Ritu Kumar, PhD (she/her), is the director of the Stem Cell Core at Gladstone Institutes. Kumar received her PhD in India, where she’s originally from, before she moved to New York City to pursue a postdoc in the field of stem cell research. After living and working in New York City for 18 years, she joined Gladstone Institutes in the summer of 2021.
The idea and the excitement of being part of the fascinating and cutting-edge science is what really brought me to Gladstone. I saw this as an opportunity to evolve as a stem cell biologist. I had been following the work of several scientists at Gladstone for many years, and I found the idea of working and collaborating with them to be very motivating.
Apart from the extraordinary science that is going on, I enjoy the collaborative and supportive work environment. Gladstone has a culture of compassion. Here you know that somebody will always have your back, no matter what.
I was very much interested in science as a child. In school, biology and physics were my favorite subjects, and they still are. Science was effortless for me, and I was lucky to have good teachers and mentors who really taught me science.
For me, graduate school was the only thing that I wanted to do. Nothing else ever crossed my mind. It was like karma.
As the director of the Stem Cell Core, my team currently works on several projects in collaboration with various investigators at Gladstone. For example, we aim to understand the function of specific genes in heart development. We’re working on modifying the expression of these genes through gene editing technology to eventually understand their functions during various developmental processes.
While science is challenging, it is never boring. Working in science keeps me always curious, and that is why I enjoy working in science.
Mostly I’m reading and spending time with family and friends, and sometimes cooking. The Bay Area is very nice, so I enjoy going places and taking small walks.
A big part of science is about presenting your work in an effective way, and sometimes that involves presenting to a non-scientist audience. I feel that I’m not too good at that, and would like to learn how to improve my presentation skills.
Not losing hope when times are tough, and believing in my abilities and tenacity. There is always a way, you just have to be resilient.
The scientist I really wanted to meet is Shinya Yamanaka. Luckily, he is an investigator at Gladstone, and so my dream has already come true. This was actually one of the reasons I joined Gladstone.
There are many women who have influenced me in my life and my career, and those are not big names—these are my friends, women in my family, and my women colleagues. These women in my life have taught me how to be self-reliant. Many women colleagues all throughout my career have been my mentors.
Obviously, I'd like to see more representation of women in STEM, particularly in the fields of engineering and computer science. I’d also like to see more women in senior leadership positions. Most importantly, I’d like to see changes in sociocultural norms that inhibit women from pursuing STEM education and careers.