Pranavi Sanka

Senior Pranavi Sanka is an undergraduate researcher in the UNC College of Arts & Sciences, majoring in biology and computer science, with a minor in chemistry. Her research focuses on developing new therapies for a subset of breast cancer. After graduation, she plans to attend medical school with the goal to become a primary care physician.

Pranavi Sanka poses on campus.Photo by Alyssa LaFaro
September 14th, 2016

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

In first grade, I wanted to be an astronaut and go to space. Later, in elementary school, I wanted to be a news reporter because I liked the idea of being able to share important events and ideas with others.

Describe your research in five words.

Investigating new breast cancer therapies.”

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.

When I was a high school sophomore, I attended a science summer camp called Summer Ventures. I worked in a lab at the Brody School of Medicine, researching the link between an increase in autoreactive T cells and autism. I enjoyed asking scientific questions and putting my classroom biology knowledge into practice in the lab.

What’s an interesting thing that’s happened during your research?

I got the chance to shadow an oncologist at UNC Hospitals for a day. I saw many patients treated through clinical trials developed in research labs at UNC and other universities. One patient, whose tumor had an exact match with a clinical trial that had recently come in, was responding very well and her tumor’s size reduced drastically. It was rewarding to see how much of a positive impact research can have on the lives and prognoses of patients.

Sanka poses with a fellow teacher from her summer internship with Breakthrough Collaborative.

Photo courtesy of Pranavi Sanka

Sanka poses with a fellow teacher from her summer internship with Breakthrough Collaborative, a program designed to launch high-potential, low-income middle school students on the path to college, and inspire high school and college students to pursue careers in education. While there, Sanka taught physics.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?

For women interested in computer science: Don’t be discouraged or intimidated by the lack of females in your classes and in the department. I say this from experience — in some of my computer science classes at UNC, I was one of the only girls in the class. We can accomplish anything as long as we set our minds to it and make use of our resources.

UNC Research is proud of every scientist on this campus, but we are especially excited to promote our female researchers in 2016. Each week this year, we will publish a short Q&A feature on one of them — whether she is an undergrad, PhD candidate, or full professor. Please click here to make a recommendation.

Check out our 2016 Women in Science Wednesday Infographic!