Q&A with graduate student Mustika Rahmawati

Mustika Rahmawati, a graduate student in Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, works in her lab on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, in Pullman. (College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

Graduate student Mustika Rahmawati hopes her research will one day help scientists and clinicians in the fertility field better diagnose and prevent male infertility. Mustika is pursuing a PhD in Molecular Biosciences under the mentorship of Dr. Nathan Law, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences and associate faculty in the School of Molecular Biosciences. Dr. Law’s research program focuses on male germline developmental, including formation of germline stem cells, gametogenesis, and inheritance through the germline.

Mustika recently took some time to answer questions about her research and experiences at WSU.

What are you researching at WSU?

I am studying critical factors for male fertility to identify markers for male infertility diagnosis with developmental origins. Infertility is a global health issue, with males contributing roughly half the overall cases. Unfortunately, many instances of male infertility remain undiagnosed until adulthood, and it is often associated with unexplained causes. This creates a challenge because the inability to maintain male fertility may be predetermined. My research aims to shed light on factors that regulate the establishment and maintenance of the male germline during prepuberty. Ultimately, our study aims to help scientists and clinicians in the fertility field improve the diagnosis and prevention of male infertility through the identification of critical factors in male germline development.

Why did you decide to complete your doctorate at WSU?

During my undergraduate years, I majored in chemistry but joined a biochemistry research lab where my focus was on investigating protein-protein interactions within bacteria. This experience allowed me to bridge disciplines and unveiled my passion for interdisciplinary research. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I had the valuable opportunity to work at InBios International, an immunodiagnostic biotech company. As a research and development research associate, I developed Rapid and ELISA diagnostic tests for various infectious diseases, including Dengue fever, Zika virus, Norovirus, and Sars-Cov2 virus. Collaborating with many accomplished scientists at InBios International and the Department of Defense medical research, I gained many skills and knowledge, and this exposed me to the diversity of life science research. The products we developed underwent rigorous studies to secure FDA clearance, giving me some exposure to regulatory work that also significantly piqued my interest. After a few years in this dynamic environment, I realized I wanted to expand my scientific knowledge and explore diverse research topics, particularly those with a human health emphasis. As a result, I decided to join the PhD program in the School of Molecular Biosciences, where I could explore a broad array of research topics before landing on my thesis home.

What has been your favorite thing about WSU?

The community and Ferdinand’s! WSU takes immense pride in fostering a strong community spirit. Given the small-town setting of Pullman, Cougs heavily depend on this community, and Ferdinand’s plays a significant role in uniting us through the simple joys of ice cream and cheese!

What about WSU has surprised you the most?

At first, the hills! Because of them, I will have cougar calves by the end of graduate school. Over time, I was surprised that we have a diverse range of research topics and collaborative spaces available at WSU, particularly within the College of Veterinary Medicine. WSU and CVM are dedicated to fostering an environment where everyone is supported in their work, which collectively contributes to a common goal of advancing human health and enhancing animal welfare.

How has your mentor helped you?

Since I started graduate school, my goal has been to return as a scientist in the biotech industry. With that goal in mind, my mentor has played a pivotal role in shaping my projects to align with my long-term goals. Beyond professional guidance, my mentor has been a big advocate for cultivating a healthy life-work balance, which I used to struggle with. I am fortunate to have such a supportive mentor who not only supports my professional development but also promotes my well-being.

What do you hope to do after graduate school?

Pluripotent stem cells and regenerative medicine have always fascinated me. I want to become a clinical research scientist who navigates both the scientific intricacies and the regulatory aspects of human clinical trials.