Postdoc Spotlight: Dr. Kanika Khanna, A Master of Varying Skill Sets

March 6, 2023

Kanika Khanna sitting next to textile quilt of a person's face.

From studying cell biology and volunteering for life sciences to making crochet portraits, Dr. Kanika Khanna does it all!

A postdoctoral scholar who moved to the United States from India in 2014, Kanika is conducting her research at the Molecular and Cell Biology Department at UCB. She looks at how bacteria hijack cell components to spread diseases inside the body.

She is trying to understand what type of structures and functions allow these bacterial pathogens to take hold of the cell machinery. A connecting aim of her research is to learn how these bacteria are spreading from one cell to another. 

Kanika is an enthusiast about open science initiatives and science communication. She is currently volunteering at the ASAPbio, a nonprofit promoting innovation in life science communication. In her role as a volunteer and a fellow, she supports the use of preprints in life science. These preprints allow early sharing of research results to advance science quickly and more efficiently.

Starting her journey as a Ph.D. candidate in the U.S. and eventually continuing her research at UC Berkeley, Kanika has come a long way in her career. One of her biggest achievements scientifically has been to visualize the different cell division machinery which is otherwise not visible without microscopy techniques. “A more general achievement is being able to not just look at the data, but see through the data,” she added.

Nonetheless, this journey did not take place without its fair share of challenges. Like many others, the pandemic took a toll on Kanika’s life, both personally and professionally. It shook her confidence in terms of not being certain about the direction of her research. So she utilized this time to engage in other aspects of her life, finding her passion for hobbies like yoga and crocheting. She has made two life-sized crochet portraits from scratch. The first is a portrait of Kamala Sohonie, the first Indian woman to receive a Ph.D. in a scientific discipline. The second one portrays Janaki Ammal, India’s first woman botanist and the first woman in America to earn a Ph.D. in Botany. 

In the end, Kanika came out of the pandemic stronger, with more refined skills and a stronger spirit. “Nothing is the end of the world, you go from one position to the next,” said Dr. Khanna.