Graduate Profile: Ashna Dhoonmoon, Doctor of Philosophy – Biomedical Sciences
Ashna Dhoonmoon, PhD, never anticipated conducting cancer research as part of her doctoral studies. She spent a lot of her time as an undergraduate involved with immunology research. But she was drawn to the collaborative and welcoming people working in the lab of George-Lucian Moldovan, PhD. The team is exploring the multitude of ways that cells repair damaged DNA. They hope their findings could someday lead to new, targeted cancer treatments.
Dhoonmoon, the first in her family to attend college, hails from a small island off the east coast of Madagascar called Mauritius. More than nine years ago, she came to the United States at a university in Oklahoma to study biochemistry and biochemical sciences. She then came to Penn State College of Medicine, where she described the environment as one she could thrive in.
“I wanted a program with a healthy amount of collaboration and competition,” Dhoonmoon recalls. “The faculty and students I met while interviewing here seemed to strike that balance perfectly. While everyone wants to succeed, people are always ready to help and guide each other.”
The fact that the College of Medicine was connected to Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center made Dhoonmoon, who did undergraduate internships at a medical campus, feel even more at home.
Ashna is collaborative, she shares what medicine means.
For much of her time as a student in the College of Medicine’s Biomedical Sciences PhD Program, she studied a protein called PARP14 and its role in repairing damaged DNA. She also served a term as president and vice president of the Graduate Student Association, where she and other student leaders helped their peers through the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Labs closed down in March 2020, and when we opened back up later that spring, there were a lot of new protocols [such as working in shifts] to navigate,” Dhoonmoon said. “The Graduate Student Association helped trainees through these uncertain times and I’m proud of the support we offered.”
Dhoonmoon is doing a postdoctoral fellowship in the Moldovan lab until late 2023 or early 2024. She then plans to work in biotechnology or the pharmaceutical industries.
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