Netra Rajesh is an undergraduate Engineering Science student specializing in Biomedical Systems Engineering. She is currently on her Professional Experience Year (PEY) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where her research lies at the crossroads of nanomedicine, medical engineering, and oncology.
At 14, Rajesh designed an experiment and attempted to conduct the research in a lab, though she was unable to due to her age. Instead, she built a laboratory environment in her basement.
Rajesh is particularly interested in cancer research. In an email to The Varsity she wrote, “We are in desperate need for promising treatments and targets.”
Rajesh has pursued various internships focused on cancer research. At age 16, she got her first lab placement at the Sunnybrook Research Institute where she researched genetic therapies.
Rajesh had the chance to network and learn about different opportunities in other institutions during the internship.
Rajesh has participated in Engineering Science Summer Research Programs, first doing research on cancer radiotherapy at the National University of Singapore in the summer following her first year. There, she collaborated with oncologists and radiotherapists in order to “test a patient’s response to radiation using microplates and microfluidic platforms.”
Last summer, she participated in an exchange at the California Institute of Technology where she “was able to assist in designing, building and testing a novel bioreactor device for cancer vaccine production.”
Rajesh is currently working on designing nanoparticle vehicles with the goal of cancer therapeutics delivery.
Other areas of research she is interested in include engineering the immune system using nanomedicine to harness the body’s defence system, and clinical research.
One of the biggest challenges Rajesh identified for girls and women interested or pursuing an education in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics was “finding real-world opportunities for hands-on learning.”
Earlier this year, Rajesh was one of the speakers at TEDxMississauga, where she spoke about the importance of acquiring experience working with companies, and the importance of mentors and role models in academic or industrial labs as they encouraged her to “pursue challenges.”
While academic courses teach the foundational knowledge, placements in labs provide the opportunity to apply acquired knowledge. Furthermore, students can explore their areas of interest and network with professionals.
“I believe that pursuing real-world, hands-on learning in STEAM enables multidisciplinary thinking — ultimately preparing us to solve problems that we don’t even know exist!”