“(½) I would say I sort of grew up in an academic environment. My grandfather, who was a high school teacher, had a strong influence on me. He had this humongous collection of books which he had read through and through, and whenever my brother and I asked him a question, he used to point us to the corresponding book and we would then read it together. The other influence came from my great-grandmother. She wasn’t educated formally however she was a treasure trove of folk and mythological tales. She had even started a school for girls in Bangalore back then. Growing up, therefore, I developed a knack for learning things.
The interest of doing research, however, only developed after I went for my Bachelor’s. We had an excellent Zoology department in my college which made me love the subject. We were given the freedom of going into the laboratories and doing whatever we felt like. Along with a couple of my friends, I did these small projects of growing earthworms by mixing and matching different kinds of components and seeing what helped them grow the best. Interestingly, only two of our professors had a PhD degree but it didn’t matter. The kind of education they provided us instilled my inclination towards research.
I did formal teaching for a year post my Master’s before enrolling myself into a PhD program. I was a total novice when I started out. On the first day of my PhD, I had a long chat with my supervisor, Prof. Amitabh Joshi where he handed me some research papers to read. I understood nothing in those papers! I remember this particular paper which talked about the height of pupation in Drosophila and I wondered ‘who cares how high the pupae are!’ So my initial feeling was a shock and a disconnect from the kind of research we read in books and the actual process of doing research.
I don’t think I exactly knew what a PhD was about when I got into it. What made my journey easier was my supervisor who was very supportive and we had a basic trust among us. He gave me the freedom of doing Science the way I wanted to. In the very first week, he told me ‘your PhD is your PhD; five years down the line, when someone thinks about this line of research, they should know your name, not mine’. In addition, we had this excellent person in our laboratory, Rajamani, who didn’t have a PhD but was exceptional at handling flies. We had this…