Commencement Spotlight: Anushka Rajesh

Meet Anushka Rajesh, a Class of 2021 Trojan graduating with an M.S. in pharmaceutical sciences from USC Mann. As an international student from Mumbai, India, she shares why she chose to attend USC, how the COVID-19 pandemic taught her the importance of being flexible and gives advice to those following in her footsteps: “Befriend people from different fields, age groups and cultures—this will expose you to new experiences and help you grow as a person.”

What originally attracted you to your field?

I was very young when I was first introduced to chemistry and biology—and I developed an instant liking and interest for these subjects, particularly organic chemistry. So, when it was time for me to choose a career path for myself, I realized that pharmacy was the perfect amalgamation of two of my favorite sciences, and this made my choice very simple and clear. Moreover, my father is in the same field and his work sparked a curiosity in me to learn more about medications; ever since I was a child I would try to understand what the labels on tablet strips and syrup bottles meant. Majoring in pharmacy at the University of Mumbai and continuing my studies in the master’s in pharmaceutical sciences program at USC have taught me to understand how very minute changes in the structure of a medical drug can elicit varied biological responses. This is one aspect of this field that amazes me even today.

How did you come to the decision to pursue your degree at USC?

As an international student, I was most concerned about getting a well-rounded experience in terms of the curriculum, faculty, research interests, prospects after graduation, culture and even the location. USC ticked all the boxes. I was extremely intrigued by the course curriculum, the research carried out by the faculty was innovative, and I was very eager to explore the world-class facilities and opportunities that the school offered. Moreover, the USC name itself is well-respected and in a way, stands as evidence to vouch for the ability of every individual who graduates from here. I was lucky to have been accepted into my dream school!

Now that your time at USC is coming to an end, what is one of your favorite memories your time here? How do you feel your experiences at USC have prepared you for this next chapter in your life?

Unrelated to my program, my best memory at USC was attending a football game between USC and UCLA at the Coliseum. In terms of my program, something very memorable for me was switching over from a “wet lab” to a “dry lab” to pursue my thesis. I made this switch from working on genetic mutations to bioinformatics as a result of the labs being shut down during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. I took this as an opportunity to learn and develop a new skill while still being able to work remotely. In retrospect, I’m glad I made that choice—I explored bioinformatics and I even got my first paper published with the help and support from my advisor Dr. Serghei Mangul. My experience at USC has taught me to adapt to difficult situations, be confident while presenting to audiences, and most importantly, love what I am doing and be dedicated to it no matter what.

Can you tell us about your post-graduation plans? What are you most looking forward to?

I am actively looking for job prospects in the pharmaceutical/biotech industry. Since this will be my first real experience in the industry setting, I am very excited about a new beginning and definitely about being able to resume going in-person to the workplace. At this moment, I am also very thrilled about celebrating my graduation with friends and family at the in-person Class of 2021 commencement!

Do you have any advice to the students who are following in your footsteps? Is there anything else you’d like to share?

The motto I personally live by is that whatever you choose to do, enjoy doing it. Even in your program and career, never look at anything as a task; rather, look at it as another opportunity to learn more about something you are passionate about. While in school, do not just restrict yourself to studying. Keep your coursework as your top priority, but it is essential to participate as much as possible in different clubs, activities and events so that you get a chance for overall development. Form a lot of connections, network with people in your field—this will prove very beneficial for future prospects. Having said that, also befriend people from different fields, age groups and cultures—this will expose you to new experiences and help you grow as a person. Lastly, remember that being a Trojan is a matter of pride. Wherever you go, honor and respect the fact that you were chosen to be a Trojan and keep fighting on!