“My academic journey has been nothing short of cosmopolitan. I’ve had the opportunity to study in various parts of India – from Kolkata to Bangalore, Allahabad, and finally, Pune, where I completed my PhD. Despite the challenges of moving around so much, I consider myself lucky to have had the chance to experience different cultures and academic environments each of these places had to offer.
Of all the places I studied, Allahabad was particularly memorable. The lack of distractions there allowed me to focus solely on my studies, which eventually paid off when I became the first person from my university to qualify for PhD admission at IISER Pune. My interview there was a warm and welcoming experience. The interviewers asked me about concepts rather than just memorized facts, which made me feel valued and respected as a candidate. Their kindness and encouragement inspired me to choose IISER Pune over other institutes that had offered me admission.
It was my childhood curiosity and penchant for asking questions that led me to pursue a PhD. When I stumbled upon a project involving a completely new protein with no known functions in a plant biology laboratory, I was immediately intrigued, despite having little prior knowledge of plants.
It turned out to be quite challenging for me, especially in my initial years. Adjusting to a new environment and learning from scratch was difficult, and setbacks along the way made me feel frustrated and impatient. However, I was fortunate to have a supportive supervisor who believed in me and encouraged me to keep going. As a member of a plant biology laboratory, the COVID-19 pandemic presented additional challenges. Maintaining our plants requires on-site attention, and unfortunately, I was unable to be physically present to care for my cultures. I had to go home when the lockdown was imposed with no concrete data in hand, and later found out that many of my cultures were lost. It was a huge mental blow, but with the help of my peers and seniors, I was able to pick myself up and re-focus my efforts on writing down my experiments for future publication.
Nevertheless, I persevered and eventually had a breakthrough moment, when my experiment worked and I visualized my protein for the first time! It was a thrilling experience and it gave me renewed confidence in my project and my abilities. Throughout my PhD journey, I learned the importance of patience, planning ahead, and being persistent in the face of challenges. I also developed a newfound love for plants and plant biology. Overall, my academic journey has been a rewarding one, and I look forward to continuing my work in this field.”
-Shirsa Palit, PhD in Plant Developmental Biology, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune
Interviewed and written by Payel Das