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Face to Face with Dr. Senthil Arumugam

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As a part of SciWri’s effort to interview young academicians, scientists, PhDs beyond academia, entrepreneurs, and social scientists to understand their career paths, their interests, and their vision, we interviewed Dr. Senthil Arumugam (SA), group leader at the Single Molecule Science Node of the University of New South Wales, Australia. Senthil talks about his passion for Biology and his journey from being wanting to become an astronaut to his present obsession with single molecules. 

 AG: How do you describe yourself to others?

(Senthil) SA: I am a microscopist-biologist who enjoys learning the best techniques and applying them to real world biological questions. Throughout my formal education, I have either built or applied specialist microscopy techniques to problems ranging from neuroscience, bacterial biology or eukaryotic biology, during which, I also learned about the length and breadth of interesting biological problems.

AG: Where and how exactly your academic journey started?

SA: I think I was always interested in science. I do not remember when I started liking science, but I do remember wanting to be an astronaut. It stemmed from breaking my father’s old Russian cameras for the lenses in it, and made a telescope to explore space. That made me curious about what is out there, who we are, what is life. I think this is where I got interested in science and learning about things around me. Meanwhile, there was a physics teacher in my 11th class, Mr. Venugopal, who, on his first day at the job, picked up the text book, waved it at us, and asked one question – Why are we studying all this? That episode pretty much helped me work wilfully towards becoming a scientist. This made me take up Bachelor of Science, where I came across another special teacher, Dr. Shashi Pandya. She used to teach organic chemistry, and she started a small research lab, where we would try new chemical synthesis pathways. She encouraged me to apply for summer research fellowship at the Indian Academy of Sciences (IAS), Bangalore, India. I spent 2 months at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, India, in the inorganic chemistry department, where I was exposed to how research is performed, designing experiments based on ideas explored in past literature, and the idea that text books are made out of real research (as silly as it might sound, a lot of students do not have the exposure at the undergrad level in India). The stint at IISc also exposed me to the premier research institutes in India – IISc, JNCASR, TIFR, etc. I applied to all of these places for my masters and got selected to pursue my Master at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Here, I worked in the lab of Dr. Sudipta Maiti (http://www.tifr.res.in/~dcs/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=19&Itemid=126), where I could build a strong base in microscopy that would help me in future to explore life below few microns (the other unseen space).

AG: You went to Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) to pursue your Masters. Why did you choose to go to TIFR?

SA: Though I was interested in continuing science, I had little idea about doing a Ph.D. abroad, I did not have any clue when I came to TIFR, about who funds your Ph.D., how can one go abroad for doing a Ph.D., what should one do to pursue Ph.D. TIFR being a very dynamic place, and being well-informed and exposed to world science, provided me with plenty of advice and help to apply for various Ph.D. positions.

I was clear I wanted to go to an optics + biology lab. I applied to plenty of universities in the USA, but was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, a colleague of mine, who had visited MPI-CBG Dresden, Germany, told me that it looked like Dresden was the place for me because of the many microscopy based labs there. I applied, got called for interviews, went there, and liked the lab of Petra Schwille (http://www.biochem.mpg.de/en/rd/schwille), whose lab was essentially based on applications of fluorescence methods to biology to understand biological phenomena. I gladly accepted it, knowing the fact that there were plenty of optics and microscopy, but truth be told I had no clue about the biological problems that I would address. I don’t think I analyzed so much in depth about institute rankings, lab rankings or whatsoever other metrics may be.

AG: Can you share with us some moments from your PhDs?

SA: I think the best moment was when one of my projects got accepted and made it across to a biology journal. Owing to its interdisciplinary approach it was a struggle to get it accepted, but I am glad it saw the light at the end of the tunnel. That was also my first lead author manuscript. I think it boosted my confidence and made me pursue more independent ideas.

The City of Dresden, Germany

AG: Tell us something about your postdoc and why and how did you chose your postdoc lab/mentor?

SA: By the end of my Ph.D., I was quite confident of my microscopy skills, and the ability to pick up new techniques. I decided to look for biological problems. At the same time, I was wary of joining a pure biology lab. I also wanted to stay on Europe as my wife was pursuing her Ph.D. in Germany. I narrowed down my search to Paris, because of the highly interdisciplinary nature of the institutes and their exciting contributions that I had followed. I joined as a joint-post doc between the labs of Patricia Bassereau and Ludger Johannes (https://science.institut-curie.org/research/multiscale-physics-biology-chemistry/chemical-biology-of-membranes-and-therapeutic-delivery/). Patricia’s lab was a more quantitative, physics oriented lab, and Ludger’s was a traditional biology lab a perfect example of an interdisciplinary collaboration. Patricia’s lab was also focused on membrane physics while Ludger’s on endocytic processes. My Ph.D. experience in Petra’s lab had acquainted me with model membrane systems, and a lot of membrane biophysics owing to expert colleagues in the lab with whom I frequently chatted in the lab and over beers. Therefore, I thought I could put together biology, optics, and membrane physics and do interesting stuff here. Being the bridge between the physics and the biology department here, I could learn a lot in good detail from both the fields. At the same time, Curie institute being in Paris made my monthly commutes to Dresden and back easier.

The mountains where I would occasionally hike

AG: What were the most memorable postdoc moment?

SA: While in Ludger’s lab, I was trying to image endosomal sorting dynamics using spinning disc microscopes. I had tried pretty hard with all possible tricks and variations. I did manage to capture some events but knew this could never be high-throughput given the time resolution, photo-bleaching and the fast dynamics of the endosomal system. This was when Eric Betzig’s invention – the lattice light-sheet microscope was published around October 2014. I desperately wanted to get my hands on this microscope. With some efforts from my side and other non-related events between the labs of Tomas Kirchhausen and Ludger, I was on a flight to Boston, to visit Tomas Kirchhausen’s lab (http://www.idi.harvard.edu/investigators_research/investigator/kirchhausen_lab/). The first time I imaged on this microscope and saw the dynamics of endocytosis and vesicles in live cells that I could only imagine before, I knew I had to get this as a weapon in my arsenal.

I think I had the same nervousness and insecurities that everyone has towards the end of post-doc when you look at the job market, and everything seems uphill. This was also the time when I felt I had to be out and independent soon. Most of my experiments were strictly dictated by Ludger, and my papers from my post-doc seemed like they would take forever to get published. I thought it was either now or never.

A single cell image generated from the lattice light sheet imaging showing clathrin coated pits, its tracking and shigatoxin (in blue). 

 

AG: How did you cope with life outside India? What were you doing beyond labs?

SA: I do not think I felt any pressure living outside India. I had a fantastic time in Dresden. It’s a very pleasant city with the right balance of architecture, open fields, and beautiful mountains to hike around. Summers were spent playing ultimate Frisbee and hiking on the Sächsische Schweiz, winters enjoying the snow, ice skating, cross country skiing. I had fantastic friends from all over Europe and other places. Being centrally located in Europe allowed us also to travel and explore EU countries.

During my stay in Paris, most of my time was spent traveling – first between Paris and Dresden, and then between Paris-Barcelona-Boston. When not traveling, beyond the lab, life mostly extended to either bars or classical Parisian riverside picnics, outings, travels.

AG: How was the academic job hunting process? When did you start planning? What were the critical factors that helped you during the job search?

SA: I had no immediate plans to search for academic jobs when I moved to Paris. I thought I might do another post-doc or see how it goes. However, the fact that I did not have the kind of independence to do what I wanted to, with my ideas – a freedom I was spoilt with in my Ph.D. lab, really made me yearn for it. At the same time, frequent traveling to different institutes during my post-doc exposed me to various researchers. I met with and discussed with a lot of researchers between Paris, Barcelona, and Boston where I was doing microscopy experiments for my post-doc projects. This exposed me to a variety of projects in detail and helped me shape ideas as well gave confidence to my ideas. At one point, I attended three conferences, ranging from developmental biology to computational biology in tandem, just because I wanted to know what interesting biological problems are out there. All the visits, conferences, and conversations expanded my knowledge base tremendously, exposed me to a variety of biological questions, technical advancements, and available resources, which proved to be a feeding ground for me to generate new ideas, think creatively using the expanded base of information to solve biological questions.

Above everything, the fact that I was desperate for conducting independent research and the confidence that I was ready for it drove me. I started applying/ looking for jobs at the end of two years into my postdoc. I considered India primarily in the beginning. I applied for Young Investigator’s meeting but did not receive a positive response. I did go around visiting and giving talks in institutes in India whenever I was on vacation, and I was repeatedly told I needed more experience or more papers. At the same time, talking to various researchers, I realized it is difficult to get the kind of funds I would like to have to bring cutting edge microscopy technologies in India. Thus, I shifted my focus to investment developed countries where I could execute the kind of work I want to do, particularly in  in Germany, Singapore, and Australia.

AG: What do you think is the most imp step you took for cracking academic job market?

SA: I think I inadvertently played on my strengths of microscopy and analysis. Along the way, I made sure I had the right balance to enrich myself with the knowledge of biology and various interesting questions in biology so that I could pick problems that interest me and use my strengths to answer it. To crack the job market, one of the essential requirements is to put forward a solid original thread of a project idea that is strongly supported by your training, research experiences, publications, etc. that are convincing a committee to trust you with carrying out the project. I started early on this, read a lot of papers, generated ideas that interested me, discussed with plenty of very good friends – old and new from TIFR to Curie, helped me shape it. Technology and science go hand in hand and developments often jump by leaps within a decade i.e., within the range of time from starting a Ph.D. to finishing a post-doc. I happened to be lucky to end up in a lab where I could convince the lab head to fund my trips and travel to various institutes to learn advanced microscopy technologies. While technology is not solely the basis on which one is recruited, it is better to be prepared for a balanced approach towards science, as well as using your strengths being part of the academic supply chain. You need to weave your path through the intertwined maze of technology requirements by your lab, the institutes, your expertise that is a commodity and your research interests that should be sharpened and developed in parallel.

AG: Now that you are a PI, what has been your experience so far?

SA: It has been amazing so far. I am enjoying the freedom to realize my ideas and the ability to reasonably fund my ideas. I have got a fantastic post-doc who is very enthusiastic and extremely easy to work with and has been very helpful in starting up the lab. I am looking forward to the first experiments from the lab once my microscope is built.

AG: As a young PI what are the challenges and what support system do you get?

SA: I think one of the biggest challenges is that most students and post-docs have little understanding of the financial and management aspect of running a lab. You suddenly see a million dollars at your disposal. Fortunately, I could talk to a lot of friends who had just established labs and got some useful inputs, project your expenses early, buy the biggest necessary equipment first, go a bit slow – don’t fall into the shopping spree trap, balance people, and equipment, etc. The senior colleagues in the institute here have been helpful in sharing their lab running costs and their strategies; that help me devise my own suited to my lab’s requirement.

Cell lines, plasmids, etc. form an important part of a biological research lab. Often when you switch projects, collecting these can be a task. While some people are really benevolent with sharing resources, some are not. Be prepared to do your homework to overcome these hurdles.

AG: Whats your idea of mentoring in today’s academia? Will you be open to people who want to transition out of bench work?

SA: I am largely inexperienced in mentoring and go really with my intuition and feeling of what is right. I do take feedbacks from my student and try to have a regular co-worker relationship like I would if I was a post-doc along with them. It’s been only three months, and I find this, as of now, comfortable.

I am certainly for people transitioning out to alternative careers. An academic position is not the final destination of doing science. In a steady state, only about 10-15% can move to a post-doctoral position and even lesser from a post-doc to a junior faculty position. It is clearly a pyramid, and it’s not going to change anytime soon. I would advise to fight it out early on in your career if you are very much passionate adamant on a faculty position. If you do not succeed, you may be better off saving yourself some time to explore plenty of options. I was prepared to look for something else if an academic position hadn’t come through after the first post-doc. The chances of getting a faculty position only drop after that unless a miracle of the high impact magazine or journal article comes out. Explore alternative career options. Build expertise on things that interest you.

There are various possibilities where your training can be put to use while excluding a faculty position – the most exciting of them in my opinions are entrepreneurial ventures, scientific animation and illustration services (Complex ideas need to be conveyed to the academic community as well as the general public. Experts in understanding scientific details and ideas as well as capabilities of portraying them using animations, illustrations will be increasingly in demand), Analysists (big-data, image processing, coders) will be in demand considering the advent of cutting edge technologies in various fields. These secondary employments that come out of novel demands are largely under-utilized. At the same time, the academic institutions also need to encourage and create these positions. One may think of a transition help system where specialized training (for e.g. creating animations) is given to students willing to transition out while being related to the academia.

AG: Finally, what will be your suggestions to PhDs who are preparing themselves for an academic position?

SA: If you are absolutely serious about an academic career, explore ideas and technologies; try to go beyond your comfort zone. Talk to a variety of people, discuss science, ideas. It broadens your mind regarding what you can understand, how much can you relate and build cross bridges that are unique. Expect to do more and beyond regular reading, experiments and writing manuscripts as you go from Ph.D. to post-doc and post-doc to an independent position. Strike early when you can leverage off your most recent papers and the younger age. Put time and effort to write a project proposal that is rich in ideas, novelty, and technology if that’s your expertise. Remember it is not a post-doctoral project proposal for a single person for the next two-three years. Put together your ideas, and put up a mature project proposal that a lab would be working on. A good estimate is a project with work and experiments requiring about three Ph.D. or post-docs for the next 2 – 3 years. You are also required to be on a variety of committees that demand a broad variety of knowledge base. Keep yourself updating about exciting discoveries, techniques, and developments.

Dr. Senthil Arumugam is a group leader at the Single Molecule Science Node of the University of New South Wales since September 2016. His lab focuses on intracellular trafficking in diseases and develops and uses cutting edge imaging and analysis techniques for cell biology. He obtained his masters from TIFR, Mumbai and PhD from Technical University of Dresden/ MPI-CBG.  He then did a post-doc at the Curie Institute in Paris where he was also a recipient of the Pierre Gilles de Gennes fellowship. More about his lab can be found on https://sms.unsw.edu.au/senthil-arumugam

 

Editor: Ananda Ghosh (AG)

I work at the NYU Office of Industrial Liaison to make sure that NYU innovations are developed beyond bench and ultimately serves society to solve unmet needs. As a co-founder of SciWri my vision is to share ideas and stories through SciWri and create awareness in innovation, entrepreneurship, alternate careers for PhDs, sustainable development, biodiversity, environment, and leadership.

 

Transitioning to a faculty position in Australia: Face to Face with Ranjay Chakraborty

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The Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs has brought you stories of career transitions from United States, Europe and India. This time around we go ‘down-under’ and have tete-a-tete with Dr Ranjay Chakraborty (RC). Ranjay is transitioning from a postdoctoral position at Emory University (Atlanta, USA) to academic faculty position at Flinders University (Adelaide, Australia). In his Face-t0-Face interview with Abhinav Dey (AD) he talks about his aspirations, his efforts and his future plans in Australian academia.

AD: How did you know it was time to move on from your postdoctoral fellowship to your first professional position?

RC: After completing my PhD at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane (Australia) in 2013, I was excited to join my first postdoctoral position at Emory. In addition to geographical and cultural changes, I was looking forward to my transition from human visual optics research to visual neuroscience research in animal models. I feel, 3.5 years of postdoctoral experience at Emory provided me optimal exposure to the world of academia, and helped me better understand the bigger picture of being an academic. Of course, with time, I matured as a scientist, and started feeling more confident about looking for academic positions. By third year, I made some good publications from the current lab, and was working on an Early Research Career Development award. At that point, I started looking for academic positions (mostly outside the USA due to visa restrictions), and was lucky to get one.

AD: What was your motivation towards an academic career?

RC: I enjoyed doing vision science research during my PhD and postdoctoral fellowship. I have invested so many years in research that I was absolutely sure of continuing it, wherever I go. Although I didn’t get to do a lot, I loved teaching visual optics in India, and during my graduate studies in Australia. I was looking for a platform, where I could bring both research and teaching together. This was my strongest motivation for an academic career. In Australia, my position would also allow me to see patients in the clinic as an optometrist; something that I totally enjoyed in the past.

AD: How do you foresee the academic research environment in Australia?

RC: Similar to the US, establishing a research career in Australia is challenging. From my previous experience, I know that NIH equivalent, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Australian Research Council fundings are extremely competitive. I am looking to develop collaborations within and outside the Vision Science dept. for making competitive grant applications. I will also be looking for industrial funding.

flinders-university

Image courtesy: Ranjay Chakraborty

AD: How did your postdoc training make you competitive for an academic position?

RC: My postdoc training at Emory has been truly instrumental in preparing me for this academic position. It helped me to develop a range of analytical and research skills that were crucial for this position. In addition to basic science research, I learned about academic writing, mentorship, journal and data review, data presentation, collaborative research and many other things that helped me to develop as more mature and confident professional. It has been a magnificent journey from my grad school to the end of this postdoctoral position. I am really thankful to my postdoctoral mentors Drs. Machelle T. Pardue and P. Michael Iuvone for this precious postdoctoral training opportunity at Emory.

AD: What advice do you have for postdocs to make best use of their time?

RC: This is my first position, and I am too young to advice anything in particular. Postdocs are generally very disciplined and assiduous, and they exactly know that it’s time for either “publish or perish”. One small advice – try not to restrain yourself to just “lab and experiments”. Every once in a while traveling and time with family and friends help becoming more productive and focused at work.

AD: Can you briefly describe your plans about the size and mentorship style of your laboratory?

RC: Australian academic positions have a lot more teaching load compared to the positions in the US. In the 1st year, my primary focus would be preparing the lectures, and set up the lab. I am going to take it easy, and keep my lab small at the beginning. I plan to hire a research technician to get started with my projects. I would extend my research group in the future depending on projects and funding situation. I intend to hire people who are deferential, good team players, and inherently motivated to do good research. I would design robust policies in the lab for running experiments, ordering materials, lab meetings with individual lab members/groups, data management and storage, authorships, attending meetings and developing collaborations. I would want my group to be transparent, and feel free about discussing their issues with me and each other.

AD: Do you have teaching responsibilities?

RC: As I mentioned previously, Australian faculty positions have a lot more teaching load compared to the positions in the US. I do not have a lot of teaching experience, and I look forward to this new role in Australia.

AD: Were there any specific resources such as the Office of Postdoctoral Education that you utilized to help you transition into an independent position?

RC: Yes, a number of courses/workshops from Emory Office of Postdoctoral Education have been really helpful in introducing me to several critical aspects of academic positions in the US. I was particularly benefited from K award grant writing course, laboratory management course, and responsible conduct of research ethics course offered by the Emory Office of Postdoctoral Education. I also attended workshops for “how to prepare teaching and research statements”, “how to look and apply for academic positions”, and “preparing CV and NIH statement”. These courses helped me to evaluate whether or not I really wanted to pursue academia.

AD: Do you have any advice for postdocs about grant writing and successfully obtaining funding?

RC: I do not have any major funding to myself, so I am not the best person to advice on that. But, from my postdoctoral experience at Emory, I have learned that early grant applications based on solid pilot data are imperative to applying for successful academic positions. Early applications within the first two years of postdoc (such as departmental grants) do not have to be too extensive, but they set you up for the habit of grant writing. Of course, publications are equally important. As we all know, first 4 years of postdoc are critical for several early career grants in the US.

AD: Do you have any advice for postdocs making the transition to an independent career?

RC: As I mentioned earlier, the key is to decide whether or not you really want to pursue an independent career. If you do, it doesn’t harm to start applying sooner. With a clear and well-structured research aim, decent publications, adequate skill sets, and strong references you could have a decent chance to get a tenure-track position, perhaps stronger than you might think!

Ranjay Chakraborty was interviewed by Abhinav Dey. Abhinav is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University and a Young Investigator Awardee from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. He is also the co-founder of PhD Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs and ClubSciWri

(https://www.linkedin.com/in/abhinavdey)

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Featured image source: Pixabay

 

From cloning genes to directing X-rays: Face to Face with Nishant Kumar Varshney

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Dr Nishant Kumar Varshney is working as a Beamline Scientist on an Indo-Italian Macromolecular Crystallography beamline XRD2 at Elettra Sincrotrone, Trieste, Italy, which will be open to Users in start of the 2017. The Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs caught up with him about his career and experience while working in an unconventional postdoctoral career of a Beamline Scientist after a PhD in Structural Biology.

He did his bachelors in Chemistry from DU and Masters in Marine Biotechnology from Goa University in 2005. Completed his PhD in 2013 from Biochemical Sciences Division, CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, India on structure-function relationship of three enzymes that has industrial and therapeutic applications. During his PhD, he received Commonwealth Split-Site Scholarship to work for an year in York Structural Biology Laboratory, University of York, UK, where he developed his interest in the field of Structure Based Drug Discovery field.

me_2

In Nishant’s (NKV) words, “First, I would like to thank Abhinav Dey (AD) for adding me to CSG group and now giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts about new Indo-Italian joint venture at Elettra Synchrotron, Trieste, Italy which we Inaugurated last month.”

14711082_1239623179443730_8023412272330443242_o

(XRD2 Beamline; Picture source: NKV)

AD: During your graduate school, when did you realize you wanted to try a different research-based career than conventional postdoc?

NKV: Actually the thought and the opportunity came after the PhD, when I was working as Research Associate (RA) in National Center for Cell Science (NCCS), Pune. During my PhD, I was working both at the bench (cloning, expressing, purifying and setting up protein for crystallization) as well as collecting data at our home source for my proteins and sometimes helping other collaborators. Like most of the graduate students, I dreamt of getting a conventional post doc position abroad and coming back after few years for some decent permanent position in India. It was during RA-ship, that I saw the ad for a Beamline Scientist position at the new Indian beamline at Elettra. I thought of it as a good opportunity to not only learn about the working of beamlines but also having plenty of time to play and learn with data collection strategies to get best out of your protein crystals. Moreover, the idea of helping different users with different projects and, if possible, making some worthy contribution to their projects excited me too.

AD: What is your typical work day like?

NKV: Most often our day starts with a black filter coffee at 9 🙂 and ends around 6pm. Currently, we are at the final stages of commissioning the beamline and implementing an automated instrument on the experimental table. Since working at the beamline is a first time for me, my work schedule usually revolves around my local supervisor and Head of our group, Maurizio. We help our supervisors with the work and learn out of it. Everyday there is something new to learn. We set small targets with deadlines and sometimes we work till late to meet those deadlines. Also being an industry, there are many other usual administrative/non administrative appointments also to be taken care of.

AD: Do you think having a PhD was an advantage for you in the current job?

NKV: Yes. Experience and a degree in structural biology were the essential educational qualifications for this job. I was brought into the field of X-ray diffraction, protein crystallization, three-dimensional structures etc. in practice during my PhD only. Having hands-on experience with these techniques and a visit to a Beamline in Diamond, UK during my Commonwealth Scholarship tenure gave me experience and confidence to apply for this job. Some technical terms and what’s behind the walls of Experimental Hutch was totally new to me in the beginning but I think I am getting better day-by-day.

AD: How was the transition from a bench to a synchrotron?

NKV: I would say transition was not that easy. Coming from enjoying a mostly wet lab, handling buffers/proteins and transitioning to the technical aspects of a synchrotron where I was expected to understand as well as install beamline components, alignments, installing vacuum etc. was initially too much technical for me. Mathematics has not been my strongest subject so I am still trying to get better with the numbers.

AD: What would you recommend as first steps for students/postdocs interested in pursuing a fellowship in handling this kind of job?

NKV: If one is coming to synchrotron as a user, I would say, apart from having familiarity with data processing programs and knowing your proteins, you need not to worried about what’s behind the walls of Experimental Hutch. Beamline staff should teach you how things work at the Experimental table and how to collect data. But if someone wants to be a Beamline Scientist or a Beamline Postdoc, first step is to develop your love for the technical aspects of a beamlines. Brushing up your Physics or say Biophysics will also help you to understand your work. It is also important to keep in mind that it is not a 9-5 job and you should be ready to devote long days sometimes.

AD: Having gone through interviews as an applicant yourself, what are a couple of things that could help a PhD standout from the crowd?

NKV: Especially for a job at the Beamlines, working knowledge of the beamline, however little it may be, through regular visits to the synchrotron for data collection and processing the data on your own will make you stand out. Familiarity with different programs for data collection to structure deposition will help you for the job. Apart from that, one should enjoy working with the users and be ready to help them to sort out the technical as well as practical problems outside the normal office hours.

AD: Was there anything (positive or negative) that you were surprised about this job/profession that you didn’t expect until you were in it?

NKV: As a matter of personal opinion, anyone who starts the unconventional career, will wish to have a sense of stability in his/her tenure. As I am working in an Italian Industry, as a visiting Scientist on an India-funded project, there is always an insecurity regarding the length and timing of the next extension. Moreover, the absence of funds available for in-house research and for attending/presenting work in the conferences was not what I expected.

AD: Please tell us about the new Indo-Italian venture and what do you foresee of this collaboration for the development of science in India?

NKV: Till the date, India is either renting beamtimes for macromolecular crystallography e.g. BM14 beamline in ESRF or funding visits to other beamlines of the world. This is the first time when India is a partner right from the design, construction, commissioning and maintenance of two beamlines at synchrotron. The XRD2 and Xpress beamlines are a part of a scientific partnership between India and Italy under a project administered through the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) at Bangalore with financial support from Department of Science and Technology (DST), Govt. of India and Elettra Sincrotrone,Trieste. The Xpress experimental station has been constructed to study the structure of materials under high- pressure using the technique of X-ray diffraction of samples subjected to the action of two diamonds that can exert higher pressures to 50 GPa. In this way the researchers will be able to access the possibility of synthesizing new superconducting materials, harder and more resistant. This beamline will also be applied in other areas, such as mineralogy and geophysics. XRD2 is a dedicated beamline to determine three-dimensional structures of proteins and biological macromolecules with application in biology, medicine, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. XRD2 is an highly automated and tunable beamline with state of the art instruments which will allow to collect faster X-ray diffraction data from protein crystals in highly automated way better than collected using home source. With 50% share in the project, now Indian crystallographers and High Pressure diffraction groups will have plenty of beamtime accessible to them. Once the proposal has been accepted, DST will provide the travel and daily cost funds.

AD: What are the career possibilities after being trained at the cutting edge of your field?

NKV: The field of macromolecular crystallography is still in a developing stage. There is lot to explore and develop in the field right from the data collection step to relate the structure to its function. With the experience at the synchrotron, prospects of developing your own research in the field are always open. Working in Pharmaceuticals Industries mainly involved in Structure based Drug Discovery is another option. With all the knowledge of the structural biology, a career in academics is also a possibility. Moreover, with the advent of Free-Electron lasers and new developments in alternative techniques, three-dimensional structure determination of macromolecules using serial crystallography and Cryo-Electron Microscopy and Cryo-Imaging techniques are the new open fields where experience in structural biology is a desirable qualification.
I hope, these facilities will be very beneficial to our Indian researchers.

 

 

Nishant Kumar Varshney was interviewed by Abhinav Dey. Abhinav is a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University and a Young Investigator Awardee from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. He is also the co-founder of PhD Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs and ClubSciWri

(https://www.linkedin.com/in/abhinavdey)

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This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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Face to Face with Prof. Lawrence Rajendran on Science Matters

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“Observations, not stories, are the pillars of good science. Today’s journals however, favor story-telling over observations, and congruency over complexity. As a consequence, there is a pressure to tell only good stories. Moreover, incentives associated with publishing in high-impact journals lead to loss of scientifically and ethically sound observations that do not fit the storyline, and in some unfortunate cases also to fraudulence. The resulting non-communication of data and irreproducibility not only delays scientific progress but also negatively affects society as a whole. ”

This is the concept of Science Matters a GenX journal for scientists. Prof Lawrence Rajendran from the University of Zurich talks about his idea of what a journal should feel like, and why ScienceMatters is different and has a potential to change the publication industry as well as science.

lawrence-jpeg

Prof. Lawrence Rajendran

University of Zurich

Founder: Science Matters

 

 

Tête-à-tête with Gaurav

in Face à Face/That Makes Sense by

Gaurav Goyal shares his educational journey from Kurukshetra to Korea and then to the U.S. He is currently working as a research scientist with a start up in U.S., where he continues to grow, learn and challenge himself.

The highlights from this conversation:
LEARN
earn anything and everything, pick up a book, go sit in a class. initially you might struggle but eventually, you will learn.
DO NOT LIMIT YOURSELF
There is no limitation to what you can learn and what you can do. Never live with a label.
To people who are finishing Ph.D.
Take inspiration, don’t be blinded by history. be open to explore, expose yourself. make use of resources available, wherever you are; and MAKE YOUR OWN CHOICE.
Image: Another brick in the wall.
Image source: http://texturify.com/stock-photo/-brick-mixed014-8435.html

in Face à Face by

NYC CSG Coffee Chat

Chat with Tuhin Bhowmick, PhD

Tuhin talks about his startup experience in Bangalore while pursuing his PhD at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. One thing you cant miss is his passion and fascination towards the technology he believes in.

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