ISM Stories

Aparaajita Balaji, ISM Alum, Succeeds in Defending her Yale Thesis and Earns her Ph.D.

Aparaajita Balaji has always had a passion for Biology. What started as AP Bio courses at ISM have now turned into a full Yale University Ph.D. dissertation highlighting the role of RNA in antibiotic discovery and gene therapy. Last Friday, Aparaajita officially added the prefix “Dr.” to her name.

Dr. Balaji’s strong academic roots were nurtured by SABIS® schools from an early age: The 2014 ISM graduate began her educational journey in preschool at a SABIS® school in Dubai before transferring to ISM her Kindergarten year.

Reflecting upon her time as a student here, she says, “I loved Biology so much that I actually wrote my college entrance essay about a Biology lab I took in high school and how that specific lab sparked my love of Biology.” She says her love for the subject combined with educational achievement due to “growing up with the strong science foundation that ISM gave.

Although she holds science close to her heart, that’s not the only thing Aparaajita learned to love at ISM. She notes that “the best thing about being a student at ISM is that I was given the ability to not only join science-based extracurriculars, but was able to learn leadership skills though Student Life Organization (SLO) and apply those skills to the clubs I was a part of in high
school and beyond.

During her time at ISM she was on the Math team for seven years, Robotics for four, and active in both the National Honors Society and SLO. One of her teachers, Sarah Bianucci, says “she was known as a diligent student who was a quiet leader. She was an impactful part of ISM’s Robotics team and had her sights set on a future in the math and sciences. Her rooted
foundation in ISM boosted her for huge success in her post secondary studies and career.”

Aparaajita and her lab mates at Yale

The skills gained from those experiences propelled Aparaajita forward in her studies at Yale where she “was able to create a Biotech club for graduate students.” She notes that “ISM played a big role in giving the leadership skills to accomplish that.”

“It’s funny,” she reminisces, “Originally, the Biotech club was actually the Yale Student Business Society! I realized that there were way more graduate students from biotechnology in the club, so we began to create our own iteration of the club to help introduce cross-sector students to other fields that may be interesting to them (such as biotech to business students and vice versa).” That realization revitalized the club in many ways: “the club now hosts Science Career Fairs where over 50 sponsors come in and talk about their own businesses and how students could be a fit in their industry.” They also raised $70,000 for college fairs to reach other talented undergraduates.

She also has some advice for students at ISM: “First and foremost, start early. If you have the ability, take all of the science courses you can and really build out that strong STEM foundation in high school. Join a club that has a focus on the field you're interested in, and if there isn’t one, start one yourself!”

Aparaajita’s doctoral research into the role ribonucleic acid can play both in antibiotic discovery and gene therapy spans several biology sub-disciplines, which means she will graduate with a Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. She hopes to continue navigating the fast-changing world of biotech post-graduation. Doing so means continuing to take the initiative and learning more each day, qualities she exemplified as a student here at ISM.

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