Varia, Smita

Associate Professor, Neuroscience and Cell Biology
Areas of Interest: 
Neurotrophic factors and neuropeptides in neuronal development; traumatic brain injury and mental disorders.
My Story: 

The truth is, I was not always interested in my current field of neurology, but as a young girl I was always interested in science in general.  I always liked asking questions from early on and in high school I really liked my biology teacher which increased my interest to learn science. After high school I attended a college in India that was heavily focused on science.  As a student I was always involved in science related projects and would participate in research programs in the summer.  I graduated with an undergraduate degree in Microbiology.

After I graduated, I came to the United States to pusure my graduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Kansas - the same school my brother completed his graduate degree at.  My brother is my role mode. He is an established scientist and professor and always inspired and encouraged me to pursue my dreams.  My parents were also very supportive and encouraged me to get an advanced degree and to be independent. In graduate school I met my husband who was also really supportive.  I recognize how much it helps to have such a strong network of support from your loved ones.

During my post doctoral training, I became increasingly interested in studying the brain because it is so unexplained. At the time - a lot of mental illnesses were still unknown and there were so many questions that no one had answers to.  So although I was trained as a biochemist and molecular biologist, as opportunities came up for me to go into the field of neurology I took them.  

Later I went through a phase where I thought I wanted to work in industry but then soon realized that it was not for me.  I found comfort in academia because I like mentoring students and I am involved in the Association of Women in Science (AWIS). Giving back to the next generation of women in science is really important to me and I feel I am better suited to do that here in the academy. Also, as far as work-life balance in concerned, being at Rutgers allowed me to balance everything.  Let's face it - women do still have to work a little harder than men to be successful in scientific fields. I took my time with school and had my daughter later on.  

I believe we need to be role models for the next generation.  You have to have certain goals for yourself and work towards them in a systematic way. Asking others for advice on how to get to where you want to be is critical.