Ashwin Kelkar ’16 loves research so much that he doesn’t mind its high rate of failure. But when success occurs, the biochemistry major said, the experience is that much more rewarding.
“I’d say 99 out of 100 experiments will either fail or come back with strange results,” Ashwin said. “The key is to constantly be looking at these results in a different light.”
Research first intrigued Ashwin when he was 16 and attending Syosset High School, which provided him with the opportunity to seek out a research institute in a laboratory setting. He wound up conducting research at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research at North Shore-LIJ Health System, one of the largest integrated health systems in the United States.
The Stony Brook Honors College student said his mentor at Feinstein, scientist Peder Olofsson, stressed that it is not getting the results, but how you interpret them, that makes a good scientist.
“You need to analyze your data from every angle to truly understand what it is you’ve observed,” Ashwin said.
While in high school, Ashwin had his sights set on being a physician and treating patients. That ambition was reinforced by joining a volunteer medical mission to Haiti in 2013. During the five days he was there, he and roughly 20 fellow students stayed in an orphanage and set up a triage in a neighboring town. Ashwin worked in the pharmacy, packaging and handing out medicine to many of the 1,000 people the doctors examined, interacting with and learning about their culture.
Ashwin made the difficult decision to switch career paths after he began his research in Dr. Yusuf Hannun’s Lab at Stony Brook University.
“Through research, I fell in love with the scientific process,” Ashwin said. “I loved that I was learning things that no one else knew. Being put in such an interactive learning environment showed me how much fun research could be.”
The research that Ashwin conducted in the Hannun Lab focuses on sphingolipids — a special class of lipids — and their role in cancer, specifically, how they can activate a protein called ezrin, which can “cause huge problems for those who already have cancer,” Ashwin said. “When ezrin is activated, metastasis is enhanced.”
Ashwin is well aware that in the field of research, publication is the main goal of any scientist.
The young biochemist is uniquely positioned to fulfill that goal, having served as the managing editor for the past two years of Young Investigators Review, the undergraduate-oriented student journal that provides readers with a way to keep up with the latest in faculty and student research.
And it is through his research that Ashwin aspires to help the greatest number of people.
“Medicine, while extremely impactful, is limiting in the sense that the number of people you help is determined by your proximity to them,” Ashwin said. “Research, on the other hand, has a much wider scope and can change the outcome for a vast number of people around the world.”
— Glenn Jochum