“More than money, you need curiosity to do good science: that was the motto of our laboratory. My PhD primarily focused on behavioral aspects of an ant species that steals the young from other colonies of the same species, and while doing so, has the ability to run as fast as a cheetah. Automated tracking of the movement of these ants required expensive software which we did not feel the need to buy. Instead, we divided the arena into grids to track their movements manually, and it worked perfectly fine!
I did not however envision myself doing a PhD when I was growing up. We have a small family-run business started by my grandfather and I did not get the adequate academic exposure early in life to see research as a career option. To date, although my parents are supportive of my choice, they don’t understand the concept of PhD as such. They still ask me questions like when my exam is or when I am going to the classes.
After school, I enrolled myself into Bachelor’s in Microbiology because it was a new and upcoming field and had good job prospects in the future. However, I later realized that the course curriculum was quite restrictive and did not delve into other areas of biology, especially ecology and evolution. Luckily, I got the opportunity to explore further during my integrated MS-PhD program at IISER Kolkata. Initially, I joined a biochemistry laboratory for my Master’s dissertation, but soon I felt that the work was repetitive and mechanical and there was less opportunity to flex your thinking muscles. I understood it was not something I would want to do for a longer duration. During my coursework however, I also did a short project in this laboratory working on ants, which I found to be fascinating. I guess that was my true calling. So without much of a second thought, I decided to do my PhD on behavioural ecology, studying ants.
My supervisor was extremely supportive and gave each one of us the freedom to choose our topics of interest. She was always there to guide us and by the time I finished my PhD, she became like a friend to me. I spent most of my PhD life inside the laboratory, but it wasn’t always for work. We had a nice camaraderie in our laboratory and the credit goes to my supervisor and friendly colleagues. We worked during the day and helped each other with our work; and in the evenings we used to play board games or watch movies…