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GSBS class speaker Pranitha Vangala applying lessons in science to navigating pandemic

Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences virtual commencement is Sunday, May 31, at noon

By Kylee Denesha

UMass Medical School Communications

May 27, 2020

Pranitha Vangala, PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Class of 2020, will deliver a speech as class speaker at the virtual GSBS commencement ceremony on May 31 at noon.

“At first I was so excited to hear that I was selected,” Vangala said. “However, I’m 35 weeks pregnant, so of course I was somewhat hesitant to say yes! Of course, I am really looking forward to addressing my classmates.”

Vangala grew up in India, where she completed her undergraduate education before matriculating at UMMS. For the past several years, Vangala has done research in the lab of Manuel Garber, PhD, associate professor of molecular medicine and director of the Bioinformatics Core. Her work focuses on integrating temporal epigenetic, transcriptomic and higher order data to identify regulatory circuits. She also uses comparative genomics and population genetic approaches to gain insights into the molecular roles of putative regulatory elements.

“If you think about it, we all have DNA, but we are all very different,” said Vangala. “What makes us different is what we’re interested in, and the ways we can look closer at gene expression.”

Vangala defended her dissertation via Zoom.

“It was disappointing to not be able to see my classmates and faculty after presenting my five years of work,” she said. “But in the end, it turned out great. My family and friends from India were able to watch, which was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us.”

As the world continues to adjust to the COVID19 pandemic, Vangala said she recognizes the stress that she and her peers are under.

“This is surreal, none of us knew we would be graduating during a pandemic. At times it feels as though there is no ground under our feet,” she said.

Vangala compares it to the learning experiences scientists gain out of experimentation.

“Trial and error,” she said. “When we hit a dead end with our science, we never quit; we just take a detour and keep going. Now, we have to apply that training, embrace the situation and hang in there. I am sure we will cross this just fine.”