Nayanga Thirimanne

PhD Candidate
University of Washington / Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center


Focus on your end goal and persevere.

What do you do?

I am working on cancer biology. I am trying to understand how improper protein degradation leads to cancer, using lab grown human cancer cells. The protein that I am interested in, regulates the degradation of many other proteins. It is also highly mutated in human cells causing many cancers. We are working to understand the underlying biological mechanisms to find treatment targets.

Why did you choose this field?

I was interested in human biology for as long as I could remember. As I was finishing high school, I was certain that, I wanted to quench that desire and curiosity, to learn how human body functions. I wanted to dig deep into molecular level mysteries such as DNA and proteins in human cells. The detrimental nature of cancer drew my interest to learn more about it and contribute to unravel its complex biology and discover treatments. I am continuing to tackle various aspects of cancer biology, which I started off with my undergraduate thesis, then in my masters degree thesis, and now in my PhD work.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I had little knowledge on interdisciplinary nature of sciences. I was hesitant to learn computer sciences believing I will never be interested in it nor I will ever make use of it. I was wrong. Today, not only I am using programming in my research work, I am thoroughly enjoying it. Learning computational biology has opened up a new world for me.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I am not sitting behind a desk and doing the same thing over and over again. That was the biggest thing younger myself wanted to avoid when thinking about future career options, and I am proud that I made the right choice. "How" and "Why" questions that I ask and think about in science everyday, keep me moving no matter how hard it is.

Best advice for next generation?

I want young girls out there to know that you can be a wife, a mom (or any other role), while achieving your dream career. Growing up I was very academic oriented and never imagined balancing life with work was possible. Some told me that I will only end up staying at home despite all my efforts in education.
Today, I am in the final years of my PhD, married, with a one year old son. I am proud and contented of all the choices I made along the way. Focus on your end goal and persevere.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"Life need not be easy, provided only that it is not empty" Lise Meitner, physicist

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