Chemistry Graduate Student Sorin Srinivasa describes their research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.
Sorin Srinivasa is a first-year graduate student who comes to MIT from College Station, Texas, which is located 2-3 hours from Houston, Dallas, and Austin. As a member of the Drennan and Shoulders labs, Sorin studies structural biochemistry of collagen assemblies using X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy. Collagen is the most abundant protein in animals and the second most abundant protein in the world, and though its folding and assembly is essential for human health, the mechanisms by which the 28 types of collagen fold and the ways that this folding mediates health responses are still poorly understood. Sorin specifically works on characterizing the assembly of the C-propeptide domain of type 1 collagen, which templates assembly of the triple helical domain. Assembly of the C-propeptide domain is mediated by a variety of factors, and mutations in it can cause bone diseases; they are applying structural biology techniques to interrogate the mechanisms behind its biologically relevant assembly.
As the subject of this month’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Sorin shares the random job they think they’d be really good at, the subject they have only recently formed an opinion about, their ideal way to spend a weekend, and more!
- What random job do you think you’d be really good at?
Coffee shop barista. There is some part of me that has long wanted to and still does want to do this.
- What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
Owls, definitely. Or possibly piano tuning, I’ve never done it myself but I know a lot about it.
- What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?
Exploring a new city, stopping by some quaint coffee shops and bookstores, trying street food, and finally walking under the skyline at night, followed by a cozy resting day.
- What are the best and worst purchases you’ve ever made?
My best purchase has to be my Instant Pot – I use it almost every day to cook something, and it especially helps in my tiny Cambridge kitchen. The worst purchase I made recently is a somewhat non-functional wireless charging pad for my phone. It only works when I put the phone on it at exactly one specific angle and if I so much as nudge something else on the table it stops charging, so I never use it.
- Who has impressed you most with what they’ve accomplished?
My labmates, both past and current.
- What animal or plant do you think should be renamed, and what should the new name be?
All those plants with the word “wort” in their name – lungwort, bloodwort, water dropwort, etc. Something about the word “wort” doesn’t conjure up great images for me.
- What problem or situation did TV / movies make you think would be common, but when you grew up you found out it wasn’t?
Slipping on a banana peel when walking on the sidewalk. This has never happened to me or anyone I know but I definitely used to think it happened frequently if you weren’t careful.
- Why did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
One of my favorite hobbies when I was younger was origami, and I have always found it very fascinating that a single sheet of paper can be folded into such an array of complex structures. Later when I learned about protein folding I was really struck by how similar it was in this regard, and immediately was interested in learning more about protein structure. Since then I’ve learned much more about it and developed a strong passion for protein structure research.
- What are your top three favorite movies?
In no particular order, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Hotel Del Luna (which might not count because it’s a TV series, but close enough), Howl’s Moving Castle.
- What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
Anything involving time travel (the physics of that notwithstanding) – it might be pleasant or it might not, but it would definitely be amazing. More realistically, a food tour of Southeast Asia.
- Who is on the guest list for your ideal dinner party?
A group of all of the most influential mentor figures in my life, from childhood through undergrad up until now in grad school.
- Who’s your go to band or artist when you can’t decide on something to listen to?
Not a specific artist, but there are two playlists that I have made that I tend to go to when I don’t know what to listen to. One of them is a Japanese 1980s city pop playlist and the other one is mostly Romantic-era piano and chamber music, so it really depends on what kind of mood I am in which one I would prefer.
- If you had unlimited funds to build a house that you would live in for the rest of your life, what would the finished house be like?
A completely self-sustaining house on a quiet street just steps away from a bustling part of the city, with lots of natural light, large windows, lots of plants (including a vegetable and fruit garden), plenty of art on all the walls, and (especially important for me) an ultra-well-appointed kitchen.
- What bends your mind every time you think about it?
The immune system. So many different pathways working all at once to keep us alive!
- What was one of the most interesting concerts you’ve been to?
I went to a piano recital on a barge in the East River in New York City a few years ago. The setting with the Manhattan skyline in the background along with the gentle movement of the barge with the river was really unique and captivating. The only issue was that it was right near the ferry stop, so you could hear the horns of the ferries arriving and departing.
- What hobby would you get into if time and money weren’t an issue?
A difficult question because there are far too many, but maybe ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) or wood carving.
- If you could pick any career other than the one you’ve chosen, what would it be?
I really enjoy baking, so I’ve thought that if I didn’t do science full time I would like to open a science-themed bakery.
- What skill would you like to master?
There are a lot of them, but I feel like the skill of effectively engaging people in conversation and when presenting is something I need to work on. One could call this a general measure of charisma, I guess.
- What have you only recently formed an opinion about?
Which kinds of alternative milk are best in different applications – oat milk is best in coffee, almond milk is best in oatmeal and chai, soy milk is best in cereal, etc.
- What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from a work of fiction?
Kiki’s Delivery Service taught me how to let assertiveness and self-empowerment coexist with emotional vulnerability and the ability to lean on others for help and support.
Many thanks to Sorin for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!