“Except mathematics, which I was terrible at, I loved both sciences and social sciences in school. I had no idea what to choose as a career path until Standard X when I got a new physics teacher who changed my life. The way he taught us the concepts and encouraged us to ask questions, no matter how silly they were, made me fall in love with physics. Under his guidance, I even had the chance to make a prototype of a battery using salt water and two pieces of metal, and I lit a bulb with it. Today I know it wasn’t something pathbreaking, but as a kid back then, I couldn’t be more excited. It eventually paved my way towards doing Science. and a PhD.
I currently work on an active matter system where I am trying to model a biological phenomenon called CIL in cancer cells using statistical mechanics. I initially found astrophysics fascinating and wanted to do research around that field. I even purchased a telescope! But when I went for an internship on the same during my Master’s, I found it quite boring.
On the other hand, my short stint at ICTS where I worked on biophysics and cell biology made me more inclined towards that topic. I thought being able to model several possibilities of what might be going on inside a tumor cell was pretty cool and I wanted to pursue that further. My interest was strengthened by listening to this talk by the Director of Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium where he mentioned about the optics of animal eye. That camaraderie between physics and biology, which he talked about, eventually led me to choose a topic which celebrated those two vastly different fields.
Just like most others, my PhD has been a roller coaster ride too. Although my supervisor appreciates when I succeed in solving a problem, and then goes on to give me more to solve, at the same time, when I am stuck, he tends to believe I am not working hard enough and need to put in more thought. Initially, I struggled a lot because I had just shifted to a new domain and it took me a considerable amount of time to learn things. There were sleepless nights when I questioned myself if choosing to do a PhD was the best decision for me. I often thought about the job offer that I rejected before enrolling for a PhD, which made my parents quite upset. I had to fight a lot with them so as to be able to do a PhD.
Additionally, I only have one senior in my group, who joined only a few months before me and since our seating areas are different, we hardly have any interaction, unless I am facing some technical problem and need his help. So it gets a bit lonely at times. Thus, to keep myself busy now, I would often sit with my telescope looking at the stars or perhaps write jokes or two and post it over whatsapp or as quotes on social media.”
-Ravitheja Kandalam, PhD in Theoretical Physics, SRM University, Andhra Pradesh
Interviewed and written by Payel Das