On March 14, 2017, Regeneron announced Indrani Das as the top award winner the Regeneron Science Talent Search. The Academy Chronicle was fortunate enough to conduct an interview with Indrani, who discussed her experience at BCA, hinted at plans for the future, and shared advice for other high school students.
How did you feel when you first found out about your award?
Shocked. In the moment, I couldn’t process much of a reaction because I was so shocked. I just did what I was told and walked out onto the stage.
Did you expect it?
Not at all. I was beyond shocked.
How did you tell Mrs. Leonardi about the news?
She found out because she was watching the livestream. But after the awards ceremony was over, I tried to get my phone to call her and tell her the news myself, but the people at the competition wouldn’t give me my phone. I was arguing with them on when I could call Mrs. Leonardi, but there were always more pictures to take.
How did you manage your time with research and school work?
It was…definitely an experience, doing both. Research basically dominated all my school hours, so I would spend all my frees in the lab. I also spent a lot of time at home actually planning out my project and working on writing papers and analyzing my data. Because research took up a lot of my time, I had to find small bits of spare time to finish my school work.
What advice do you have for research students, or just BCA students in general?
I think for BCA students in general, my biggest piece of advice would be to try to produce something of value. Try to create something that you know is going to mean something to someone.
If that’s artwork, try to express yourself. If it’s an invention or a code, try to see how you can impact other people’s lives with what you’re making. Just try work in the most influential way possible. Think about the impact your projects can have on a larger body of people, rather than how much recognition you might get for that work. Try to focus on producing something of value.
What plans do you have for yourself in the future?
In college, I plan on pursuing research. I definitely hope to go to medical school and become a practicing physician. But on the side, at least for some time, I’d like to continue doing some research in the future.
Do you know how you’ll be spending your prize money?
It’s going straight to college. It pays most of my tuition, so it’s a huge relief for my family.
Who or what was your biggest motivator throughout all of the ups and downs of high school and for your research?
I would say it was just thinking about people who are suffering from severe health conditions – that was my biggest motivator.
When I became an EMT, I started having patient experience and that was really my biggest motivator in all four years – just sort of being able to work with people and seeing what they go through. I realized that here, I have the chance to actually work on some of these conditions and try to find solutions and make myself better so I can, one day, promote a better quality of life for these people. That kept me going.
What’s your favorite memory from BCA?
I have to process four years of memories for that one…I really need to think about this one. Senior year was obviously my favorite year. In terms of favorite memory, I’m just so overwhelmed with them right now, it’s hard to think of one.
But honestly, I’d say it’s meeting Mrs. Leonardi and realizing she took an interest in my ideas and that she was going to spend time with me helping me develop those ideas. I felt like I found a lifelong friend. It’s just this feeling I had the first day I met her, and I never stopped going back to her. It was sort of like she adopted me. So I guess being adopted by Mrs. Leonardi is my favorite memory.
Other than research, what do you think is the most rewarding experience you had as a high schooler?
Being an EMT, definitely, because having patient experience was just a constant source of motivation for me. It was like being hooked up to an external battery. Just being able to return each week, helping people in small ways, being there for people in my town who needed help, and answering to 911 calls.
How did you start your project? Did you know from the beginning?
Not at all. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do at all. I didn’t know if I wanted to work with heart disease, brain disease…and it was just after talking to Mrs. Leonardi that I came to a decision to work with neurodegenerative diseases.
These diseases aren’t curable, and there’s a lot that goes on that is common to different conditions. That’s why I thought, “Maybe if I try to focus on one subset of brain injury that’s common to all sorts of brain injuries like strokes and Alzheimer’s, I can find a way to make a small piece better that’ll apply to all these conditions, and could possibly reverse a nonreversible process.”
So that’s how I started working in that general area. From there, it was like nine months of intensely reading literature. My ideas kept on evolving. Even this year, my ideas didn’t come to their full evolution until the day of submission to Regeneron.
We wish Indrani all the best of luck, especially as she starts a new chapter of her life at college and beyond!