WOMEN IN CANCER PROFILE: From physics to cancer biology and everywhere in between

    1. Paramita M Ghosh1,2,3
    1. 1Research Service, VA Northern California Health Care System, Sacramento, California, USA
    2. 2Department of Urology, University of California at Davis, Sacramento, California, USA
    3. 3Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, University of California at Davis, Sacramento, California, USA
    1. Correspondence should be addressed to P M Ghosh; Email: paghosh{at}ucdavis.edu

    My father was a Professor of Physics at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, a world renowned engineering school in Eastern India that has produced many famous scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. Growing up on IIT campus, I felt that the only subjects people studied were either engineering or one of the physical sciences. My mother, who had a degree in nutrition, never worked outside the home – there were no opportunities for individuals with her background. Sure, there were doctors elsewhere in my world – my father’s brother was a pediatrician and both my mother’s brother and her father were surgeons; but in my high school, biological sciences were for those who hated math. To prove that I liked math and was every bit as smart as my classmates, I decided to major in physics. Not at IIT Kharagpur, of course – that would never do – but at Jadavpur University, known for its engineering school and located in nearby Calcutta (now called Kolkata). This was despite the fact that I routinely did best in my biology classes in high school, likely because my mom tutored me in that subject.

    The physics days

    We were required to have two minors; I chose Chemistry and Mathematics. I did reasonably well in my undergraduate classes, finishing towards the top of the class. I learned of Maxwell’s equations and Fourier and Laplace transforms; I labored through quantum mechanics and high energy physics; I stayed up all night trying to understand thermodynamics; yet I have now forgotten most of that material. Later, when my daughter was in high school, I tried to help her with her physics class. Appalled at my lack of knowledge in basic physics, she said ‘Ma, are you sure you studied Physics?’

    In India, a Master’s degree is required in order to …

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