouraged. While some may feel that a competitive environment is beneficial, it has its own drawbacks. Most importantly, enjoy what you do.

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