Susanna N. Basappa

Why did you choose research as a career?

I am primarily a thinker and a problem-solver. As a child, my favorite thing to do was to complete puzzles and word games. As a teenager and young adult, that translated into loving my science courses and choosing to pursue my undergrad degree in chemistry.

Eventually I came to a crossroad where I couldn't decide whether I wanted to pursue medicine or research — would I problem-solve on an individual level for each patient I met, or would I solve larger, broader questions related to a disease of interest (mine being breast cancer). Serendipitously, my cousin's wife graduated from her M.D.-Ph.D. program at that time, so I thought to do the same and follow in her footsteps.

And now here I am, poised to be able to fulfill both of my interests — solving both everyday problems and deeper underlying problems with disease and the health system.

What attracted you to Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences?

To be honest, when I was applying, I had hardly heard of Mayo. I think that I had seen the whole "Google a disease and Mayo is the first website that pops up," but otherwise I knew nothing.

I was applying in the Midwest and the South specifically so that I could be in a location where I felt comfortable socially, and where people had a reputation for being kind. I happened to notice two schools with M.D.-Ph.D. programs in Minnesota in the gamut of schools I was considering and added both Mayo and the University of Minnesota to my list.

However, when I came here on my interview, this was my favorite place — it was comfortable, the students were happy, I liked all of the faculty members I met, and generally I liked the feel and environment of the place.

When it comes to medical or graduate school, the education tends to be much the same for the same tier of schools, so for me, the environment was the most important thing. Even finding a mentor came second, as I would have two years to search before I had to choose. This is maybe a bit different from a Ph.D. student's experience, I expect.

Why did you choose the clinical and translational science track?

I was a bit torn between immunology, biochemistry and molecular biology, and clinical and translational science. Ultimately I knew that I wanted to do population health science and epidemiology, but the track matters less because we are encouraged to take so many electives.

Eventually it came down to flexibility and exposure to colleagues. If you are in the clinical and translational science track, it seems like you can do anything you want, research-wise, and you will be reasonably well-supported. If you want to work in a basic science lab, there is support for you. If you want to work with big data, or do clinical research or any other number of things, the clinical and translational science track has resources and others that are interested in these areas.

Many in the clinical and translational science track are physicians, which is especially important to me as an M.D.-Ph.D. student who won't go back to medical school until I defend my thesis.

I'm here for diversity in discussion and research, so I think clinical and translational science suits me best overall.

What do you like about Rochester, Minnesota?

It's a bit small, but I'm here to study and do research, not to go out. I think what I like most about it is that it's a safe place.

As a trainee, I can't say enough how nice it is to be in Rochester, where I don't have to feel like I have to watch my back if I want to study late and walk home. It's also nice that it's only an hour and a half or so from Minneapolis, so if you really want to do something in a big city, it's not far to get there.

What are your plans for the future?

My career goals are to become a clinician-scientist, to bring my work from the research computer to my patients, to receive their input and feedback, and to then revise my research accordingly.

I would like to work in an inner city area with diverse and underserved populations. Alternatively I'd like to work with native reservation health clinics as a native physician and community engagement researcher to implement population and public health science with community partnership and engagement.

My personal goal is to be able to provide a nice environment where my mother can retire and live with me, and I can adopt a child or two (and several cats) instead of contributing to overpopulation by having my own.