Meet a Volunteer: Payal Maharaj
Author: Shruti Muralidhar
Editor: Laüra Gaitan
Payal was a postdoc at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Vectorborne Disease, Arbovirus Disease Branch for four years. After wrapping up her projects, she moved back to CA early this year to be close to her family right before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.
Her background is in vector borne diseases, specifically, arboviruses. The global health burden of these diseases is quite significant especially in less developed nations. Her broad goal is to alleviate this burden by working towards novel disease and vector control strategies. Most recently, her projects have revolved around investigating virulence and host competence of viruses such as West Nile virus, St. Louis encephalitis virus and Zika virus. She also uses virus genetics to help better understand their evolution, pathogenesis and host competence. Through these projects, she has developed significant molecular and classical virology skills, project and time management, communication and leadership skills. She is very interested in using these skills towards combating COVID-19.
Like everyone else, she followed the COVID-19 pandemic quite closely and grew increasingly concerned with its rapid development and seeming lack of resources to combat it. The global impact of this pandemic is unprecedented and she believes the downstream effects will be felt for the next couple of years at all levels of society. She has been in the field of virology for over ten years and felt a strong need to contribute her skills towards the COVID-19 response in any way. At the moment, she is not affiliated with any institute and research labs are going into hibernation. She started looking for other organizations where her skills could be used. She is happy to have found the National Scientist Volunteer Database. She thinks it is a great idea to bring scientific minds together in order to combat this virus. NSVD seemed to her like the ultimate scientific collaboration for a great cause and signed up immediately. Payal strongly feels that everyone can contribute in some manner towards the resolution of this pandemic and she is happy to do her part.
At the moment, she is a California State Coordinator for NSVD. In this role, she is identifying COVID-19 response-related volunteer opportunities within the community, working with these organizations to understand their volunteer needs and directing volunteers to these opportunities. While she is not using her virology lab skills directly in this role, she is using other transferable skills such as project, people and time management, team work, written and oral communication and computer skills to address the COVID-19 needs of the organizations. Furthermore, her research and analytical skills are extremely useful in searching for appropriate volunteer opportunities. In the future, she wants to be able to use her virology expertise and skills in a lab setting to understand this and other related pathogens better.
Payal is originally from Fiji, and her family moved to California after she completed high school. She attended the University of California, Davis both for undergraduate and graduate education. Following that, she continued to pursue an academic career path and completed three postdoc appointments. As a result, she has lived all over the country in pursuit of her career. It was quite the adventure. Recently, she decided to come back to California to be close to family and settle down here with her husband and kids. Her parents and sister, along with most of her extended family live in CA. They recently lost their family cat, Micki, to cancer but still have one cat, Teega. She is extremely grateful that she decided to move back when she did. It would have been quite terrible to be far away from loved ones during these unprecedented times. As she is a bit of a foodie, she recently started a food blog called Cooking with Mum, which is something she works on in her extra time. She also writes for the ASM Careers blog from time to time.
About the author: Shruti Muralidhar is a Social Media Coordinator at the NSVD. Currently, she works at the Picower Institute at MIT on understanding the role of inhibitory interneurons in learning and memory. She is also the contributing editor and co-founder of an Indian Science Communication collective called IndSciComm, that does scicomm to an Indian audience along with helping Indian and Indian-origin scientists improve their science communication skills. As part of this collective, she writes and helps produce podcasts in multiple Indian languages.
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