Professor Reeta Rao Appointed Associate Dean of Graduate Studies
Reeta Rao, professor of biology and biotechnology, was recently appointed Associate Dean of Graduate Studies.
In this new role, Rao will focus on developing graduate curriculum and professional programs.
“As associate dean, my long-term goal is to listen, learn, and support every graduate program at WPI so it can become as distinctive as it can be and provide our grad students with the best learning environment,” Rao says.
“An immediate task I am working on, in close collaboration with the Committee on Graduate Studies and Research (CGSR) and the Outcomes Assessment Committee (OAC), is to develop graduate outcomes. These outcomes are not only required for accreditation but will also serve as an internal assessment of student success.”
Rao says she has seen tremendous growth in graduate studies at WPI, and is excited to be part of the university team. “Specifically, I am looking forward to developing distinctive graduate programs and continuing to make our existing programs more robust.
“I will listen to and learn from all graduate coordinators about things that work well at the departmental level and consider institutionalizing these successful practices.”
Deeply engaged in the global health and pre-health programs at WPI, Rao has been training students and research associates in her laboratory to use a variety of biochemical, molecular-genetic, and genomic tools that help them study host-microbe interactions, leading to the identification of novel therapeutics.
“My career path has been straight and narrow—BS, MS (dual), PhD, postdoc, primary investigator,” she says. “I love teaching and mentoring; it’s the best part of my job. Mentoring is really about helping students plan the rest of their professional lives—helping them figure out who they are, what they want to do, and how to get there. I've been lucky to have been surrounded by positive role models and mentors throughout my own professional career. Now I have the opportunity to pay it forward.”
Rao’s primary research is on emerging infectious diseases, with a focus on the understanding and management of fungal diseases.
She says that being an academic scientist is what she always wanted to do. “Growing up, my mother, a doctor, would share stories from work,” she says. “I would press on with questions to understand ‘whodunit’ much like a private investigator. She told me that I was more curious about the cause of the patient ailment while she was focused on making her patient recover and feel better.”
Committed to the career and professional development of scientists, Rao four years ago spearheaded a workforce development opportunity at WPI to keep researchers engaged in science. Known as the “Next-in-Bio” career expo and research symposium, the event is aimed at recruiting graduate students and improving critical skills, knowledge, and resources required for academia and industry.
Rao says the goal of the Next-in-Bio event is to encourage undergraduate students to look at options for graduate school and post-graduation career paths. The symposium brings two ideas together, creating a marketplace for students to meet other students, and show alumni how WPI is investing in research and science, while also drawing recruiters to campus.
The only such event of its kind in Eastern Massachusetts, the event has doubled in size since its inception, Rao says, attracting students from nine other area institutions. Rao has been involved with graduate studies since joining WPI, first as a member and then the chair of graduate programs of Biology and Biotechnology in 2011. She was elected to a three-year term on the Committee on Graduate Studies and Research, which she co-chaired last year. She has been involved in course development and helped revise the PhD requirements in biology and biotechnology in 2014.
“At the master’s level, I championed a skill-based blended master’s degree program designed to provide advanced coursework and laboratory techniques applicable to the biotechnology industry,” she says. “This innovative program was recently voted as second best in the country.
Rao champions a skill-based master’s degree program designed to provide advanced coursework and laboratory techniques applicable to the biotechnology industry, recently recognized among the top two online degree programs in the country.
She is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and a recipient of the Waksman Outstanding Teacher Award from the Society of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology. She is a member of several professional societies, including the American Society for Microbiology, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Medical Mycology Society of the Americas, The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TIE), International Society for Human and Animal Mycology, National Association of Inventors, Genetics Society of America, and the Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology. She also serves as an academic editor for the PLOS journals, a peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS).
A leader in the field of molecular genetics and genomics, Rao has affiliate appointments at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the Institute for Drug Resistance at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.
-By Paula Owen