Student Profile - Nitasha Kumar

Nitasha completed her PhD in 2016 at the Burnet Institute. Her research looked at the interaction between two immune cells in the HIV virus. Her supervisors were Professor Sharon Lewin and Associate Professor Paul Cameron. This interview was originally published in 2014.

What is your research about?

The lab I work for is looking for a cure for HIV, but I work on a lab based model looking at the interaction of two immune cells. They are the T cells, which are the target of the HIV virus and another immune cell called the dendritic cell. The dendritic cells move to the lymph nodes once they interact with a virus or bacteria, and they report to the T cells on what they’ve found and then they tell the T cells what to do. We’ve found that this kind of interaction between the two cells is really important in the setting of HIV because it enhances how much a virus hides inside the T-cells, and this hiding virus is what we cannot cure. So we really want to find out how the hiding virus goes into the T-cells, how it is maintained in them, what the characteristics of the hiding virus are, and then we can look at ways to eliminate it.

What are you going to do when you finish your research?

Go on a holiday first! But I haven’t decided what I’ll do after that.

When you aren’t researching, what do you do in your spare time?

Actually, I haven’t been doing a lot lately, but when do have time, I like doing some crafts. I do a bit of sewing and a bit of scrapbooking and things like that, I also cook a lot.

What was your first job?

It was actually tutoring in Indonesian.

If you had to give a piece of advice to someone starting their PhD, what would it be?

Don’t be stressed about the beginning. The beginning is the hardest part, trying to understand what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, the project, all the non-lab work, all the intricacies. Don’t let them stress you out because everyone goes through it and it’s just a process.

Who are your supervisors and what is the best thing about them?

Professor Sharon Lewin and Associate Professor Paul Cameron. My favourite thing about Sharon is her ability to manage so many different things and her leadership skill and style. She’s able to manage not only basic research, but also clinical research and the infectious disease unit as a hospital department and a university department, so I think that’s pretty amazing. Paul Cameron is amazing, he’s a genius and I’m really in awe of his ability to understand really complex situations.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

Anywhere with a beach, put me on a beach and I’m happy!