Global Student Spotlight: Mukti Chowkwale


Global Student Spotlight: Mukti Chowkwale

PhD Candidate and International Student Advises to Embrace Vulnerability
Mukti Chowkwale headshot
Mukti Chowkwale

hD candidate and international student Mukti Chowkwale talks with us about her research in Biomedical Engineering, her advocacy for international students and DEI at UVA, and advice for new international students.

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey from India to UVA?

Chowkwale: I moved from India to the US in 2017, to start a masters program in Biomedical Engineering at SUNY Binghamton. My research there focused on computational modeling of cell-cell interactions, which eventually got me interested in intracellular signaling models. This is how I found out about Jeff Saucerman's research group at UVA, where they made intracellular signaling models of cells in the heart. I then decided to apply to the Biomedical Engineering (BME) PhD program at UVA. Fortunately, I got into the program and moved to Charlottesville!


You’re in the process of finishing up your dissertation research in Biomedical Engineering. Can you tell us about your research?

Chowkwale: As part of my research, I develop mathematical and computational models of inter- and intra-cellular interactions in the heart. These models help me study how interactions within and between cells change after a heart attack, and how this can lead to harmful outcomes. One of my projects looks at communication between cardiac cells and immune cells, and predicts mechanisms of how they control one another. Another project aims to discover different mechanisms inside a cell that cause increased cell division, which can be bad after a heart attack. Lastly, another project models differences between male and female cardiac cells, and aims to understand how communication is different between the two cell types.


How did you get interested in your field of study?

Chowkwale: Growing up, I had always been interested in biology and medicine. However, life led me to pursuing a bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering. I knew that I wanted to combine my passion for biology and medicine with my engineering skill set, which led me to pursue degrees in BME. I really love learning about how things work, and this made me want to do research in BME!

PhD candidate Mukti Chowkwale sits behind a microscope in a biomedical engineering lab

You also represent international students in the Graduate Biomedical Engineering Society. What draws you to this work and what are your upcoming goals?

Chowkwale: I've represented international students in the Graduate Biomedical Engineering Society, and the Graduate Engineering Student Council. I got interested in this work because I was looking for community and resources for international students.

I found that these existed to some extent, but I wanted more for myself and for other students. I also felt like international students' needs can be a part of many different outreach programs, but this doesn't necessarily happen. Hence, I wanted to be an advocate for the unique needs of international students.

For now, I'm taking a step back from exclusive international student advocacy and am a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) co-chair in the Graduate Biomedical Engineering Society. My hope is that I can help create space for international students under this umbrella.


What is a piece of advice you would give a new international student at UVA?

Chowkwale: Firstly, find community. It might not necessarily be people from your home country, but it can be people that relate to your different identities and interests. This will help make a home away from home, and you will learn so much about different cultures, backgrounds, and life experiences.

Second, embrace vulnerability. We moved away from what we knew as home for growth and opportunities. Along with career-related growth and opportunities, living in a new country has so many things we can experience and learn from only if we embrace vulnerability.


What are your next steps after UVA?

Chowkwale: I'm hoping to run my own lab eventually, so I'm looking for postdoctoral positions! Everything else is a future Mukti problem.