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Confluence of Intellect: The 2017 IISc Alumni Meet (Washington, DC)

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Indian Institute of Science Association of Alumni North America (IISc AANA) held its 3rd Conference on Emerging Themes in Science, Engineering and Technology on June 4th, 2017 in Washington, D.C. The conference featured plenary and invited talks on cognitive healthcare, space exploration, alternative careers, entrepreneurship, academic and industrial leadership, and a panel discussion on career options.

More than a hundred alumni attended the conference, including the present Director of IISc, Prof. Anurag Kumar. The alumni included those who graduated way back in the 1960s, several recent graduates and everyone in between. Motivation, ambition and eagerness to network, learn from each other, and dedication to make lasting contributions were palpable from each and every one attending the Conference.

Dr. Sunil Kumar, Provost and Senior Vice-President of Academic Affairs at John Hopkins University gave the introductory remarks.

Three exceptional talks followed.

The first one was given by Dr. Eric Brown, Director of Foundational Intelligence for IBM Watson Health on “Watson in Healthcare”. Dr. Brown’s talk focussing on the role of IBM Watson in Healthcare neatly brought out the impact Watson will have on the availability of large curated data sets of patient records for clinical practice. The role could be similar to that played by Thomson Innovation that made curated Patent and patent application data sets available for IP professionals in a scale that was unprecedented.

The second one was given by Dr. James Green, Director, Planetary Science Division, NASA on “Space exploration”. Dr. Green’s talk elegantly presented the advances NASA is making in understanding the solar system and evolution of planets. Introducing Dr. Green, Dr. Murthy Gudipati from NASA compared the role played by Caltech and JPL in NASA’s pursuit of its goals to that of IISc in Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) pursuit of its ambitions. He also remarked about IISc’s effort to start a Center for Planetary Science, a welcome sign that India is preparing to play another lead role in space exploration. 

The third one was given by Dr. Katepalli Sreenivasan, Dean of NYU Tandon School of Engineering on “International Science”. The talks were followed by question and answer sessions.

The IISc Director presented a brief history of the Institute and its present activities, notable among which were the expansion of infrastructure, academic and research activities within the present campus, the acquisition of a huge new campus (1500 acres) at Chelekkare, located around 225 kms from the Bangalore campus, and funding expansion beyond traditional government funding support.

The latter included several industry tie-ups as well as support from other organizations and foundations as well as individuals for student fellowships, faculty support, travel support, research support and establishment of dedicated research centers such as the Center for Brain Research supported by Pratiksha Trust with a 20 million dollar endowment. The Director, Prof. Anurag Kumar, also discussed the activities of IISc’s Office of Development and Alumni Affairs with its stated aim to build a vibrant community of alumni, friends, partners and well-wishers who volunteer to support the Institute’s mission.

ODAA has been successful in bringing in support worth several million dollars to various research programs such as Brain Research, Environmental Research and Cyber Physical Systems. The Director also talked about IISc’s Office of Career Counseling and Placement. The current Chairman of ODAA, Prof. Govindan Rangarajan, was in attendance.

Dr. Sreenivasan, presented an engaging critique of IISc’s research activities as it relates to international science, focusing on the steps IISc management has to make to have the Institute get noticed as a leader in international scientific arena. He pointed out that the international stature of IISc is not commensurate with its national status and working on solutions to problems that India faces and focusing on a few Grand challenges will engage international collaborations at the highest levels. He noted and welcomed several new initiatives that the present Director presented earlier, specifically the new initiative of a tenure track program for IISc faculties and the efforts to shore up ODAA to seek and maintain funding outside traditional sources that IISc is familiar with. He encouraged the management to sort out a mandate for the institute from the many choices it had such as instructional and research. He wondered whether the IISc is spreading itself too thin with the breadth and nature of its current activities. He suggested that IISc focus its resources on a few research programs with Grand Challenges and also further develop ODAA to improve the perception of the Institute in other spheres. He suggested that the institute should aim to procure 20% of its funding from private sources as done by many of the leading research institutes/universities in the US. He also pointed out that IISc is yet to have a woman director.

The post-lunch session featured talks by Dr. Srikumar Chellappan (H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, titled “Biology and Treatment of Human Cancer: New Insights and Old Challenges”), Dr. Girish Nallur (Connecticut Innovations, titled “Innovating in the age of disruption – spotting, seizing and internalizing emerging opportunities”), Dr. Jairaj Acharya (NCI, titled “What model organism studies have taught us about bioactive lipids”, and Dr. Sunil Kumar (Provost, Johns Hopkins University titled “Preparing to lead in the next decade”). Dr. Sunil Kumar in particular engaged the audience with his unique style and talents. Dr. Anand Swaroop from NIH introduced the speakers.

The Panelists and Participants

The Conference ended with a panel discussion on Career Options. The panelists, Dr. Syam Anand (Founder and US patent agent, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC, Philadelphia), Dr. Sankhavaram R. Panini (Professor of Biochemistry & Genetics, Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, Middletown, NY), Dr. Durga Paruchuri (MCCO Account Manager Genentech Inc.), Dr. Hiriyana, Kelaginamane (Patent Examiner, USPTO), and Dr. Haren Vasavada (VP, Optherion, Connecticut) were led by Dr. Rita Khanna (Legal Counsel and Business Development Professional at International Technology Transfer Management, Inc., Washington DC). The discussion evolved into a candid, vibrant, and engaging one with the young and the old in the panel as well as the audience sharing their experience and wisdom. The discussion covered the importance of individual initiative, passion to excel, understanding financial and legal challenges right at the beginning of becoming an entrepreneur, protecting intellectual property right from conception, the role of mentoring, and the role of networking.

IISc AANA’s senior alumni encouraged youngsters to take initiative and get engaged in AANA’s activities as it expands to the east coast.

 

Historically and Infographically speaking…..

 

& Humorously Laapataa on IISc Campus

Cartoon By Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti

About the author:

Syam

Authored by Dr Syam Anand, PhD (Indian Institute of Science, IISc; Post-Doctoral research, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Faculty, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Founder and US Patent Agent, Mainline Intellectual Property LLC, Ardmore, Philadelphia USA). Syam has over 20 years experience in diverse areas of Science with domain knowledge in Life Sciences and Intellectual Property. Dr. Anand is also an inventor and budding entrepreneur. A rationalist, Dr. Anand enjoys science at all levels and advocates the use of scientific methods for answering all questions and solving all problems and make common people curious and interested in understanding their worlds.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/syamprasadanand

Feature image source: Vikas Navratna

Blog design: Abhinav Dey

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

 

 

 

A Date with Science

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We, scientists,  when wanting to communicate science always end up either presenting a talk in conferences, seminars or giving ‘progress’ reports in our laboratories. Believe it or not, we all feel comfortable in our tiny worlds surrounded by pipettes, lab journals and computer screens. However,  due to recent amendments in science policies, restricted funding issues and problems like climate change, its high time to come out from our small cocoon and raise awareness about science to general public. In fact, we did- millions marched together on the streets around the world on the earth day just for a better future.

On the same line, Pint of Science, a non-profit organization which was first initiated by two young researchers from Imperial College London in 2012, has the aim to bring science closer to the society. Within the span of a few years, the idea spread and currently 155 cities in 12 countries from all over the world have joined the same motto. The event is organized by enthusiastic volunteers and always takes place in the relaxed atmosphere of a bar which stimulates a more dynamic and direct interaction between speakers and audience. This makes Pint of Science, a unique platform for scientists to share their current research to the general public in the city.

For more Pint of Science videos click here

We, a group of four PhD students, hosted the event “Pint of Science festival” for the very first time in our lovely and student-friendly city of Münster, Germany. To begin with, we faced many challenges! It was a learning experience that left many memories to cherish. Our great relief was us “The team”, and having support from each other. Truly, while organizing this event, I once again realized the importance of great team work that seem to be able to build empires from scratch. We became almost regular customers of coffee shops during our tea breaks and had lot of fun while discussing about the upcoming events. Our discussions would even extend over dinner, even after full workday in the lab. We divided the event into three different topics namely: Insights into disease models, Society-from past to future and Atoms to galaxies, in order to attract a diverse audience. Soon, it was the time to invite speakers. In Physics and Biology it was rather easy to get confirmed speakers as we ourselves have our backgrounds from these fields. However, during that time we also realized the big gap between natural science and humanities studies, that need to be filled. It took us quite a while to arrange speakers for our society session.

After the program was finalized, the second step was to announce the event! We spammed everybody with emails, our graduate school newsletters, posters all over the city and the world via human inventions of social media like Facebook and LinkedIn posts. We also created a Facebook event and I still remember how we checked Facebook notifications everyday and celebrated each like on the page. We had our own official photographer and also a special violin duet as a musical intermission. Days and months passed and time for the final show came.

On the day of the event, we reached the venue first to set up everything and so did our speakers and finally the talks were projected on the screen. Together, we were all curiously awaiting people to show up. Our minds were full of random thoughts, ‘What if no one comes ? ’ ‘What if we have made a mistake?’ After waiting for few minutes, few of our friends arrived first. That was a very different feeling, seeing them at that moment compared to our general hangouts. We were more boosted up now and within few minutes the whole venue was full and we were looking around for an extra chair to fit in. Talks began with the clinking of the beer mugs. During the three days of science festival, we witnessed great interactive talks ranging from drug screening for Parkinson, to energy and climate change policies, from archaeological excavations and to solar meteorites. It was a totally different environment. We all felt more connected to the speakers and their projects compared to our typical science conferences. To be frank, I also asked a lot of silly questions during the talks and during the breaks which I hardly remember doing in previous conferences that I attended. Last but not the least, for the first time in my life, I touched a real meteorite, that was just an amazing experience.

If I read out loud some of the feedback comments from our audience, I feel that everyone very much appreciated our effort and was very glad to get an opportunity to hear talks from different fields, to get more involved. And of course, we all enjoyed the beer! In fact, we already have a list of interested volunteers who would love to be the part of our team for next year. Not only, the audience but also the speakers admired the concept and were glad they participated. However, during one of the days of the event, one speaker turned to the audience and asked ‘How many of you are not students ? ‘.  Surprisingly (or not-surprisingly) we had very few hands up in the air but I was extremely happy to see one of the waiters from the bar sitting among the audience, even though it was his free workday. Certainly, the event created whispers and ripples of curiosity in the surroundings of the bar. But we are still miles away from bringing science closer to the major chunk of public audience, to motivate them, and to make them understand what we are doing inside these fancy laboratories. We also realized the dilemma of the language barrier, and wondered if talks in German would have been more appealing to the local people of the city, although not the best option for the international students. We will need to think about it and come up with better strategies to attract and entertain a diverse audience: locals and internationals, science people and a general interested public.

Overall, we had a great experience, thanks to the idea of Pint of Science! As PhD students,  we had a great opportunity to actually execute and practice networking, team building, problem solving, risk management, project management, science communication that already makes a whole business management book. Well, I have already made a new folder on my computer named “Pint of Science-2018” so, stay tuned!

Just for the Laughs….

via GIPHY

About the Author:

Abhiyan is currently pursuing his PhD at University of Muenster, Germany. He considers himself a very social and international person, who is trying to find and establish harmony between science, society and arts. He loves connecting with different people and learning, sharing ideas with them.

Edited by: Neha Bhutani

Featured Image by: Vinita Bharat

Disclaimer- the logo in the cartoon is a registered trademark of Pint of Science.

 

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

 

How to cut through the bullshit with Carl Sagan’s ‘Baloney Detection Kit’

in Sci-Pourri/That Makes Sense/Uncategorized by

A large fraction of the information that we come across online is quite possibly bullshit. The internet has made it very easy for us to access and disseminate unreliable information, transforming the society into an echo chamber of misinformation.  Democratization of publishing and social media have resulted in opinions being marketed as facts. In this era of  #fakenews and #alternativefacts, the ability to cut through bullshit and get to credible information has become an essential social skill.

Although the internet and social media have catalyzed the spread of falsehood, our relationship with bullshit is not new. We’ve encountered it time and again in science, politics, religious philosophies and social practices; however, the current state of affairs warrant the use of skepticism and critical thinking for busting bullshit more than ever.

The art of systematically and logically challenging the socio-political claims and getting to the logical conclusions was perfected by one of the brilliant philosophers of his time – Carl Sagan. In his marvelous book about the philosophy of scientific thought The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Sagan dedicated a chapter to ‘The Fine Art of Baloney detection’. In this chapter, Sagan advocates the need for critical thinking and maintaining a balance between acceptance and skepticism.

In Sagan’s own words, “In science we may start with experimental results, data, observations, measurements, ‘facts’. We invent, if we can, a rich array of possible explanations and systematically confront each explanation with the facts. In the course of their training, scientists are equipped with a baloney detection kit. The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance”.

Image Source: Wikimedia (CC)

This approach of baloney detection used by scientists is equally effective in the hands of the general population and can help us fortify our minds against propaganda, falsehood and manipulation. Sagan emphasizes the indispensability of healthy skepticism in everyday life by saying, “when governments and societies lose the capacity for critical thinking, the results can be catastrophic”.

In his baloney detection kit Sagan proposed 9 tools to recognize the fallacious or fraudulent arguments, and to reach to conclusions which follow a true premise. The 9 tools from the kit are as follows:

“Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the ‘facts’.”

Facts are the foundation of any argument or claim. When you are presented with an argument, try to gather facts related to it. Something that you read on social media does not qualify as a fact, because it may just be someone’s opinion and hence may be biased. Check for the credibility of your sources. Make decisions based on verifiable evidence and not gut feelings or opinions.

“Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.”

Debate allows for all point of views to be expressed and relative strengths of evidence, for and against the claims, to be evaluated. A healthy debate challenges the nature of the evidence, methods of data collection, inherent biases in study design, logical progression of thought and the validity of conclusions. Limit the debate to the evidence on the table without introducing personal opinions.

“Arguments from authority carry little weight — ‘authorities’ have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.”

If your boss tells you something is true, it is not actually so unless data supports it. Evidence is superior to all opinions irrespective of rank, position or authority of the person.

“Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among ‘multiple working hypotheses’, has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.”

This one is my favorite.  It essentially means stringing up multiple hypotheses in front of you and trying to poke holes in each one of them based on the theoretical evidence and experimental results. This approach makes you think unconventionally and out of the box. You have the opportunity to put forward your craziest and the most counterintuitive hypothesis. If it stands the rigorous scrutiny of the evidence, it may emerge as the right answer. Approaches like this result in paradigm shifts in science.

“Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.”

Keep an open and fair mind and do not try to keep a hypothesis alive in the face of contradictory evidence. Try to avoid personal bias. We learn something new when a hypothesis is shot down by evidence, seek that knowledge.

“Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.”

Quantification produces a standardized way of measurement and allows for measurements made by different individuals or groups to be compared using statistical tools. It increases precision and minimizes ambiguity, guesswork and prejudice. By relying on quantitative data, you will be able to make more informed decisions.

“If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) — not just most of them.”

A chain is as strong as its weakest link. Similarly, if your argument has multiple points, each one of them should stand up to scrutiny, else the whole argument may fall apart. You should carefully analyze the argument and try to strengthen the weakest link.

Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.”

A simpler theory is preferred over more complex ones because simple theory can be tested relatively easily.

“Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much.”

If a hypothesis can be tested and can be refuted in light of evidence, it is called a falsifiable hypothesis. And a falsifiable hypothesis is a good thing. An untestable hypothesis is one which cannot be practically or ethically explored with controlled experiments. Falsifiable hypothesis allows you to learn something new when disproved whereas unfalsifiable are not worth much.

Sagan further writes, “In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do. It helps us recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric”. He warns against the 20 most common fallacies and examples for each.

This timeless wisdom by Carl Sagan has been guiding scientists and nonscientists in their pursuit of knowledge and critical thinking for the past two decades. I hope it will help you cut through the culture of bullshit and reach the knowledge you seek.

About the Author

Gaurav is a biomedical scientist trained in multidisciplinary and multicultural settings. He is currently working on electrical conduction through single DNA molecules in pursuit of developing quantum tunneling based DNA sequencing platform.

Aarthi Existential

in Sci-Pourri/That Makes Sense by

Aarthi Parthasarathy is a very well-known artist and film maker who finds joy in nurturing the creative energy within her and others and successful at doing so. She defies the conventional definition of success in terms of power or money but that does not lessen her happiness even by an ounce as per her own admission. She found a way out of our existing education system and its traps to set up a film making studio with her friend and colleague Chaitanya. They work out of a cozy nook that houses animators, sculptors, musicians, photographers, and product designers. She is also part of kadak collective that creates a platform for women comic writers and artists to tell uncensored stories on gender disparity.

Well, her journey is certainly not straight forward but rather quite bumpy and curvy and luckily she had her seat belts on. She grew up in erstwhile Bombay which is ‘Mumbai’ now and throughout schooling has been an A+ grade student as per present day standards. Siddharth Basu’s or Derek O’ Brien’s quiz shows and encyclopedias and ‘tell me why’s books filled her childhood spare time. As she started understanding the world better, she loathed the current teaching practices that made her memorize than learn. She found herself craving for learning out of school (as it was not possible within school) and started drawing inspiration plus learning from real lives through reading biographies echoing Gaurav Goyal’s conversations with club sciwri (http://www.sciwri.club/archives/1664). If we think that Aarthi is alone in her disbelief in the education system, the MHRD survey shows that the highest dropout rate for science students happens after the bachelor’s degree ( http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/statistics/EAG2014.pdf). The reasons for this could be twofold: one, not many attractive (well-paying except IT) career opportunities after science education and two, teaching practices killing curiosity, the backbone of scientific success.

Coming back to Aarthi and her journey, she indulged in a lot of self-learning by visiting the libraries, reading books and watching plays to satisfy her curiosity to learn about the world. During one of those visits, life caught her unaware. She stumbled upon a book by J.Krishnamurthy, the well-known philosopher and founder of Rishi Valley School. In a brief moment she realized that the cause of her inner struggle was the awkwardness of fitting in a fractured society. The exact words that brought about the transformation in her  are “I wonder if we have ever asked ourselves what education means, why do we go to school, why do we learn various subjects, why do we pass examinations and compete with each other for better grades? What does this so called education mean, what is it all about? This is really a very important question, not only for the students, but also for parents, for teachers,why do we go through struggle to be educated? Is it merely to pass some examinations and get a job? Or is it the function of education to prepare us while we are young to understand the whole process of life? Having a job and earning one’s livelihood is necessary-but is that all? …”  These words became an anchor to her thought process and as a constant reminder and companion; she carries a copy of the book with her always.

She wanted to be a doctor or geologist and the anxiety caused by endless hours of study were made tolerable by creative outlets like writing, painting and other forms of art. She was fighting her inner urge to learn independently through reading, thinking, making, and experimenting just for the love of doing it, to scratch an itch, follow the compass of passion versus making a clone of her to fit into the fractured and moulded society. An answer to her struggles lay in the hands of most unexpected quarters, a clerical mistake. At St.Xavier’s college Mumbai, a clerical mistake with an application for geology was turned into an admission for B.Sc Economics drove her towards pursuing the next best thing that she loved arts. She interviewed at Shrishti College of Arts where the faculty set up ingenious interviews and made students perform creative tasks for a period of four days. She fell in love with the people, the teaching, the college and the learning instantly.She explored the art of learning and teaching through storytelling using various forms of visual communication and she still gets fascinated everyday by the light, color, composition, and framing;and how it all blends to culminate in a beautiful story. She is glad about giving ears to her inner voice and finding something she enjoys doing every day and not being a clone (of doctor or geologist or whatever) struggling inside forever participating in a ruptured society.

The story of her journey only reiterates what all of us know but seldom practice. Education should teach us the courage to explore and listening actively to voices from within to hone our natural abilities and become truly happy individuals, not just successful clones. Education in its true essence would teach us to seek answers for the inherent quests and find happiness in those pursuits.

Find her work at https://www.facebook.com/royalexistentials/ and https://www.behance.net/aarthipartha

Image is taken from her weekly blog, Royal Existentials with her permission.

The article was written by Satya Lakshmi.

satya

Satya Lakshmi is a scientist by profession and an explorer by hobby. She is constantly on the lookout for the next learning adventure and loves reading. You can find her pursuing professional interests at the interface of biology and business.

Ipsa Jain interviewed Aarthi and helped editing the piece.

 

Odra Noel- A Scientist by day, Artist at other times

in Sci-Pourri/That Makes Sense by

Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss had said, “Science and art ask the same questions.” Hence, it may not seem surprising that many inventors and scientists have pursued artistic pursuits alongside scientific research. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man is a reminder that art and science complement each other. It is a perfect example how the skill of illustration proves to be invaluable for exploring as well as communicating scientific ideas, even across language divides. While the approach to answering the same fundamental questions may be different, there is a common element of wonder and curiosity. While the laboratory is the temple of scientific discipline, curiosity and imagination have been at the helm of some scientific discoveries. Kekule found/discovered the structure of benzene in a dream, imagining a snake seizing its tail. A story has been popularized that a rescue operation against cannibals resulted in the invention of the sewing machine by Elias Hawke. Einstein’s wild imagination of him riding a light beam has brought humanity so far. It is therefore not surprising that some of the great scientists also dabbled with art, music, and painting. Richard Feynman played the bongo and Einstein played the violin.
But, can  passion lead to a sustainable profession? To pursue the question that intrigues me of late, I started researching on the lives of modern scientists who are juggling between their profession and passion. Not very long after I started my research, Odra Noel caught my attention. Odra, who is a trained doctor from the University of Basque and a Ph.D. from the University of London, dabbled with cell culture, dissection, intracellular organelles when she realized that her enthusiastic interest in scientific art could be combined with scientific art creation. My quest to know about her transition into the world of scientific art (a subject which is very close to my heart) I reached out to Odra to know about her work and transition. “I always knew I was an artist. I had the soul of an artist. But making a living from art is even more difficult than making a living as a scientist, for the simple reason that we need many more scientists than artists. I never left science, my main activity, and the one that pays the bills is science. I do art in my spare time and use it to balance my life. I use art to think, to understand and to communicate science” Odra said when I asked her when did she realize she wanted to be an artist. Realizing from my experience that how hard such a transition can be for someone who is trained to work in the lab, solving problems to have a deeper understanding of life for several years at a stretch, I couldn’t resist myself to ask “so how was the transition?.” “My transition was partial and seamless. I always had made art on the side, so to make it a bit more ‘official’ was not difficult” she said, adding “It takes a lot of planning and energy. Having two lives is fun, but you need to make sacrifices because there are only 24 hours in each day.” I realized for a graduate student to pursue hobby vis a vis his/her lab life one needs a supportive mentor and so I asked: “how supportive was your alma mater/PI when you made the choice of a nonacademic career?” Odra’s response was “people are generally very supportive. But you need a certain amount of evidence that you know what you are doing. Not an unplanned ‘follow’ your heart in my case.”
My short interview ended with her claiming to be a ‘nongame changer.’ Well, she is modest about her achievements, but if you look at her work, you will realize that her work efficiently communicates science in a fun and artistic way. She also sets an example for us (PhDs) to have wholesome lives where our lives are more than our research jobs.

Just a few more lines about her:
Apart from training in science (Ph.D.), she has gained training in arts and aesthetics. She mainly paints cellular processes, membrane and cellular organelles on silks. Chloroplast and mitochondria are her favorite subjects. She ensures that the colors are vibrant and catchy to an uninitiated buyer, but when someone buys her product, they take a scientific concept home. Her art cover has also featured in scientific journal covers and science art exhibitions. She juggles her life between art and science.

So that was my way of knowing someone who is a full-time scientist and an artist. It is already well past midnight, and I need to finish my next set of illustrations…..

To find out more about Odra Noel’s artwork, please visit http://odranoel.eu/gallery/. For those in London, some of her pieces will be part of the exhibition ‘Transplant and life’ at the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons, London, from 22 November 2017 to mid march 2018.

Image is taken from Odra Noel’s Facebook page with her permission.

 

head-shot

Ipsa is a Ph.D. student at IISc. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing. She is grateful that Diptadip Dattaroy and Ananda Ghosh took the pains of editing her poor writing.

In Support of Arnab fighting Metastatic Sarcoma

in Sci-Pourri by

We would like to introduce you to Arnab Sen, a brilliant student and scientist from India who completed his doctoral thesis in Germany. Arnab is 30 years old, the only child of his parents and was pursuing a promising career in Germany.

He was diagnosed with metastatic Sarcoma merely two months before completion of his PhD and since then has been receiving cancer treatments. He and his family have been battling with the disease for more than two years now as he has undergone surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and much more in a bid to get better.

Of-late, he has been of poor health and we wish to start this campaign to generate support for him and  his family during these extremely difficult times  as expenses continue to soar.  Any help will be sincerely appreciated and will be directly utilized in his care and to provide support for his family. Please donate now! The fundraising link is given below:

 

https://www.gofundme.com/support-for-arnab-and-his-family-2wd65us

 

 

Cooking in my Life

in Sci-Pourri/That Makes Sense by

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The earliest childhood memory I have about cooking is from when my mother would sit aside in the kitchen and pass on the responsibility to me. As per the customs in India at that time, she could not cook when she had her period, and being the eldest child in the family, I was the chosen one to bear this responsibility. This is how my cooking started. My mother would tell me what to do and I followed her direction. Light the fire (yes, we cooked on coal, firewood, and at times on kerosene stove in those days), clean the rice, cut vegetables, cook the rice, curry, and soup, etc. Before I could realize, my childhood was soon over and I proceeded to high-school, college, and university – loosing touch with cooking. I spent very little time at home and was away for long periods of time. I was busy acquiring knowledge through fire-hose, while food was provided at the hostels of the Central University of Hyderabad (we had a very good mess), and Indian Institute of Science, where the mess and food was par excellence, outstanding. No wonder that many IISc graduates do not know how to cook (no offence!).

Then came the time to venture into the brave new world of explorers and wanderers and I became a part of it in the October of 1986. I left my mother and sisters, my place of birth and education and stepping into adulthood, I took a flight to Austin, TX at the age of 26. University of Texas at Austin was my life for the next three years. My arrival was exciting and so was the warm welcome from labmates and some relatives and friends from India. But very soon, I was by myself, in my studio apartment (at a monthly rent of $125!) and the work load was pretty heavy. I worked until midnight almost every night. Understandably, my diet basically became restricted to peanut butter and jelly (PBJ) sandwich, baked potato with broccoli, pizza and Chinese veggie bowl. By the way, I was raised as a vegetarian, and chose to remain a vegetarian – a decision that I am very proud of, even today. Though the latter three compensated for my growing apathy towards PBJ, after the first 6 months I could neither see, smell, nor eat PBJ. It took me a decade to buy peanut butter again. This was the crisis that motivated me to start cooking.

I was recipe-poor, and all I had were the memories of helping my mother during my childhood. So, I conjured each of those memories and started experimenting. I didn’t have a car and used to share a ride with a friend in his old Volkswagen Bus to shop for groceries. My experiments with cooking in the early days were pretty much a disaster every single time. But I didn’t have any other choice. I couldn’t even look at pizza. The only outside food that I cherished was the Chinese veggie rice bowl from a very small Chinese fast food place across Guadalupe St. at the University. In fact, this was the only reason that I took a liking to Chinese cuisine. So, over the next two years or so, I slowly improved my cooking of Indian and Chinese vegetarian dishes.

One thing I realized fairly quickly was that cooking was not just about food, it brought a sense of freedom for me that, for the first time, I was not dependent on anyone for my basic need. I was also happy and proud to have broken the stereotype that cooking is a woman’s job and men are present to just eat and critique the food. Notable so, some of the best cooks in Indian history are men (and they are also the best critics) – Nalabheemapakam is supposed to be the best. Bhima, one of the five brothers of Pandavas is known as the best cook. Above and beyond all those, when cooking becomes a passion and a hobby that you look forward to and experiment with, it provides excellent compensation to your mind and body that engage in other intellectual/scientific/physical activities. This is how cooking became an integral part of my life.

I still remember how my grandmother used to make “guttivankai kura” (full eggplant curry). She made it so it was the best and so, I started trying. I remember avial, sweet banana chutney/curd served with fruit rice at the A-mess at IISc., and I started experimenting, sometimes more successful than others.

It was the time I met a student from Germany (total meat eater) and we started dating. We used to invite many friends and colleagues to our apartment and cooked for them. Thus,  my cooking skills began to expand.

In 1990 we moved to Germany and started our family in 1992. One of my conditions to get into serious relationship with my German girlfriend was: No meat or seafood at home – storage, eating, cooking, or bringing in. She was infatuated and agreed – a decision we hold even today. My wife eats meat outside, but we maintain veg*an lifestyle at home. This has survived the test for over 15 years in Germany as well as in the US. Since then, I am the cook at home most of the times, except for vegetarian German dishes that my wife makes. During the time in Germany and subsequent move to the US in 2000, my cooking slowly expanded from Indian, German, Italian and Chinese to Thai, Mexican and Mediterranean. I enjoy inviting friends over and cooking for them.

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One very important value that I try to uphold during cooking or eating food is to not waste food. I know how farmers work hard to produce the food we eat. I know how many humans and animals are deprived of food across the world. So, if I see someone serving food in excess and leaving their plate only half eaten, I would like to have “nothing to do with that person”. If you are a meat eater, this is even more important, because, an animal was killed for you to live. Above and beyond all these, conscious eating is critical. Be conscious about the source of your food, where it is coming from and how? Because, if you eat, it becomes a part of your body and mind. If you abuse your source of food, you abuse your body as well and your mind follows that abuse. You become physically and mentally a sick person. So, be conscious of the source of your food, respect the life that was sacrificed (plant or animal) and try to do minimal harm/damage to life for you to exist. Within this framework, you can still be an excellent cook and delight yourself and your friends and family with good food.

Murthy Gudipati

La Canada Flintridge, CA

 

12747898_463822637151321_621441001640398245_o

About the Author: Murthy S. Gudipati (aka G. S. Murthy at IISc) is a Principal Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. His research focuses on the evolution of organic matter and ice in the Universe, particularly the outer solar system, comets, and the potential origin(s) of life on Earth. He worked at the University of Texas at Austin, at the University of Cologne, Germany, University of Maryland, College Park, and at NASA Ames before joining JPL/Caltech in 2007. Murthy obtained M.Sc. at the Central University of Hyderabad (1981), Ph.D. from the Department of Chemistry, Indian Institute of Science (1987), and Habilitation (similar to tenure) at the University of Cologne (1998). He stayed in almost all the Men’s Hostel Blocks, dined at all the three A-C Messes, ran a half-marathon, and developed life-long friendships during his 1981-1986 stay at one of the most beautiful campuses in the world – the IISc. His PhD research was recognized with “Guha Medal – Best Thesis Award”. Murthy is one of the founding members of the IIScAANA.

Born and raised in in Southern India, Murthy lived in interior villages to mega cities in three continents. He at times walked over four miles each way to attend upper primary schools from his village. This experience bonded him with nature and animals immensely. Murthy likes Nature and National Parks and he has organized several hiking and camping trips for IIScAANA. Murthy’s passion is to bring knowledge, information, and education to the next generation humans to enable the future civilizations to treat themselves and the Nature with respect. Murthy’s pursuit of Science is balanced by his interest in World Music, Nature, Vegetarian Cooking, and Philosophy.

 

Edited by: Anshu Malhotra

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The Resolution of Monera

in Sci-Pourri/Theory of Creativity by

E.coli:  Greetings dear Bacilli, Cocci, Spirochaetes, Mycoplasms and offspring. I, Escherichia coli K-12 of family Enterobacteriaceae, welcome you to the General Bacterial Gathering. It is my privilege as the spokes-microbe to throw some light … 

fig-1

**Photobacterium illuminate the stage – metabolism at its brightest**

…on the latest fissions, fusions and multiplications of plans made by us in our last bacterial annum. Before I start off with the regular proceedings, I would like everyone to stand on their flagellas, those atrichous on their fimbriae or pili to take a moment to stand in memory of those who denature their plasmids in the hellish autoclave just to maintain our great reputation of proper contamination. Remember, true martyrs only lyse physically; but they are forever alive in our genomes!

MRSA: DOWN WITH RESTRICTION DIGESTIONS!!!!
               PROMOTE BETA-LACTAMASE SECRETIONS!!

Mr. Salmonella :

                 Achooooooooooooo !!!!

E.coli:  Mr. Typhi, please exocytose that recombinant Influenza receptor before the meeting in the human world. According to the rules, sneezing, puking or conjugating here will not be tolerated! Anyway, I would like to invite Monsieur Vibrio cholerae to say a few words. 

 

fig-2

MRSA:       M! METH R! RES! S! STAPH! A! AUREUS!..

                  MRSA!!! MRSA!!!!! MRSA!!!!!

Vibrio:     

                 Merci Monsieur E.Coli! Bon jour! Vee, ze bactereaial generha, r eh uge clan veet many of uz replicating in uman intesteens. Vee r ze one whoo geef stoopid umans aver soofiseecatd diseeses and make dem leak zeir debrhi frhom both ends, but Mon du! vee r beeing man-andled!! Ze only theengs dat sum of uz r dooing now r running fhamilee-planning on agaar platez, excreeting ze enzymes, beeing cukked in ze ovens to become ze vaccines! 

fig-3fig-13

Laast but not ze least, seeting in ze UV chaember running ze operons, feed on ze lactose sans saveur and surhvyv on toxic za fungal wastez. Sum of ouverh own kingdom iz secreeting anteebioteecs!! Quelle honte!!

fig-4fig-7

MRSA:      DOWN WITH LACTOSE OPERONS!

B. subtilis:

                  Now, now, deary, let’s not point flagelle at anybody. We all do our jobs…In my times there was full ‘freedom of secretion’ in our constitution. I will make what I like! Erwinia sweetheart…you feeling ok?…..

Lady Erwinia collapses and lands slime-layer first onto the mud. The Clostridium paramedics run to the rescue. The member is recognized as Lady Erwinia Amylovora who once belonged to same family as her cousin E.Coli but betrayed her family by shifting to plants from the natural habitat of animal intestines. She used to survive on simple requirements but things were getting so complex nowadays that she couldn’t get proper intake daily for herself and her trailing species. CSC gives her a glucose shot.

[mild tremors felt across the meeting venue]

E. coli :

                 Oh dear…tremors are not a good sign. I am sorry as to what happened to my cousin Erwinia. By seeing her condition we can clearly say that we are running short of nutrients. We need to act fast! Members, we have decided to go ahead with ‘Project Sweet Revolution’. We will immediately start synthesizing more glucose and conserve it for our every proliferating offspring!! Our phototrophic community has agreed to produce the required amounts in return of necessary resources and full time protection. Mr.Azotobacter, Mr.Rhizobium and members of CSC have volunteered to help the autotrophic minority to boost their energy-less electrons.

fig-5

MRSA:       MOVE OUT OF PLATES AND AGAR JUNK,

                 SWITCH TO INTESTINES OF SKUNK!

Mr. Proteus rudely lets out a gush of suffocating ammonia gas. Everyone in the vicinity shuts up their mesosomes.

Madame Klebsiella:

                  

                 I would be truly grateful if the spokes-microbe could kindly solve property and nutrient rights between all of us enterobacterea within the intestines. There is freedom of secretion but no liberty of gas production! We need a motion on this.

MRSA:      IF WE DON’T GET NO FOOD.

                YOU DON’T GET NO PERFUME!

E.coli:   

                 Madame Klebsiella it is all about proper motions, isn’t it? Unfortunately there is no precedent about the dispersion of  obnoxious gases. We shall deal with the bio-geo-chemical cycling issues in the near future!

                 Let’s concentrate on our latest human problems. We are now very vulnerable to their loops. The other day Mrs. Nessiera was forced to crack open her lipopolysaccharide coat to show her peptidoglycan content. But do not worry. Dr. Thermus‘s and Dr. Pyrolobus‘s lab has had a major breakthrough to counteract this embarrassment. Their research was focused on evolving a new pseudomurein layer with tighter isoprene chains and lower lipids. We are excited to reveal that their latest experiments can guarantee us coats which can resist an astounding 115°C.

fig-6fig-8

[**Applause**]

Mrs. Rickettsia gives Rickettsia Jr. a tolerably warm hug. The family have huge hopes from junior who shows great potential to become an official and responsible human pathogen.

fig-9

Mr. Mycobacterium :

                 We are having terrible experience infecting humans nowadays. Just the other day, my poor twins had innocently infected a human while playing in the backyard. They had a narrow escape from a terrible aniline dye and escaped. Their brand new mycolic-acid-covering was permanently dyed with the stain. Just imagine the torment the two are going through at this young age!

fig-10

MRSA :      BETTER DEAD THAN STAINED,

                 BETTER SOGGY THAN DRAINED!!

[Moderate tremors rock the meeting venue…..]

E.coli :    

                 Oh dear its getting close. We are all glad that your kin eluded the evil human eye! For all those interested, Mrs. Diphtheriae, Mr.Tetani and Mrs. Yersinia will be giving micro-public demonstrations about the increasing audacity of humans who try to paint us red! I have requested our Pseudomonas Culture Foundation labs to work on new genes that would help us avoid the binding to dyes and provide more privacy from the human blood T-cells, B-cells and immunoglobulins. Signora Shigella, you wish to speak?

fig-11

MRSA:       FOR BOWELS WE STRIVE…

                  FOR BINARY FISSIONS WE THRIVE!!

Signora Shigella:

                 Si, grazie mille! Io sono Shigella. Sorry for my English! I think we need to be friendly with virooses. T-even coliphages ave sent spies with Dee-En-Aa to find us. We should be smart. We should not fall for tricks. We don’t be stupid. I virooses sono belle.  If you date, the phages penetrate and control tutii genomi, stronza! Be vhery carefool of beeutee and sexy viroos belle! La famiglia Viroosa is stronger than La Camorra, La Mafia! They scare those umans. To win, we should not loss our ATPs and nucleotides in Leeteec and Leesogenic battglia! Forza Monera!!!

fig-12

MRSA :      DOWN WITH VIRALISM………FREEDOM TO SLIME-ISM

[Very strong tremors unbalance the meeting participants]

E.coli :

                 Not too far now I guess. I hear you signora! We have called upon a capable toxin releasing team from various families like the great biopesticide Dr. B. thuringiensis and Dr. C. botulinum to try and evolve a new antiviral machinery. Till now they have not been very successful. Microbes of the community, lend me your ribosomes (and translate accordingly). We placed our pili in this world long before those humans! We were told by nature to transcribe new proteins and create whom we know today as the humans. It took us great time to sculpture these evolutionary descendents who have now started using us for their benefits! They are abusing and murdering countless of our numbers every second! My nucleosome swells with grief when I see the debris of our fellow microbes in the enzyme cemetery acting as the sites for endonuclease, exonuclease and protease activity. May I request Streptococcus and Pseudomonas rough families to kindly undergo transformation if you find any useful genome in the cemetery.

MRSA :       ALL HAIL RECYCLED MARTYRS!!

A huge group is found rushing towards the debris, competing for the spoils of the war. Inspector Lactobacillus denies them exit fas the debri genomes may have transduced viral contamination. A terrible Central Dogma hazard!!

E.coli. :

                 Friends, family and offspring…lend me your flagella, cilia and ear-glycans. We help the humans to digest their food and what do we get in return? A red hot sterilized nichrome loop burning our precious genes to carbon dioxide or perhaps a one way ticket to UV chamber where we are brutally apprehended by hard wavelengths, forced to gobble up tasteless lactose! World was ours and now our own evolved multicellular brats are killing and rampaging all our resources. They forget that everything had started with us and everything ends with us!

fig-14

E.coli :

                 It is now time to put our nuclei together and take a strong decision. We cannot go against nature’s wishes. Suffering members of Kingdom Monera, let’s unite and pass the ultimate resolution. We vow to be united in the decision taken by the majority of flagellas raised.

MRSA:       DOWN WITH……

E.coil :    

                 SHUT UP MRSA!!!!! HERE IT IS!!! This is our chance to seek vengeance! To give back as much pain as we  have suffered. The humans will finally feel the wrath of the Monera.  GET TO WORK EVERYONE!!!!!

fig-15

Very strong quakes rip apart the venue. All enterobacters take position, ready for action. Commensals flee south while MRSA disperses into capillaries.

THE PANIPURI HAS FINALLY REACHED THE SMALL INTESTINES. IT’S TIME TO BREAKDOWN SOME GOLGAPPA, WELCOME NEW MEMBERS AND MAKE SOME GAS.

[Evil Laugh and Painful Indigestion]

THE END

 

Sourav

About the author: Sourav Banerjee has completed his PhD from MRC Protein Phosphorylation unit, Dundee, UK and is currently working as a postdoctoral associate at UC San Diego, USA. His interests include traveling, eating and numismatics.

vibhav

About the illustrator: Vibhav Nadkarni completed his post-graduation in Biosciences from University of Auckland. He is currently considering a career move to the field of Bioimaging. He has previously worked with Regenerative Medical Services and SRL Ranbaxy. He is constantly exploring ways to incorporate creativity into life sciences. In his spare time, he works on building his online travel venture. His interests include sketching/painting and traveling.

Shraddha

Edited and Fake accented by: Shraddha Lad has recently finished her PhD in Epigenetics and Imprinting as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Early Stage Researcher from Naples, Italy. She is currently at crossroads about her future career (Academia versus Industry) and is using the publication of her manuscript as an excuse to delay making that decision (jk!). In her free time she enjoys reading, tasting different cuisines, gaming and music.

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The Earliest Englishman who never was

in Sci-Pourri/SciWorld by

 

Piltdown_gang_(dark)

    • 1912 – the meeting of the Geological Society, London. Charles Dawson, an amateur anthropologist, stuns the world by presenting bone fragments which, he claims, are that of an extinct species of ancestral humans!
    • The find – from a gravel pit at Piltdown village of Sussex – includes parts of a skull and lower jawbone, a canine and prehistoric tools made from bones. They are estimated to be about half a million years old.
    • Arthur Woodward, head of the department of Geology of the Natural History Museum, reconstructs the skull and announces that it had belonged to a ‘missing link’ between apes and humans – it is named Eoanthropus dawsoni, after the discoverer.

piltdown-image-1160x435

    • The crux of the discovery is that the skull indicates that the brain size would have been about two-thirds that of a modern human. It is quite similar to a human skull, except for the occiput (the part of the skull that sits on the vertebral column). BUT, apart from two human-like molar teeth, the jaw bone is identical to that of a modern, young chimpanzee.
    • ‘Piltdown Man’ stuns the world. And the British rejoice. Many of them had been sad that no fossils of ancestral humans had been unearthed in the British isles, while Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon fossils had been found in Germany and France respectively. Now, here is THE EARLIEST ENGLISHMAN AND THE EARLIEST EUROPEAN.

PSM_V82_D210_Reconstruction_of_Eoanthropus_dawsoni

    • And of course, Piltdown Man is an EURASIAN and not of African origin. [in the days of colonial imperialism and racism, Darwin’s 1871-hypothesis that human origins lay in Africa had caused much controversy; here was proof that Darwin had been wrong].
    • And the evidence nicely fits into the predominant hypothesis that the cranium had evolved first followed by jaws i.e. the large brain preceded the omnivorous diet . That also implies that the British were the ‘first to be smart’ and the first to start eating like humans, not beasts.
    • And Piltdown Man loved sports too – a sculpted elephant bone, discovered alongside the skull and jaw, is even interpreted as being the prehistoric cricket bat!
    • But, not all is rosy – many scientists, including the famous anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith, are skeptical (some of them in continental Europe and the US had ‘extra-academic reasons’ to be so too). And even The Royal College of Surgeons demonstrates that the bone fragments can be reconstructed differently such that it’d be identical to a modern human skull.
    • It is even suggested that the skull bones and the jawbones belonged to two different species and had accidentally come in close juxtaposition in the pit!
    • Besides, could an ape-like canine snugly fit into a jawbone that had human-like molars?   Scientists doubt – heated debates rage.
    • But, in 1915, Dawson discovers 3 more skull fragments from a site 2 miles away from Piltdown. And they look convincing. Now, even skeptics have to accept the data…grudgingly.
    • Dawson dies in 1916. Woodward digs more, but the Piltdown pit has nothing more to unearth.
    • Over the decades, more fossils come up – predominantly in Africa…and the line-of-evidence they present is rather different from the Piltdown Man. ‘He’ seems to be a strange, ill-explained aberration – almost an outlier…odd…funny…but, 40 years go by…
    • November, 1953. TIME magazine publishes the findings of Kenneth Oakley, Sir Wilfrid Le Gros Clark and Joseph Weiner. The article is titled ‘End as a Man’. Using the latest techniques, including Fluorine absorption dating, the trio proves that the Piltdown Man is a forgery.
    • The paleoanthropological hoax-‘fossil’ is a composite of bones from 3 species – a medieval-era human skull, a medieval-era orangutan’s lower jaw and fossilized teeth of a chimpanzee!!!
    • They were made to look prehistoric by staining the bones in a solution of Iron and Chromic acid.
    • Microscopic examination of the teeth shows file-marks – they had been modified as if they used to chew a human diet – Eoanthropus dawsoni had never existed. It was a scientific fraud, crafted with sinister care and then deliberately thrown at the world.
    • WHODUNIT?? – more than a century later, it is still unclear. Dawson was certainly involved (later investigations showed that many of the antiques and artifacts he had collected were hoaxes – a serial bluffmaster ? ), but probably there were others too.
    • WHY? – no one knows. Perhaps Dawson, an amateur, yearned for international recognition – maybe fellowship of the Royal Society….we will never be sure of the motive…
    • What had been achieved? People – researchers and commoners – had wasted a LOT of time and money and enthusiasm had been funneled into a ‘blind lane of knowledge’ for years. An estimated 250+ papers had been written on the topic!
    • No use at all? – well, it shows science can never compromise on its stringency – especially when cultural, natural or ideological emotions and the pursuit-of-glory may tend to cloud judgment. A successful hoax is one that ‘presents what one expects to see’ – and the Piltdown Man was just that.
    • And, of course, the great thing is that it was rigorous science that finally unearthed the hoax.

Author Profile:

for sciwri

Anirban Mitra, Ph.D

Anirban Mitra did his PhD from the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru and is now a teacher of biology, based in Kolkata. His interests range from biological evolution to history of science and facets of India’s past.

*This blog summarizes the findings from the research articles that can be found in this link. http://www.clarku.edu/~piltdown/map_prim_suspects/ABBOTT/Abbot_defense/piltman_englishmystery.html

*The overall conclusion derived from these studies have been voiced at the website of Natural History Museum http://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/departments-and-staff/library-and-archives/collections/piltdown-man.html

Tackling the networking monster for introverts

in Sci-Pourri by
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796 – 1875 ), The Artist’s Studio, c. 1868, oil on wood, Widener Collection. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

“Gloriously alone with her own thoughts for company, she was but walking in the painted landscape–wishing that she may remain locked there for all ages to come…”

 

I stared at the far hillocks wondering what time it was. Languid evening chatter created a fairly noisy din around me. The only other familiar face was meditatively sipping her aperitif, an Aperol Spirtz, glistening like the setting sun. The experience was surreal, sitting among strangers in a sleepy Italian town far away from home, isolated amidst the banter.

It has been two years since the 2-month work visit to Italy and that uneventful afternoon. Needless to say, the ‘Friday evening drinks’ networking meeting did not go that well. As an exchange student, I remained an outsider to the conversation spree and fled the scene as soon as propriety allowed. My prowess at battling the monster of ‘networking’ has only but barely improved. I have never made an attempt to intentionally befriend a resourceful person, even as the conventional ‘ networking tips’ guidelines admonished and berated my introverted self.

Recent times, however, have seen a change of heart. Don’t get me wrong, I am still not effective at networking. However, there has been an important realisation.  Networking need not be a slimy word reserved for relentlessly pursuing connections for material benefit, neither does it have to involve a charade of niceties directed towards some assumed gain. Yes, there will always the aggressive ones, who revel in the glory of the pursuit of beneficial associations. But that does not have to be the only form of networking. At the heart of it, it stresses on building relationships. One does not have to chase every rich, famous, and accomplished person ‘just in case’. One need not even attend those (typically) disastrous networking events wherein strangers meet, greet and leave after a bout of cheerful small talk.

For those who are disillusioned or distressed with the new craze in networking, well, it isn’t new. Throughout the ages, we have trusted people we know more than outright strangers. We have always given weights to human connections. Today, ‘networking’ is promoted as a marketing strategy, but it can be a rather gratifying experience if we focus on its essence and not just as a professional aid.

Get to know a famous scientist or entrepreneur exactly for that: to learn about his experiences and enjoy the conversation as it is, without wondering about how to glean benefit for your career. Who knows?—A positive first chat may forge a lifelong friendship, initiate a support system, bring forth great advice, all adding positivity to your situation. Of late, I have started reaching out to people gingerly, and have been surprised at the warmth I have received. For introverts, a sense of a distinct purpose, rather than an ‘I should be friends with as many influential people as I can’ attitude also helps, in my opinion. At a recent event, I wanted to ask one of the speakers about a possible freelancing opportunity. The swarm of gung-ho admirers did not give away and I just could not break-in; besides the prospect itself was mortifying for me. Finally I did get an apprehensive sentence across as she was going to her car, and we are ‘networked’ now! She was the only person in the illustrious panel I attempted to connect with, and thank heavens for that; the pressure of preparing something to say to the others which would be just the right ‘pitch’ might have been too much…

While offline networking is how it started, the phenomenon of online networking has been a godsend for networking-shy people like me. No eye-contact, no awkward facial expressions, and no uncomfortable silences! These, along with the protective barrier of a computer screen have transformed the networking monster into a friendly puppy (well, almost). I am much more comfortable email-ing or even chatting with people I would like to connect with. It is also easier to grow a thick skin for non-acknowledgment online than for a face-to-face disdainful snub. Online support forums are very useful to conquer the hesitation and unease involved in approaching people, especially for us introverts.

So here I am, a not-really-networked person preaching lofty about the right way to do it. There is no actual ‘right’ way but all of us do not have to buy into the business-strategist’s definition of networking. The introverts will fit in some part or the other of the networking pyramid. The emphasis should be on making it personality-allied. So let us all share the manifold benefits of networking. Some of us will have fewer nodes in our relationship-connectome, but who knows—perhaps the weights are greater!

Debaleena Basu

211120131373

 

 

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