A pair of postdoctoral associates have traveled similar paths from Asia to the United States to different research labs at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC in Roanoke. The next stop in their journey, however, will bring them together.

Xuansong Mao and Karthi Sreedevi have been selected to participate in Virginia Tech's first Research and Innovation Postdoctoral Scholar program.

The cohort of six, chosen from the larger community of more than 200 postdocs, will join the incoming Presidential Postdoctoral Fellows in a yearlong, community-building experience geared toward building valuable skills, networking with industry partners, and making a positive impact.

After leaving China and receiving a doctoral degree at the University of Missouri, Mao joined the lab of Zhen Yan, director of the Center for Exercise Medicine Research at the institute. Mao believes the postdoctoral program will help him learn new skills and gain professional insight alongside researchers who share a common goal.

“Not only does this program allow for personal and professional growth, but it provides a space for each postdoc to serve the betterment of the group through our own experiences and skill sets,” Mao said. “A helpful reciprocity is critical for trainees and set Virginia Tech apart when I was searching for a postdoc position.”

Drawing from his experience as a standout track athlete in China, Mao began exploring the effect of creatine supplementation on the brain while at Missouri. That made him an ideal candidate for Yan’s lab.

“I was actually invited to serve on Mao’s dissertation committee during his time at Missouri, so I saw his research quality, his dedication, and his training expertise firsthand,” said Yan, who also serves as a professor with the institute and in Virginia Tech’s Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise. “This program is a tremendous opportunity for him to put one foot in front of the other and find the next step toward accomplishing his goal of becoming a principal investigator in exercise science.”

Scholars in the program will attend professional development workshops ranging from grant writing to science communication to leadership and management training, all of which hit home for Karthi Sreedevi.

“This program checked all of the boxes,” Sreedevi said. “To start this program early on in my postdoctoral journey with exposure to peer review, grant-writing workshops, and networking opportunities – it’s simply all I could have hoped for.”

A mother of two young children, Sreedevi moved her family from India to the U.S. to make a difference. Her goal is to one day be an internationally known principal investigator in cardiac glycobiology and translate her findings into clinical care for cardiovascular patients. She is currently mentoring 10 undergraduates in the research institute’s center for vascular and heart research in Junco Warren’s lab.

“This program means a lot to Sreedevi and demonstrates to me that she’s excited and motived to find new strategies to take care of heart failure, which remains the leading cause of death worldwide” said Warren, an assistant professor at the institute. “I really admire her as a researcher and as a mother. She’s an excellent postdoc.”

“We’re trying to build a cohort of postdocs that are going through this together,” said Chris Smith, postdoctoral affairs program administrator in the Office of Research and Innovation at Virginia Tech. “Our goal is to facilitate engagement with professional resources that can help these bright minds launch successful careers in academia.”

In addition to the skills training and networking opportunities, each trainee will receive $2,000 in professional development funds during the 12-month program.

The new initiative is sponsored by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs in the Office of Research and Innovation.

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