Dr. Vijayaraghavan, or Dr. V, discusses how she found her passion for science as a girl in India

Each month, the India Association of Tulane University hosts a Chai Talk with a speaker of South Asian descent. On Thursday, Meenakshi Vijayaraghavan gave a talk in Weatherhead Hall about her early life and how she found her passion for science.

Vijayaraghavan, known across campus as Dr. V, is a senior professor of practice in the Cell and Molecular Biology department. Along with teaching genetics and intro to cell and molecular biology, Vijayaraghavan also tries to incorporate service learning into her courses. She offers her students a wealth of research and knowledge in the areas of environmental carcinogenesis, cancer studies and pediatric nephrology from India, Japan and the United States.

Taylor DeMulling | Senior Staff Photographer
Meenakshi Vijayaraghavan, also known as Dr. V, is a professor of practice in Tulane’s Cell and Molecular Biology department.

Vijayaraghavan began the discussion by opening up about her childhood. Growing up as a young girl in the forests of India, she found herself distant from most of her peers from boarding school.

“We did not have play dates at that time,” she said. “You are on your own journey.”

Her father, a wildlife conservation officer, was in charge of 36 elephants, one of which gave birth near her home one day.

Vijayaraghavan would also attempt to outsmart monkeys from stealing her lunch while reading a book on a rock in front of her house. Experiences like these, she says, fostered her love for biology.

Having always dreamt of being a doctor, Vijayaraghavan played with stethoscopes and sometimes cut open dolls to see what was inside. Right before she was about to take the exam for medical school, however, tragedy struck. Her father passed away, leaving her to take care of her mother.

Instead of moving further away for medical school, Vijayaraghavan opted to go to a nearby college. The only major offered at the college was zoology.

Though she was disappointed she could not pursue her dreams of becoming a doctor, Vijayaraghavan grew to love zoology. Later she attended graduate school at the University of Madras and earned her doctorate in 1994.

Vijayaraghavan encourages students to tell their professors about their dreams and have ongoing relationships with them.

“We care about everybody who sits in the class,” Vijayaraghavan said.

Opening up to questions from the audience, Vijayaraghavan kept the tone lighthearted. When asked whether she hated grading, she responded that it made her more nervous than anything else.

Students also asked Vijayaraghavan for advice about their struggles in academia.

“Be passionate,” Vijayaraghavan said. “It is your responsibility to pursue your dreams. Your dreams cannot be taken away from you. … Go and have fun, but know your limits.”

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