Scientists Simplifying Science

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January 2016

The Bayh-Dole Act- How it revolutionized US University inventions

in Sci-IP by


The Bayh-Dole Act or Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act, proposed by two visionary senators: Birch Bayh and Bob Dole, was adopted in December 1980, leading to the establishment of intellectual property (IP) rights arising from federally funded research. It was one of the most challenging legislations in United States. However, the seed for the protection of intellectual property rights was planted as early as 1945 by Vannevar Bush’s excellent report entitled “Science-The Endless Frontier”. This report encouraged the then United States’ President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to create a system to support scientific research “essential to national security, health, jobs, and a higher standard of living”. This subsequently led to the development of National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Health (NIH), the two most prominent funding agencies in the US that revolutionized the science and technology, post-World War II.

The Result

Prior to its implementation, the inventions, if they resulted from the funds given by the federal funding agencies and grant systems, was wholly owned by the federal government. The Bayh-Dole Act, as a result, transferred the ownership to the respective universities, non-profit organizations and small businesses. This provided enormous incentives to the universities to market their products, and encouraged the industries to invest in high-risk ventures coming out of university system. The act not only encouraged university-based inventions by providing a part of the earned royalty to the inventors, but also helped schools to generate funds for its research and development (R&D) activities.

After the Bayh-Dole Act

Soon after the Act, US universities started to establish major offices namely the Tech Transfer Offices (TTO). The primary role of these offices was to manage and aid commercialization of the inventions and its associated intellectual property, thus acting as a liaison between the industry and the academia.

The fact that a part of the royalty earned would go back to the inventors and their laboratories, started a renewed interest in R&D and in protecting inventions which were emerging from the labs.

As a comparison, prior to the implementation of the Act, there were roughly 200 inventions per year coming out of US universities. This number now runs to about 2000 per year. Also, some of the significant developments in the present day Biotechnology and Pharma industries were a direct consequence of this Act which we shall address in detail in the future series. A good measure of how the Bayh-Dole Act catalyzed the economic development would be to analyze the revenue generated by TTOs, which in 2013, in the US alone was around 5.8 billion dollars. In addition, the TTOs have also been instrumental in revolutionizing the start-up scenario in the US. Future series will address how the Bayh-Dole Act via TTOs promoted the start-up revolution.

March-In Rights

Even though the Act encourages innovation by giving ownership rights to the universities, this ownership is subject to government’s right to the usage of the technology. By enforcing “march-in rights”, the government can force the university to license the technology to a third party if it feels that such an act would be beneficial to the public, particularly in public health related inventions.


This significant paradigm shift in the transfer of technology and intellectual property rights has been made possible because of two visionaries: Birch Bayh and Bob Dole. A single Act altered, bolstered and catapulted the United States into an indisputable leader in science and technology, the fruits of which are being reaped far beyond its boundary.


Ananda Ghosh

Edited by: Sitharam Ramaswami (


  2. Willardsen al. Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship, 1, 132-137 (2014)
  3. A guide to Royalty rates in pharmaceutical licensing deals (2006)

This article is the first of the series of articles on Technology Transfer and Economic and Scientific Development in the US.

Face to Face with Binto George

in Face à Face by


I just finished reading “Artificial Intelligence Simplified” (ISBN 978-1944708016; Published by CSTrends LLP; available at Amazon as print and Kindle editions and also as low-cost student edition) written by Binto George (BG) and Gail Carmichael. Binto did his PhD in IISc. He is now a professor in School of Computer Sciences at Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL, USA. I met Binto in IISc and a friendship was born out of the joys of interdisciplinary crosstalk. We used to spend numerous hours under many trees and over many coffees and teas, discussing both computer science and biology without the jargon of either world hindering our conversations. This was evident even during his thesis defense in Super Computer Education and Research Center. The same is reflected in the simple language he has used in this book.

The book is very well written and simple that you can finish reading it in a couple of hours, even if you do not know anything about computer science. Of course, that is if you manage to spare yourself from thinking too frequently about the parallels and possibilities with concepts from biology. To biologists out there, this is a book that you should read to see how biology concepts have influenced AI. To every aspiring writer, this book is an example of how you can bring a complex subject to almost everyone who is curious and interested in understanding it. Moreover, as Binto brings out towards the end of the book, the field of AI is itself waiting for advances in our understanding of how our brains work in order to mimic it inorganically.

Below are responses from Binto on some of the thoughts that came up after I read the book. I hope you will read the book and ponder more over the responses below. I want to thank Binto for taking his time to respond to these thoughts. Hope this discussion can stimulate interdisciplinary crosstalk and creativity.- Syam Anand (SA)

SA: What was your motivation for writing this book?

BG: When I was teaching AI, I saw many students struggling with basic AI concepts. A few students got it the first time and a few never did. When I was a masters student, my AI instructor was very knowledgeable, but I realized that many students didn’t like him.   Also, many students were complaining about their textbook.

If AI is hard for CS students, what about the rest of the world?  My feeling is that it is not that AI is inherently hard, it is more about the way it is presented.

The current prediction by World Economic Forum (WEF) is that five million jobs will be outsourced to AI/robots by 2020. Years back, we had the same fear about losing jobs to computers. Now we know that computers didn’t replace us but it merely transformed the way we worked.  So, in my opinion,  knowing AI in the future is likely to be like having an understanding of computers today.  And this book is to help anyone learn AI.

Personally, for me, it is a coming back to AI after several years of hiatus.

SA: How was the idea for the book formed and how did you get your co-authors?

BG: Gail  (the co-author) was very active in “Go Code Girl” initiative in Carton University, initially as a Ph.D. student and then as an instructor. I was looking for someone who can work with me to make computer science more approachable and less intimidating to everyone including girls.  So we eventually planned a book on computer science, which later evolved into a two-part book – the first part of the book would include data structures and algorithms and the second part would have more in-depth chapters in areas, such as AI, Networks, etc.

Meanwhile, Gail moved on to pursue an industry career. Because of her busy schedule related to the new work assignment,  we thought we will go ahead and publish AI chapter as a book without waiting for other parts to complete.  Our hope is that we still be able to complete other parts in the future.

SA: How much time did you take to write the book? I understand that simpler and shorter books take longer to write. Correct me if I am wrong.

BG: A lot of time.  Gail wrote (and is currently writing) the first part on data structures and algorithms. I worked on more advanced areas including AI. Gail would always push for making things simpler. So no wonder she made me rewrite several times. Last few summers I spent an enormous amount of time writing the AI book, adding references, designing sketches etc.   Gail’s contribution in the AI book was particularly with respect to presenting the technical contents in a simple format for the general audience. We got many good suggestions because of the international review process (thanks to Susan). Andrew has been instrumental in holding us up to a higher standard, overall.

Obviously, some of our reviewers demanded more “depth”. As a result, we created the Appendix to cover more advanced topics at the same time keeping the readers’ interest by preserving the original text as simple as possible.

SA: I noticed that your publisher is CSTrends LLP. Could you help other IIScians in publishing similar books?

BG: Absolutely. A successful publication has to be “organically” great.   CSTrends LLP doesn’t count too much on publicity or marketing stunts. The belief is that a great book will find a way to thrive. If you want to explore a publication, you can send a detailed proposal to

SA: What is Artificial in AI?

BG: Good question.  Nothing, or, at least, that is the hope.

We can create intelligence by natural reproduction and training. I’m talking about raising kids and educating them, etc.  Our fundamental limitation is that “an apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree”.  Of course, there can be outliers due to mutation, but the selection process in the modern world at least with respect to human beings is far more permissive than the primitive era. Plus, intelligence is not the only criteria for natural selection.

We can also try to create intelligence using computers and again try to train to perform at “human level”.  Turing test is based on indistinguishably of the former form of intelligence from the latter – this is explained in second last chapter of the book.  Or we can have machines do something in a specific, narrow domain better than people. A chess playing program is a good example.

The advantage of going machine route is that machines can work tirelessly – they are simple enough to repair and rebuild.  Machines have not yet started complaining about their unpaid labor.

As a community, we have spent less than hundred years developing AI. The former form of intelligence has evolved over billions of years.  Natural intelligence will still evolve, but not at a pace that we are patient enough or would help us survive a major surprise adverse event that might happen sooner.  Plus, people love challenges inherent in creating intelligence. All these make a strong case for pursuing AI.

SA: Does the word “intelligence’ automatically conjure up an organic image in the minds of CS researchers?

BG: I can’t talk for others – but to me, intelligence still reminds me of the brain. Since we like computers, some of us try to be precise like machines, but in my opinion, that is not the point of it.  Do what we are good at and let machines do what they are good at.

SA: You mentioned the original objectives of AI proposed by Winston and said that the objective was later split up to achieve focused objectives. Is it because Winston did not comprehend the complexity of intelligence in terms of the different computational operations required for different objectives? Is this going to linger in the AI community?

BG: In general, what is achievable practically in the near term to keep the interest and funds flowing has a strong impact on our research focus.  I believe only government/non-profit initiatives can support strong research in fundamental areas (that are extremely challenging and of high risk/low short-term reward nature) that can have a real long-term impact. It is concerning that funding sources for basic science are slowly drying out.

SA: Fuzzy is not really fuzzy, is it?

BG: Not a bit – fuzzy is a way of modeling fuzzy thinking. There is nothing imprecise about it.  Being imprecise is not a great quality.  However, that can capture many human reasoning since we are naturally not that precise.

SA: Has AI depended more on mathematics and logic more than on Biology for developing as a discipline?

BG: I think so.  We have not understood biology enough to really depend on that for creating intelligence.  Also, when we try to create something like using biology, there are ethical questions.  Even when we manage to create a super intelligence (either biologically or otherwise), there is a probability of getting out of hand like we explained in our last chapter.

SA: In human intelligence, there is noise. Is AI devoid of noise?

BG: If by noise you meant entropy, there is. Again, the nature of non-productive activities in AI would be something different. from human intelligence:  e.g., a person gets tired, a computer gets overheated.

SA: Degrees of truth is a concept that I think is most valuable in terms of similarity to organic intelligence, next to maybe genetic algorithms. Your take?

BG: Interesting. In science, researchers like to have a hypothesis to be either proved or disproved.  The probability theory can help us capture some of the uncertainties and incompleteness of our knowledge and have a hypothesis that is likely to be true with a certain probability.

Many real-life situations need us to react to it without having all knowledge or not finding out the perfect (optimum) solution.  So in my opinion, it is no surprise that organic intelligence developed this way to solve problems under uncertainty or by adopting a trial and error strategy.  I really encourage reader comments on this one.

SA: Looks like chatbots have advanced (for example Siri) with respect to the simple example you gave in the book (Alice; which I tried and was fun. When I asked Alice “what is beyond noise?”, it answered “God perhaps?”). Does advancements in natural language processing, natural language parsing etc. have a role in the future of AI?

BG: Yes and no.   First, the reason for the “No” answer: Although, a machine could not win the Turing test without NLP, it could still be as intelligent as we are, at the same time unable to speak any natural language on earth.  (eg., Someone who  speaks little English may appear to be unintelligent to an American, but she could be really smart.)  Now, the reason for the “Yes” answer:  NLP helps the applications of AI that can attract commercial interest, which can turbo-charge the development of AI. Besides, a machine with good NLP can seamlessly interact and learn from people.

SA: Is there a real demand for adult intelligence? In other words, will the current AI efforts to solve focused problems in a faster, cheaper better way keep investments in the development of adult intelligence away from it?

BG: Yes, the industry is focused on investments that would result in near-term return. So that could hurt GI prospects.  I think that GI would be helpful in developing super intelligence much faster (rather than depending on natural reproductive cycle), which will help us save from a major disaster or surprise event that could extinct all of us.

SA: Is India invested enough in AI or, in other words, is there enough funding in the AI basic research in India that can be translated?

BG: I don’t know much about the scenario there now. Can anyone currently in India help?

SA: Do you think AI is taught in schools and colleges (undergrad level) well?

BG: No, I personally don’t.   Students at IISc or MIT may be able to learn from reading a “standard” AI textbook.  However, simplicity can save everyone’s time and help everyone quickly grasp the area (especially for whole-part learners).   I’ve read about two great people talking about simplicity: Gandhi and Einstein.  To me, both make sense.

SA: Looks like processing speed or memory size are not the blocks in the advancement of AI. Can pure mathematics and statistical methods and modeling come to the rescue of AI and advance it further instead of waiting for breakthroughs in Biology to understand the human brain?

BG: The same problem can have different solutions. I believe that a combination method that combines strengths of all techniques has a better chance of realizing General Intelligence (GI).

SA: Does the AI community think that even, in theory, there could be such a thing as a perfect brain that can do any task assigned to it with perfection? In other words, does the specialization to carry out a particular task with perfection, automatically rule out using the same system for another task or is it all about access control?

BG: Not necessarily. With a high-speed communication infrastructure AI nodes can collaborate at lightning speed to create essentially a super mass intelligence. Assume that an AI node is a specialist in one area because of the problems to be solved by it (or inspired by physical limitations such as memory).  Other AI nodes can tap into and learn from that node (assuming they are given access to that knowledge). AI should be able to disseminate knowledge and expertise in a much more efficient manner (than we publishing papers).

SA: Can AI systems be subject to “natural selection”? How much computing power do we need to mimic natural selection at the simplest level and are lower forms of intelligence being studied and tested to achieve these objectives?

BG: We can write a simple program that does natural selection or a program to solve a problem can be evolved using natural selection.  Yes, lower forms of intelligence are studied and reproduced using genetic algorithms.

SA: Gerald Edelman, Nobel prize winner for his contributions to Immunology had a book “Wider than the sky” that talked about how the development of the brain could use a method similar to clonal selection that is by the immune system to select high- affinity antibodies against immunogens. Any thoughts?  

BG: From what little I know, the book explores consciousness.  Don’t know much about it.  Maybe some of our readers can pitch in.

SA: Last question. Does the AI community also divide intelligence into brain, mind and consciousness?

BG: My guess is that when we create General Intelligence (GI), we would have a brain, mind and consciousness.  That’s assuming we can really define and understand consciousness.  What about feelings?  A feeling, in my opinion, is a real-time feedback mechanism for our own survival.  What about empathy? Does it come from our own vulnerability? And if so, if an AI robot has no specific vulnerability (e.g., it doesn’t need to breathe), will it be empathetic to a human being that’s gasping for air? Will it be able to connect to that its situation of going on low battery? (That’s assuming that its goal is to stay off hibernation) These are some of the interesting questions. It turns out that AI is an exciting field with more questions than answers.


The book authored by BG is available here

Binto’s lab link:




Interview conducted 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.

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To each his own

in That Makes Sense by



It has been a year since I officially received my PhD degree and with it the hard­ earned right to call myself Dr. Namrata Iyer. Despite all the effort that went into earning that prefix, it is one I am still acutely uncomfortable using. It is as if using it gives an impression of being something I am not. Doctor, in my books, has always been someone who is working to save lives, an expert in his field, an authority. And expertise is something I felt I sorely lacked at the end of my pursuit of this degree.

I used to always find it weird that this degree was called Doctor of Philosophy. It has been the subject of many a joke in my graduate life, with students mourning about the “sage/hermit”-­like life they were forced to lead on graduate salaries and having to forsake most materialistic desires! But having come out alive and whole from this process, I am beginning to realize how apt that title is.

PhD essentially is a process of examining the world around you, whether at a micro or macro scale. Looking at one tiny drop in this vast ocean of unexplained phenomena and asking a question of it; a question whose answer might provide some clue as to its true nature. Most of the time these questions do nothing more than satisfy our curiosity. But the beauty is that in the process of asking this question, you end up learning things about yourself you would never have discovered otherwise.

No two graduate experiences are alike and some are decidedly harder than the others. I for one had it easy by most standards. Not too much pressure, freedom to plan my work, timely completion of the thesis and a decent recommendation to go where I wish. Despite that, my PhD posed one challenge that till date I struggle with….and that is dealing with failure. Coming into graduate school, most of us have an excellent academic record, top of our class, good research experience and all that jazz. In short, we’re used to being successful at what we do. But then, suddenly we find ourselves not only in the company of equally brilliant peers but also staring down a question/project that comes with no guaranteed solutions.

Apart from the rigors of dealing with our mentors, colleagues and their expectations, the project we choose is in essence a black box without any instruction manual. Especially in fields like biology, the things you deal with literally have a mind of their own. Sometimes things come together like a neatly assembled IKEA piece and sometimes you realize you don’t even have all the pieces to begin with. In a field where each bacterium, each mouse you pick up is unique, you are struggling to discern a hint of pattern or a trend amidst a sea of noise. For many, this struggle ends in triumph while some face down defeat, sometimes at the fag end of their graduate tenure.

Having found myself in the latter category, I was faced with a sort of existential crisis. 5 years of my life invested and nothing concrete to show for it. It made me wonder if I’d made the wrong choice doing my PhD and whether I’m really meant to be a researcher. Maybe I just don’t have what it takes to make it in this field. It’s a long and hard fall to take for someone who, while showing outward humility, never really expected to fail at anything. But being in that position forced me to take a long and hard look at what I really want in my life. It made me step out of the preconceived notion of what life after PhD should be like and make peace with the uncertainty of the future. Not everyone is destined to be a PI (Principal Investigator) and that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for you in the system. Being a part of a good research team with a good leader can be just as satisfying as leading one, as long as you are doing work that you find engaging. When faced with the question of whether or not I want to a postdoc, I realized taking that on doesn’t mean I am sentencing myself to an academic rat race. And it turned out to be a wonderful decision in the end. I was lucky to find a group and an environment that allows me to grow academically and also personally. I’ve explored both teaching and science writing in the few months that I’ve been here and look forward to building a path that allows me integrate things I am passionate about.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not touting myself as a success story….far from it. All I know is that PhD needn’t be the be all and end all of your life. It is just one chapter, one experience and your success and failure in that isn’t necessarily an indicator of how the rest of your life will shape up. Whether or not it leads you to academic success, it definitely does leave you stronger and better equipped to ask questions of life and deal with the answers you get. It is a degree that each one of us would be fortunate to have. So even though I persist in my discomfort with the prefix doctor, I am proud of being Namrata Iyer, PhD.


About the author: Namrata Iyer has completed her PhD from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and is currently working as a Postdoctoral research associate at Brown University, Rhode Island. Her current research focuses on the interactions between the gut microbiome and the host immune system. Her interests include teaching and writing. This blog has been posted simultaneously in her personal blog today (
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Meanwhile @IISc on any public holiday

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD by




About the cartoonist: Sujit did his PhD from CSA (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore) and joined Philips. After few years in the industry he joined IIIT Bangalore as an Assistant Professor and continues to teach there. Creator of ” Lapataa”- A fictional IISCian as he dodges through the reality of PhD. It is one of the fantastic piece of art which ClubSciWri thought needs to preserved and showed to the world and other alumni. The clips connect all of us whether it is an IIScian or a non-IIScian who did his PhD in India.

©Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti

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Gaining perspective – from the pixel to the photograph

in Sci-Pourri by


Complex questions are no strangers to us because, as scientists, have embraced them even as we work to crack them open. In science, we are all searching for the truth – a simple explanation, an elegant solution. What I have now realized is that, in this quest for a simple, straightforward answer, we often end up forgetting that, sometimes, there are no simple solutions. Sometimes, all we have is an interlinked and complex reality that can be tweaked gently but not radically rearranged. Messy complexity is what stares us in the face – be it in the form of thousands of proteins in a cells, millions of organisms making up our ecosystems or the many problems that plague our societies.


Events are the net result of a long and often interlinked chain of events – one cascading into another. Scientists have intuitively understood this inherent limitation in our mode of study. We know that we are limited by being able to only view snap-shots of a disease in progress or of the life of a cell. And so we strive to put together a coherent story based on these vignettes – adding in our own intelligent speculation to patch over the gaps. We narrow down the variables and focus on the minutiae. We stare down a microscope and break down complex processes and phenomena into parts that can be individually tweaked, studied, understood and exploited. And thus we create our version (a version) of the truth -one experiment at a time.


However, I have often felt that in trying to solve our favorite problem, we often get trapped into this tunneling, microscopic perspective. As we break down a problem into the tiniest of its parts, we often need a reminder that we are only looking at one flower, in a big garden of flowers, in a big city, in a big country and all of this in one big universe. It helps to stop once in a while just to step back from our microscopes and see the big picture.


A bigger picture, where the questions we ask are shaped by the answers (we think) we know. A whole where progress in one stimulates progress in another and answers in one leads to more questions in another. Where different fields of study are constantly talking to one another even though we are not always listening. We are all part of an evolving entity where even tiny alterations in the initial state can radically alter the final state in no small measure. More than ever, I now feel the need to walk away from the trap of specialization where we were long taught that the “Jack of all trades is the master of none”. In the spirit of bad pun, a lot of times, only a jack can lift the car even as the master stands clueless and helpless.


In life too, I now feel, one needs to step away from the details and minutiae of everyday living to look at the bigger picture. A framework, where we are shaped by the society we make; where our decisions are the result of our past, our present and our future desires. Where events halfway across the world can impact us is no small manner. Where change can be brought – one nudge at a time, one person at time, if only we kept at it. We need to step back from our microscopic and pixelated view of life and view the whole that is beautiful from the right distance. We need to be able to examine our lives in the third person even as we live it in the first person. And that is how we can identify our blind spots and our prejudices and open our minds to facts that have been ignored for long.


And so, when I was urged to write something for the IISc group – this was the one thing that stood out based on my limited exploration. As we run tirelessly on our own individual ferris-wheels of proteins and pathways, grants, projects, papers and jobs, I have realized that I must try and live an examined life. A life able to view itself in the context of a bigger perspective and a life able to appreciate the complexity around it. I now think that we might be better served if we try and wrap our minds around the chain of events that brought us here and work our way forward – as a person, a scientist, a group and a society.


About the author: Suvasini Ramaswamy is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California after completing her PhD at the Indian Institute of Science. Her current work involves developing stem cell based therapies for diseases of the liver. She is interested in art, photography and the history of science and society.


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A plunge into the first rays of the sun

in Theory of Creativity by





Although Hawaii is not just a beach destination or an ocean getaway, but, let me start this part of my story with one of our adventures in the Pacific while we were there. If this page is interested in more of my stories, I would love to narrate more about our travels in Hawaii that involved a lot more than just beaches, sunshine and sea. Now having said all these big words such as ‘adventures in the Pacific’, please don’t expect a Moby Dick taking a flip in front of us and trying to kill us!


It was the summer of 2015, when my wife Paulomi, told me that she has a work trip to the islands of Hawaii and she can easily squeeze in a few days after her conference for a short vacation if I join her. All the details of the trip were planned thereafter. When I reached Kauai (the oldest and farthest island of Hawaii) on Dec 11th, 2015, it was already dark and I was driving my rented convertible Jeep Wrangler through a dark road (with tropical woods on both sides) towards the hotel Grand Hyatt where my wife was staying. The chilly gust of the wind smelt like an outlandish mixture of the oceanwater, coconut and damp leaves.


After I reached the hotel I came to know that there were some changes in our planned itinerary and we were going whale watching and snorkeling early next morning. Being an early riser on vacations, often chasing sunrises during the wee hours of dawn, when I say early morning, do take it seriously, because I mean so. By 6.00am next morning we had already set sail into the ocean towards the Na Pali coast aboard our mid-size catamaran of Holo-Holo Charters that could afford a comfortable stay for 42 people (although we were only 15 strong that day). While we all were excitedly looking forward to spotting the whales, our captain emphasized the usual disclaimer every guide gives when going on wildlife watches that it is a matter of luck to be able to see animals in the wild. Paulomi and I were well aware of this after our past trips to the Yellowstone and the Amazon. We still crossed our fingers and remained steadfast in our resolution to see the land of the Jurassic giants in Spielberg’s footsteps. Kauai and its famous Na Pali coast, seen generally by only air or sea, have served as the backdrops for well-known movies such as Spielberg’s Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and King Kong.


We all gathered around the deck with bagels, juice and fruits in our hand, eating breakfast while waiting for one of the grand Kauai sunrises. Thankfully, this was close to the winter solstice of late December, the darkest time of the year for the northern latitudes. Not only does the sun traverse its lowest arc across the sky at this time, but in many places the sun rises after most have started going about their work day and sets much before the usual end of the day. As we sailed away, the eastern horizon slowly started to look like a fiery inferno with rays emerging from deep within and annihilating the endless darkness of the clouds. Suddenly the captain yelled “blowwwww! The first few moments, we didn’t comprehend what was happening until an older passenger besides us noticed our flabbergasted looks and clarified that this was an old nautical style of alerting other shipmates upon spotting a whale. We immediately looked out into the ocean, desperately trying to catch a glimpse of the whale. Unfortunately we only noticed a spray of water dissipating into the air and all became quiet for a few minutes until the breathtaking moment when three gracious humpback whales jumped together out of the water against the rising sun! It was such an incredible sight that I did not even remember to pull out my camera and click the shutter. I was almost in a trance for those few seconds that will remain etched in my heart all my life. I soon regained my photographer’s instincts and pulled out my camera to take few shots capturing the frolicking whales but none could match the first scene I saw with my eyes. Here is the best shot I was able to get with my camera.



About the Author: Debojyoti is a Post-doctoral Research Associate at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA and North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC. He believes that beauty is everywhere and the person who can recognize it, is the true artist. While an artist in my mind and hobbies, He is a scientist by profession currently doing his Postdoctoral research on molecular genetics of cellular checkpoints after completing his Ph.D from Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India in Bio-inorganic Chemistry. He is a fitness enthusiast while photography, writing and painting are his three main hobbies apart from taking some laps in the swimming pool once in a while.

Instagram: debojyoti.lahiri

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As I create it

in Theory of Creativity by

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 7.05.23 AM

I grew up in India where I attended art school for fourteen years that culminated in receiving a Diploma in Fine Arts from Bangiya Sangeet Parishad at age seventeen. In Kolkata, India, my paintings have been exhibited at the Academy of Fine Arts.

I am also a published writer and author of Violets in Blues, a book of poetry. I graduated summa cum laude from SUNY Stony Brook University with my Bachelors degree in English in 2010. I went to law school at Indiana University, Bloomington in 2012, and graduated Juris Doctor in May 2015. I live in New York City.

No matter what my academic pursuits have been, I have always been driven by my true passions for painting and poetry. As a painter, I am more inspired by the impressionists, which may be reflected in many of my pieces. My usual mediums of painting are oil on canvas and oil on oilpaper.


Photo source: Tina Ganguly’s “Diwali Night-Within and Without”

Tina G

Tina’s Creativity Corner: Visit to know, view and encourage Tina’s creativity.



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Face to Face with Dhirendra K Simanshu

in Face à Face by

I have known Dhirendra Simanshu (DS) since, 2002. The only thing I remember from our interaction was his greetings with an evergreen warm smile. After several years, when I met him at MSKCC NYC he did not change a bit. He greeted me with that same warmth. He was the first alumni from IISc, who readily came forward to share his experience of academic job hunting. ClubSciWri presents his full interview wherein he talks about how young postdocs should go about academic transitions. It is a great post and a personal favorite of mine.- Ananda Ghosh (AG)

AG: Tell us about yourself 

DKS: I am a structural biologist by training, graduated from IISc in the year 2006. Did my postdoc at MSKCC (2007-2014). Currently working as a Structural Biology team lead in the RAS Initiative program at Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (NCI). My major goal here is to provide atomic details of KRAS-effector complexes for structure-based drug design.

You can find more info here:

 AG: Tell us about your experience at IISC and what motivated you to science

DKS: During my B. Sc (Hons) in Biotechnology at St. Columba’s college, Hazaribag, Jharkhand, I studied for the first time many interesting subjects such as Recombinant DNA Technology, Immunology, biophysics, animal/plant/environmental biotechnology. I then decided to do M Sc. in Biotech and got admission in JNU, New Delhi. During my MSc, I got first hand experience of laboratory research and that motivated me to do a PhD.

After my IISc entrance exam, I was asked to join Prof. MRN Murthy’s lab at MBU, IISc for my PhD. I didn’t know him and didn’t have much idea about the technique (X-ray crystallography) used in his lab. He suggested me to come and attend a big biophysics meeting organized by MBU a couple of days before admission and see if the lab and the area excited me for PhD work. As he suggested, I arrived at IISc 3-4 days before my admission date and spent time in his lab and attended the talks. After meeting Murthy, I knew I was at the right place. For the next five years, I enjoyed working everyday in the lab mainly due to Murthy and excellent atmosphere created in the lab by my labmates. The training, mentorship and day-to-day advice I received from him have influenced my life in a big way. IISc experience got more memorable with life across the road in Gymkhana either on Friday’s movie night or playing cricket for 5 years (didn’t miss a single BICS cup match for MBU in 5 years time and MBU won the cup four times in a row).


AG: How did you choose the postdoc lab?

DKS: As a postdoc, my plan was to expand/improve my training, work on cutting-edge research and publish high-impact papers. I short-listed a long list (~20) of labs which I felt would fall under this category and then I sent this list to many lab seniors for feedback (to see if they knew anything about these PIs, lab atmosphere and for any suggestions they had). This helped me prioritize the labs in my list. I then went ahead and wrote to them very personalized letters as emails along with my CV including detailed list of publications. Most of the PIs replied (some of them after a gentle reminder) in negative as either they didn’t have space, funding or probably I was not good enough for their labs. One of the labs in my list was Prof. Dinshaw Patel’s lab at MSKCC. I wrote to him as well and received an instant reply and the day he got my reference letters from my mentors, he offered me a position.

AG: Tell us briefly about your experience during postdoc.

DKS: Initial postdoc phase was better as pressure was mainly on moving forward with the research projects. As years passed, I had to start thinking about transitioning to the next stage. Although I was open to both academic and industrial career, I wanted to try academia first. Most of the research projects in my postdoc lab were very competitive so we had pressure all the time to get the results soon and avoid being scooped by any competitors. Also there is always self-pressure to publish big so that transition into academic research becomes less difficult. During  the last two years as a postdoc, I spent a large portion of my time on writing research plans, grant proposals, applications etc. and that added additional uncertainty and pressure during that time.


AG: Tell us what was the most difficult aspect of postdoc?

DKS: Maintaining a work-life balance. At times, it was very difficult to keep up the pace of research work, fulfill expectations of postdoc mentor and fulfill responsibilities as a parent at home. Planning, prioritization and better time management in these times were helpful.


AG: What do you think about mentorship and is it important for successful transition to academia?

DKS: Transitioning from postdoc to academia is getting tough with each passing day due to the simple fact that there are way too many very good postdocs compared to the number of faculty positions available in academic institutions. Mentorship plays a big role in the transition process but one need not lose hope if they do not receive strong support from mentor. Based on my experiences, I felt that the following factors play an important role in transitioning from postdoc to academic position:

  • Impressive publications (high-impact journals)
  • Research area/field
  • Research Plan
  • Funding: Transition grant/Fellowship
  • Postdoctoral mentor reputation in that area
  • Reference letter from Postdoctoral mentor
  • Reputation of PhD mentor in training and in that given research area
  • Reference letter from PhD mentor
  • Ability to give impressive talks (excite people from different research backgrounds)
  • Personality and interpersonal interaction
  • Excitement, enthusiasm and persistence for that position

I feel strong publications, funding (grant/fellowship) and strong support from postdoc mentor are top three factors in transitioning from postdoc to academic career.


AG: How did you go with the job search? Did you plan your job search?

DKS: I started applying seriously during the last two years of my postdoc. I took advice from my seniors who had been in this stage recently and that was very helpful. I tried my best for academic positions both in US and in India. I interviewed at more than fourteen institutions in India during three different India trips. Indian institutions have gotten better in recent times with the application process but there is still scope for a lot of improvement. I also attended two YIMs (one in Boston and one in India) and that helped me network with people from different institutions. I felt I had a good chance based on most of the factors I described above. In the end, most of the institutes where I really wanted to join did not offer me an academic position citing one or other reason at the final stage of the application process. Unfortunately, I could not join the two institutions that offered me faculty positions in India due to some professional and personal reasons. My application for a faculty position at MBU, IISc was turned down at the fourth and final stage citing that I was an ex-MBU student and the dept. was not keen on hiring any more of their own students. I see some rationale for doing this but as someone said to me – if IISc likes to take best students in the country then they should also hire the best faculty, irrespective of whether they are their own students or from other institutes. I am mentioning this here as this will hold true for most of the folks who are part of this group. In the end, I failed to convince people from top institutions in India that I was good enough (even with a Wellcome-DBT intermediate fellowship in my hand) for a faculty position in their institute. My initial job search experience in US was also disappointing mainly due to the lack of any transition grant/fellowship. In early 2014, I received positive response from Frederick National Lab for Cancer Research (run by Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc. for NCI). After a phone interview, I attended the on-site interview and provided them with the reference letters. They offered a Structural Biology Team Lead (Senior Scientist) position to me and I joined in October 2014.

AG: What was your experience during interview?

DKS: In most of the academic institutions, you are analyzed for everything you say, ask or do as you go through the various stages of application process. A lot of discussion happens about your postdoc work, your research plan, funding plans, your infrastructural requirement, research work done by other faculty members at that institution and spouse job prospects if they happen to be in the same area. It is important to read and know about the work of other people whom you will be meeting. It is also helpful to explore common areas of research where there is any future prospect of collaboration. Also, during one-to-one interactions, it is very important to explain a clear research plan and backup strategies, if plan A doesn’t work out.

AG: What suggestions do you have for future PhDs who will hit the academic job market?

DKS: I truly believe that pursuing a PhD in biomedical research is not a great career option until and unless you are passionate and excited about it and aware of the struggles that you may have to face in the coming years. My first suggestion for future PhDs/postdocs would be to keep all career paths open as in this current job market no one can guarantee an academic position in India/USA. In reply to question #6, I have listed various factors that I feel are important for transitioning from postdoc to academic position. My suggestion is one should start working towards it as soon as you have one good publication from your postdoc lab. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of funding for an academic position in the current scenario, esp. in USA. It is extremely important for a PhD or a new postdoc to find out various fellowships/funding options that they are eligible for. They need to apply for those as and when they reach their timelines. Also, it is important to attend grant-writing seminars if arranged by your institution.

AG: What has been your happiest moment after you started your own lab?

DKS: In the last one year, I have received amazing support from my heads here as they all want me to succeed. Since I do not have to write any grants or teach, I focus all my energy on research projects. I now have much better work-life balance and much higher job satisfaction and joy as and when we make a significant progress in our projects. Though it is very difficult to define any one such moment, I suppose the first novel structure that I solved as an independent researcher gave me a lot of happiness and satisfaction.


Job opportunities at Frederick National Lab:

The Frederick National Laboratory is a government-owned, contractor-operated (Leidos Biomedical Research, Incl.) facility devoted exclusively to biomedical research and development. It conducts basic, translational, and preclinical research and development in cancer and AIDS. NCI started RAS initiative program at FNLCR in 2013 and I joined an year later. Unlike typical NCI labs, where PIs have the freedom to carry out any cancer related independent research, we have mandate to only perform research that is directly or indirectly related to RAS-driven cancers.

FNLCR is a big institution (more than 1800 employees) and has regular job postings for many positions related to biomedical research that may be suitable for some of you working in that area. I would suggest keeping an eye on these postings and apply as and when any suitable positions appear. Since FNLCR is operated by Leidos Biomedical Research for NCI, most of the ads are posted by Leidos.

About DKS: In Dr. Simanshu’s words, “I grew up in Jharkhand (then Bihar) and did B. Sc. (Hons) in Biotechnology from St. Columba’s College, Hazaribag followed by Masters’ in Biotechnology from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, India. As a part of my Masters’ curriculum, I carried out a research project in the final two semesters, during which I was hooked onto research and started a journey that continues till date. I carried out my doctoral work with Prof. MRN Murthy at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, India. My work provided detailed structural and functional insights into three propionate metabolic enzymes and showed how they bind to substrates and catalyze enzymatic reactions. For my doctoral work, I received a Young Scientist medal from Indian National Science Academy. The training that I received during my PhD laid a strong foundation in crystallography, enabling me to tackle more challenging problems in structural biology. I subsequently joined the laboratory of Prof. Dinshaw Patel at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York as a postdoctoral fellow. My work there focused on gaining structural and mechanistic insights into the process of non-vesicular transfer of signaling lipids, small-RNA mediated gene regulation and bacterial toxin-antitoxin systems. During fall of 2014, I joined the RAS initiative at Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (operated by Leidos Biomedical Research for NCI) where I am establishing a structural biology research program focused exclusively on KRAS, its oncogenic mutants, and their complexes with various effectors/interactors/partner proteins.”




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About Us

in ClubSciWri by

Ab-CSHLAbhinav Ph.D.: Co-founder of ClubSciWri, is a broad spectrum biologist and innovation enthusiast. He is actively involved in bench-based pediatric cancer research at Emory University (Atlanta, USA) and alumni connectivity for his graduate school, Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore, India). He believes that “sculptors of science are the people who can convey the true sense of their creation and the nuances of their work which never get conveyed to the general audience even if they read their research paper or their company profile.”


Ananda, Ph.D.: Co-founder of ClubSciWri, works 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, alternative careers for PhDs, sustainable development, biodiversity, environment, and leadership.


Imit pursued her Ph.D. from the University of Utah, is currently pursuing her Postdoctoral fellowship at the Albert Einstein Medical College in Bronx, NY. She has an expertise in preclinical drug development and regulatory protocol development and analytical chemistry focussed on Oncology. Her current work explores the signaling pathways involved in hematopoiesis and leukemia stem cells. She is passionate about medical and science communication.



Ipsa is a Ph.D. student at IISc Bangalore, India. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing rather than writing. She posts as “ipsawonders” on Fb and Instagram.


Sayantan Ph.D., is an IRTA postdoctoral visiting fellow at the National Institute on Aging – National Institutes of Health, Baltimore. Apart from science, I invest my time in networking, organizing events, and consolidating efforts to build a platform for bringing together scientists and industry professionals to help spread the idea of alternate careers for life science graduates. When I am doing neither of these, I am busy bugging the other team members with my ideas. Ask them!

Somdatta Ph.D., is a postdoctoral researcher at Georg-August University, Göttingen. She is a curious soul that loves exploring newer places, cultures and meeting new people to inspire her.

Onkar Ph.D., is a computer scientist by Ph.D. and profession, currently pursuing a postdoc at IBM. He is also an alumnus of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He is an avid reader and internet-surfer; loves traveling, technology, languages, music; and likes to be a friendly person. He believes in the power of community and the power of democracy built through respectful discourse, and likes to think that leveraging these along with science and technology can solve most of the problems facing humanity. At ClubSciWri, his role is to come up with ways to make ClubSciWri data-savvy and technically smooth from the point of view of user experience.

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Homeopathy Part IV: Surely you were not joking, Mr. Hahnemann*

in Poli-Scie by


Once upon a time- about 220 years ago to be more precise- people lived “happily ever after”, taking things mostly for granted… even as their happy lives were intermittently challenged and frequently terminated by many diseases of unknown etiology… afflicted people seeking relief through anything and any means possible- chemicals, herbal extracts, prayers, “pagan” practices, just enduring what cannot be cured, you name it… names for diseases and explanations and cures, a dozen for a dime… a rare few with seemingly divine intuitive powers conjuring up cures… the afflicted mostly not caring about explanations and cures, instead how it felt afterwards… instant gratification ruling the roost… the main goal for both the afflicted and those who cured them-instant gratification… many of the afflicted knowing the rare few who had explanations and cures… picking and choosing based on their beliefs and comfort levels… therapies working magically and mysteriously… theories abounding without needing much for proof or principle… success stories stemming from personal experiences… the effective cures for afflictions and the afflicted becoming grand stories of success… success and failures spreading by word of mouth… the risky cures that ended up with worse consequences enough to put someone out of business… strengthened and weakened by beliefs, doubts, personal opinions, explanations and prejudices as the words spread… pharmacology still very very far from becoming a science… waiting for advances in physics, chemistry and biology to find reliable, rational and dependable foundations to build on. Around that time lived a genius who had a vision and conjured up a simple solution that combined the ingredients and beliefs in vogue into a sellable cocktail of remedies. The ingredients were chosen from medicines that often caused unwanted side effects in people who took them, as doses were random and subjective and impurities were rampant. The beliefs were chosen from the magical and miraculous properties of medicines and the divine status accorded to anyone capable of providing a cure for the affliction and the afflicted. The simple solution: mix the ingredients with beliefs, until the ingredients were diluted and the side effects were gone and the beliefs were strengthened and hope of a cure established. The genius used that cocktail for curing many ailments. Word soon spread that unlike the medicines used by others, the medicines made by this genius never killed anyone and cured many. Word also spread that one could cure entire villages and towns of any malady without much of any starting material as the more you diluted something that was rare and hard to obtain, the more potent it became. Surely you were not joking, Mr. Hahnemann!

*(This is last in a “preface” to this series. Look forward to a critical analysis of Homeopathy remedies in principle and in practice in the remainder of this series).

About the author: 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), 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.

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