Dr. Sruti Rayaprolu
Dr. Rayaprolu earned the Toffler Scholar Leadership Award in 2018 at the University of Florida
Dr. Sruti Rayaprolu was born in India and moved with her family to the United States when she was 9 years old. Being an immigrant was challenging, but by the time she entered high school, Dr. Rayaprolu felt integrated into American culture. It was also during this time that she became interested in science. She took an AP Biology course that transformed her perspective. Her teacher presented the material in a hands-on way, which captured Dr. Rayaprolu’s attention. She became determined to pursue science and chose to major in Biology and minor in Studio Art at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.
During her fourth year of undergraduate study, she worked with her honors thesis mentor in a research lab doing work that required her to regularly catch snakes and draw their blood. Despite the unglamorous nature of the work, the experience reinforced Dr. Rayaprolu’s love for science, research, and developing hypotheses.
Though still nurturing her love of research, Dr. Rayaprolu wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after graduation. She considered medical school, but her time as a volunteer in a hospital showed her that this wasn’t the right direction for her.
Her parents wanted her to be successful in her career and to pursue passion in her work. That desire made her next decision even more challenging: instead of putting her Biology and Art degrees to work, Dr. Rayaprolu took a job at a restaurant.
It was in that job, however, that she gained experience that was critical to her self-discovery. She learned a lot about people and how to interact and communicate with them, especially when they were unhappy.
The next step in her career came when her genetics professor recommended her to a former student who worked at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. She interviewed and ended up accepting a job as a technician in a Parkinson's disease lab. Going from drawing blood from snakes to working in a restaurant to working in a Parkinson's disease genetics lab felt a bit jarring, but she was committed to working hard and asking the necessary questions in order to take the steps toward pursuing a Ph.D.
After working at the Mayo Clinic for a year, Dr. Rayaprolu was accepted to a Ph.D. program at University of Florida in Gainesville. She focused her graduate research on developing and characterizing mouse models of neurodegenerative diseases. In 2018, Dr. Rayaprolu earned her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences with a focus in Neuroscience. It was during this period that she also earned the Toffler Scholar Leadership Award in recognition of her exceptional work and leadership.
After graduating, Dr. Rayaprolu joined a large collaborative center at Emory University as a Postdoctoral Fellow studying Alzheimer's disease. The goal of the center is to find new biomarkers for the disease so doctors can diagnose people earlier and monitor the disease’s progression more accurately. They are also working toward more personalized therapeutic treatments for Alzheimer’s patients and determining how the disease varies across demographic groups. Within that broader goal, the team is working to better understand the basic biology of the disease, a process which includes building new mouse models of the disease—this is where Dr. Rayaprolu is focusing her research. Ultimately, Dr. Rayaprolu hopes to start her own lab focused on Alzheimer’s research.
“My biggest hope is that people be better equipped to understand the science researchers do and that they not be suspicious of it. I want to help create a relationship between scientists and the general population wherein we increase awareness and dialogue. I want to be able to have larger public conversations about science that are free of political biases. My ultimate hope is that these interactions lead to better public health and longevity.”
- Dr. Rayaprolu
Karen Toffler Charitable Trust Investment
Dr. Rayaprolu earned the Toffler Scholar Leadership Award the year she defended her Ph.D. The Toffler Scholar Leadership Award helped her stand out among other applicants when she submitted her grant as a Postdoc. She was honored by the recognition as a scientist whose efforts extend beyond science.
The award recognized her work mentoring students, raising awareness, and teaching kids about the brain. It reflected the successes she has accomplished beyond her dissertation and the impact she has made on the world, even before earning her doctorate. Dr. Rayaprolu also credits the award with boosting her confidence in her own leadership and mentorship capabilities.
“The confidence the Toffler Scholar Leadership Award has given me has been really integral. It enabled me to recognize that I'm actually capable of impacting the field beyond publications and grants. Being recognized for my efforts will continue to impact my confidence for the rest of my career.”
- Dr. Rayaprolu