“I began my career as a dentist. It was during my BDS that I came across the topic of regenerative dentistry which kindled the interest of doing research in me. To my surprise, I found out that regenerative dentistry wasn’t taught or researched upon actively in India. That I think furthered my motivation to not confine myself to the clinic but to do something different, something novel which a PhD could offer. It was way back in 2010, and switching from medical sciences to academics was quite stringent and difficult. Starting a PhD in India required a Master’s degree, as opposed to a postgraduate diploma which I had. I also didn’t have much idea about the CSIR examinations and the kind of experimental techniques that a PhD in my desired field needed. So it came to a halt for me in 2013 when I got married and eventually had a kid.
It was only in 2017 when my family and friends persuaded me to follow my dream of doing a PhD. In order to gain experience in cell culture techniques, I enrolled myself for a Master’s in Mount Carmel College, Bangalore. Those two years were quite knowledge enriching for me. During this period, I learnt a number of new things and also went to do an internship where we developed a product that could be built into a startup. We pitched our idea at Elevate 100 and I won that. It gave an immense boost to my confidence and also helped me build my CV for a PhD.
I was however hesitant to appear for entrance examinations because I had been out of touch with studies for a long time but one of the professors at Manipal pushed me to write it and I luckily qualified. My PhD work investigates the applications of 3D bioprinted materials in peripheral nerve injury. Initially when I joined, I underestimated myself and felt I wouldn’t be able to pick up the scientific nuances; western blot and qPCR seemed like a trauma to me. But over time, when things started working in my hands, I was able to garner that self-confidence. PhD gave me more than what I had expected. All those years of trying, approaching professors, doing internships finally paid off! Moreover, my family was immensely supportive of my decision. They have been taking care of my kids, while I peacefully do my PhD. I don’t think I would have been at this position without their undying support.
But having talked about support, I seriously think, the academic rules and regulations aren’t always conducive to people of my age. There’s an age barrier for writing certain exams, applying for grants and whatnot. In this era, I think such discrimination shouldn’t exist. Learning shouldn’t be restricted based on age. So for those who are bold or perhaps crazy enough to venture into a PhD at a later stage in life, I would advise you to talk to as many people as you can, who have been in your shoes, learn from their mistakes, and then go on to make new mistakes.”
-Nasera Rizwana, PhD in Tissue Engineering, Manipal Institute of Regenerative Medicine, Bangalore
Interviewed and written by Payel Das and Aniruddha Mukherjee