“Although I didn’t know I wanted to do a PhD as a child, I figured out early on that being good in academics had certain advantages. I had short term goals like getting a good score in exams or going to a good college. I didn’t have any academic exposure while growing up and was the first generation from my family to be going to a school or a college. Therefore, I had to figure out my career path by myself.
To add to it, I didn’t have English as a mode of communication in school or during my Bachelor’s which made it a little difficult when I had to read English textbooks during my Master’s. I remember reading biochemistry books with a dictionary by my side to ensure what I was reading was not the limitation of my understanding of the topic but the language being used. The reference book, Biochemistry by Voet and Voet, which I had to read twice just to understand the basic concepts of chemical bonds and protein structure, eventually helped me grasp the subject and crack the competitive exams.
Coming to a campus like IISc was scary to say the least. Most of the people around me had a good educational background and came from well-educated families. The language barrier was an additional problem; I wasn’t fluent in English or Hindi and felt intimidated around people which kept me isolated for a while. I befriended someone from my region who spoke my language along with good English and Hindi, and was outspoken; she became my support system in the initial days and helped me understand the value of the place I was in.
When I joined Prof. Utpal Nath’s laboratory, I had no research experience and was clueless of the work I wanted to do. But he was an extremely supportive mentor. He was there whenever I was stuck with a problem but at the same time, didn’t spoon-feed me. I had the time and space to learn things on my own and after about 2.5 years, I finally knew what I wanted to work on in my PhD. Having a supportive laboratory environment also helped. I learnt a thing or two just by observing my seniors and juniors. I learnt about giving presentations, how experiments weren’t always about noting down the positive results but also understanding why we arrived at the negative results.
I had the dream of going abroad during my PhD itself but I understood it would have been a disaster had I done so, not…