“The journeys of Kalpana Chawla and Kiran Majumdar, in my early childhood, helped me develop an interest in science. I was an average student by convention, but keener to learn practical things. Biotechnology interested me, because of Kiran, but I was convinced early in life that I did not want to work on the core subject, but probably venture more into the applied sciences, in biotechnology firms.
But when I got exposed to the computational training, around this same time, it piqued my interest. I loved how logical and reproducible it was. In order to learn more about it, I enrolled myself in an evening programming course offered at that time by NIIT. I looked forward to attending these classes and doing coding, that’s how much invested I was. I might have been a late bloomer, but eventually I found my calling in bioinformatics and stuck to it ever since.
I joined a Master’s program driven solely by the course content. PhD was a natural transition following that. While applying abroad, I parallelly started working as a trainee with Prof. B. Jayaram at IIT Delhi, which was my first proper stint in computational biology research. I was mesmerized by how I could align a human and a cow protein, something that didn’t excite. people peripheral to me. Nonetheless, I didn’t sway away from my motivation or get influenced by opinions about myself or my interests. The idea for me was to choose something that appealed to me and I knew if I did that I would naturally progress.
Back then, everyone I knew suggested that I do a PhD in the US, but I chose to do it in Germany. I had a good start to my PhD, but there were some days when I didn’t work at all, and then there were others where I worked until 6 am the next morning. Ironically, this was one of the happy highs for me during this journey. To think of it now, it was a severe work-life imbalance, but I realized these high focus modes and set myself in momentum to make the most out of my time. PhD in Heidelberg taught me to be independent. I would like to tell people out there that enjoying both your personal and professional life yourself is an important characteristic to move forward in your PhD.
Obviously, my journey wasn’t a smooth ride all along. The initial years were difficult. Also, as an immigrant doing a PhD, I wasn’t in my comfort zone…