Meet graduate student Indu Upadhyaya

Indu Upadhyaya
Indu Upadhyaya

Indu Upadhyaya is a PhD student in the Department of Animal Science who is investigating the mechanisms through which Salmonella reaches the egg yolks. After spending time as a practicing veterinarian in India, she is now at UConn, focusing on poultry microbiology and safety research. Here’s what she said in an interview.

Where did you study as an undergrad? What was your major?

I studied at RIVER (Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Veterinary Education and Research), which is a veterinary school affiliated with Pondicherry University in India. After I obtained my Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from RIVER, I pursued a Masters in Veterinary Biochemistry from the same institution.

Why did you decide to go to grad school?

After finishing my DVM program, I worked for eight months or so as a practicing veterinarian in India. Apart from providing veterinary services and counseling to pet owners and farmers, I volunteered in large animal and poultry vaccination campaigns. They were a great way to interact with farmers and understand the various challenges and problems they encounter. In addition, during my internship in college, I worked at various large- and small-scale chicken farms, which is when I started studying chickens. As my interest in chicken health and food safety grew, I gravitated towards pursuing my PhD in food microbiology and safety.

Who is your advisor?

While searching for a good program in chicken health and food safety, I came across Dr. Kumar [Venkitanarayanan]’s lab, which focuses on investigating the various mechanisms by which food-borne pathogens survive in food animals, such as chickens, and cause disease in humans. The lab also investigates the potential of various natural approaches such as plant-derived compounds in controlling foodborne pathogens. I thought it was very interesting and expressed my interest to work in his group. I consider myself truly lucky to be accepted by Dr. Kumar in his lab.

What is your field of research?

My PhD dissertation research investigates the potential of several plant molecules for reducing egg-borne transmission of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) in chickens. During the last three years, I have gained hands-on experience in traditional and molecular microbiology, cell culture techniques and conducting pathogen challenge experiments in layers and broilers. The results from this research thus far have revealed that several plant-derived antimicrobials are effective in significantly reducing egg-borne transmission of SE in chickens. It is expected that successful completion of my research would potentially yield novel strategies for controlling SE contamination of eggs.

Name one aspect of your work that you really like.

I like working with chickens. I find it interesting that microbes like Salmonella can invade various organs of the host including oviduct and ovaries. It is also fascinating that various natural plant molecules can attenuate their growth and survival affecting the yolk transmission of Salmonella when supplemented in chicken feed. The molecular dynamics between the compounds and bacteria is very interesting and it opens new doors for research.

I also enjoy the discussions that I have with Dr. Kumar and my colleagues troubleshooting research and sharing ideas to develop innovative means of improving food safety. Not only do we talk research, we also have a lot of fun working together in group projects. Also, the staff and professors in the Department of Animal Science are extremely supportive and friendly. I am so lucky to be in the company of good people who make me feel at home, miles away from home. I like all these aspects of my work, which make me want to come to lab everyday and work harder.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment so far?

I think being acknowledged for the good work I’ve done so far is an accomplishment in itself. I’m happy that I can contribute something to the field of science as a researcher.

To name one accomplishment, I was awarded the prestigious 2014 Maurice Stein Fellowship Award, which has been the highlight of my graduate career so far. I will be accepting this award after giving a brief thank you speech and presentation at the Poultry Science Association’s Annual Meeting in Corpus Christ, Texas on July 16, 2014, which makes me a little nervous. This is a national award given to one person each year and is highly selective – there are around 40 applicants annually.

What do you hope to do once you get your degree?

I would like to continue research and enter academia. I like being a TA, so I want to combine teaching with research. I have always been interested in poultry microbiology and genetics as well as food safety. These are the fields I would like to study further.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

I like music; currently I’m in an Indian music band called CTRhythms, and I provide vocals. I’m also a huge Elvis Presley fan! If he were alive, I could go meet him someday.