It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love, goes the Peace Corps slogan. Same goes for the job of Shoba Ranganathan, a chemical biologist and bioinformaticist who compares her duties to missionary work.
The 46-year-old associate professor at the National University of Singapore is also the vice president of APBioNet, a nonprofit, nongovernmental, international organization that could be considered the Peace Corps of the bioinformatics world.
APBioNet aims to spread the word of bioinformatics in the region, especially in developing countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia, and Pakistan. “We would like to actually provide the benefits of genome research to the … countries by helping the scientist learn about bioinformatics,” Ranganathan says.
She got her start in computational chemistry, but it wasn’t her calling. “I felt that I was actually generating numbers instead of solving problems,” she says. “Although I knew all the techniques — powerful computational techniques — I actually wanted to apply them to solve real problems.”
She soon got more than she bargained for. From running workshops and troubleshooting Internet glitches to fostering scientist collaborations and providing emotional support, Ranganathan has her hands full. Her work at APBioNet, however, is just one part of her responsibilities.
In addition to working with graduate students, she also runs bioinformatics classes for undergraduates. “I’m still a full-time employee of the university,” she says. “I have to work full-time during office hours and everything else has to be pushed to evenings or weekends.”
Despite her grueling daily schedule, Ranganathan drives herself even harder when the answers don’t come easily. “We have to be constantly pushing to keep the frontiers advancing,” she says.
— Jasmin Chua