Scientists Simplifying Science

Monthly archive

April 2016

Do it for yourself

in That Makes Sense/Theory of Creativity by

11257763_10154026391539757_9097282633581050824_oPortland cityscape – a 5 sec long exposure shot.

Happiness is for everyone, even the scientists. But, seldom have we found very happy scientists. We are often consumed by concerns about data, publications, grants, lab politics and job opportunities. Dumbledore says “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” This light could be something as simple as a hobby. I have cultivated several hobbies over the years, such as sketching, philately, numismatics, reading, short story writing, table tennis, cooking, photography, collecting elephant figurines and most recently people watching (what? It is an actual hobby; I’m not making it up). However, my top two favorites have always been cooking and photography. Experimenting with these excite me. Julia Child said, The art of bread making can become a consuming hobby, and no matter how often and how many kinds of bread one has made, there always seems to be something new to learn.” This probably could be adapted to each and every hobby that one can cultivate. Trying new variations in what we already know is a rewarding experience, especially, if the result turns out to be good.

12473789_10153952323349757_5901739034592049297_oAvocado cheese toast, with tomato basil soup

12998392_10154031114329757_3266212011687106775_oEgg less coconut macaroons

11411756_10153399273444757_8261155311457136848_oOnion pesarattu with onion-tamarind-peanut chutney

I can’t emphasize enough how happy you feel when you cook something and people really like it. It gives you a sense of belonging. It humbles you with a feeling that they trust you with something important, like a meal in their day. I feel guilty classifying cooking as a hobby; while actually, it is a necessity. We won’t list bathing or washing clothes as a hobby. But, in my case I use cooking as a hobby. When I’m stressed or depressed with something, I cook. I tend to make elaborate snacks or meals and photograph them. I eat them later, of course. While photographing the food that I and my wife prepare is a major part of my hobby, I don’t limit myself to photographing food. I have not been able to single out a particular genre or style of photography as my favorite. Maybe I just like holding a camera, and since I’m holding it, I must do something with it, Isn’t it? So, as a result, I have dabbled with macro, night, landscapes, wildlife, and other creative techniques.

12891542_10154013615054757_7514887790138694265_oA clumsy star trail – i did not clean up the satellite/aircraft trails interspersing the star trails. This one is a collage of about 100 images (each shot for 30 sec) stacked over each other. 

704664_10153931899469757_2385863900307662123_oA light painting. This exercise is more fun if you have a friend/partner who is willing to do such crazy stuff. I and my wife spent over 2 hrs trying a lot of stuff to get this picture right. It is not a stellar image, but it definitely has some happy memories associated with it.  

12916195_10154002983724757_5910159273188683424_oSun setting on Mt. Hood, a potentially active stratovolcano on the outskirts of Portland. This is an everyday view in the summer, as seen from OHSU campus. 

IMG_0328Pacific tree frog – found majorly in the west coast of united states. Mainly nocturnal, known for its colour morphing ability, and a funny mating call (they say “ooh-yeeh” to attract females) 

IISc main buildingFinally, every IISc photographer’s muse. Edited for that  vintage look. 

I feel it is really necessary that we take breaks and reset ourselves periodically. It is most certainly necessary for me. These activities take my mind off, albeit for a short while, from the routine stressful rigmarole of lab work. And, when I get back to work, I find myself charged with new enthusiasm. In addition to helping us relax, hobbies bestow several benefits. They promote eustress, help you acquire new skills and discover your hidden talents, provide an opportunity to meet like-minded people, result in constructive time utilization, and they look good on your resume. Above all, they make you happy. So, cultivate a hobby, not because you can show off your talent to people and impress them. Not because they provide an opportunity to meet people and make friends. Do it because it will make you happy. Do it for yourself. If you cannot take care of yourself and keep yourself happy, no one else can. If you already have some hobbies, and they just need resurrection, go do that. Don’t waste your time reading stupid articles like this one. Go…Now!

About the Author

ClubSciWri_profile

 

 

 

 

 

Vikas did his PhD at IISc, and works as a postdoctoral researcher at OHSU, Portland, USA. He has been involved with photography and cooking from his high school days. Apart from tinkering with his camera, and indulging in culinary projects with his wife, he enjoys telling a good story once in a while (not an up-to-date collection of stories, http://musingnavaratna.blogspot.co.uk/).

Rejecting academia’s gilded mirror

in That Makes Sense by


Gilt: superficial or false appearance of excellence; glamour ; adjective : gilded

Sometimes I wonder whether we value our true selves. We repeatedly push our many fallibilities, the numerous chinks in the armour, and the wavering doubts behind our shiny projected visages. We love advertising our confident, competent personas, and every facet that dims the glow is made to hide deep within.

When one is initiated into academia, full of high hopes and lofty goals, scarcely does one comprehend the bumps in the route ahead. The myth of the model graduate student propagated since time immemorial, wafts around institutions and all the newcomers strive to attain perfection. Somewhere in the way, when the flurry of the courses is over, many start experiencing private dejection and isolation. Doing science is not easy. There is no manual that can dictate each and every step of the Ph.D. process. There is no secret recipe that would suit every graduate student. It is when the experiments start failing, the theories do not add up, and the lab hours become long and miserable, that the initial enthusiasm starts waning off and pessimism sets in.

In my (relatively) short academic career, I am yet to come across someone who has not gone through periods of intense self-doubt and diminishing self-esteem. Every graduate student falters at some point. But at the tipping point, there is little to cushion the fall. Academia thrives on almost monastic dedication and has little to offer to the vulnerable and confused. The circulating adage that ‘everyone else is doing fine, therefore I shouldn’t whine’ only adds to the burden of living up to the expectations of your advisor, your committee, the institute, the funding agencies, and mainly, your own self. Many bright students who had assumed that they would make good research scholars face a rude rejection when they go through the rough patches of doing science. The negativities are exacerbated by the fact that there is very little emotional exchange about this topic. It is considered normal to feel a little bruised—it happens to everybody! No need to make a big deal; slogging on is the call of the day…

try one                  Illustration : Ipsa Jain

 


Sharing is caring


Thus, they suffer their private struggles of self-doubt alone, and in sets the feeling of ‘not being good enough’. Many recover from this intermediate stage, chipping on to finally carve a decent thesis. But for others, the struggle takes a toll, lowering their work productivity, and sometimes leading to serious mental health issues. A little sharing with peers will let one know that they are far from being alone in the pit. We look around and see achievers, and retreat away in shame and guilt of not doing enough. But if truth be told, each one of those achievers has their own tale of misery and desperate labour that we easily overlook. Every award has a trail of toil, every pedestal its share of falls.

We do no good by being so adept at hiding the hard, convoluted history towards academic success. While there may be institutional mechanisms in place to handle depressed students, few students actually reach out. The culture of shame for a struggler is still subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) present in most scenarios. Most will just internalize the feelings and try their hardest to trudge on without acknowledging any difficulty. In such a landscape, our constant endevour to present better, polished versions of ourselves does not help. Why not just break the image of false perfection and admit how much those onerously long hours, frustrated days, and hopeless months have been a part of the journey?

It will help some of us may feel a little less alone. Peer comfort is the most effective form of supportive therapy. Sometimes we spill the beans about our struggles to our closest friends, but why should this be taboo at all? Even the ‘model’ graduate student would have had his not-so-good-days, which lie hidden behind his many honours. This may do nothing for the next academic job, but if shared, may light up many a strained PhD student’s path. The solace in knowing that someone has been at this place and survived and is doing well is much more than any got from a professional pep talk. For they have shared our journeys and we are sharing theirs. How beautiful it would be if us all puny graduate students form a symbiotic network and work towards helping ourselves as well as our friends! Sharing the ups and downs of our journeys go a long way in motivating someone who is struggling in believing that the pains will end someday, and to never give up on oneself.

We do not need to be a living–and-breathing resume. Putting our best feet forward should perhaps be reserved for job interviews. Even if we are at the top of the game currently, the marvellous uncertainty of the path may lead to less lucrative pastures in future. For our own selves, for our friends who might have fallen tad behind, and for all the starry-eyed students yet to come, it is time we shed our gilded mirrors and be just as proud.

 

Debaleena Basu

211120131373

 

 

 

 

 

About the author : Debaleena is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the Indian Institute of Science. She loves writing and has recently forayed into the domain of science writing.

About the illustrator
IMG_20151008_111034_1444282874501

Ipsa is pursuing a Ph.D. at Indian Institute of Science. She loves to draw and paint. Biologist by training. Wants to gather and spread interestingness.

 

Image disclaimer : ClubSciWri claims no credit for any images featured on this site unless otherwise noted. All visual content is copyrighted to it’s respectful owners. If you own the rights to any of these images, and do not wish them to appear here, please contact us and they will be promptly removed.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE US PATENT PROCESS*

in Sci-IP by

Syam

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) offers different application routes to meet varied goals of inventors and owners of inventions. These are:

  • Provisional Applications
  • Utility Applications (Non-provisional Application)
  • Continuing Applications
    • Divisional Application
    • Continuation Application
    • Continuation-In-Part Application
  • Design Applications (only for ornamental design of a functional item)
  • Plant Applications (only for plants)
  • PCT International Applications

 

Inventor or owner or assignee of invention can apply. Selecting the right application route is critical for securing the right kind of patent protection for your intellectual property. The following is a brief description of the various routes available and their approximate costs.

 

Provisional Application

  • Lower cost to file.
  • USPTO filing fee of $260 for a large entity and $130 for a small entity.
  • Patent attorney/agent fees range from $1,500-$2,000 depending on the complexity of the invention.
  • Gives an early effective filing date. Establishing an early effective filing date is critical since this determines what references and other disclosures qualify as prior art.
  • Claims covering the invention are not required.
  • Not examined or published.

 

Utility (Non-provisional) Application

  • The “actual” patent application filed by the applicant that gets examined.
  • USPTO filing fee of $1600 for a large entity and $730 for a small entity.
  • Patent attorney/agent fees range from $3,000-$5000 depending on the complexity of the invention.
  • Claims priority to the provisional application. Must be filed within one year of the provisional application filing date.
  • Requires the presence of claims covering the invention.
  • Gets published after 18 months from the priority date.

 

Divisional Application

  • Pursues unelected claims of a parent application as a result of USPTO Restriction Requirement.
  • USPTO filing fee of $1600 for a large entity and $730 for a small entity.
  • Patent attorney/agent fees from $1000-2000 depending on the complexity of the invention.
  • Claims priority to the parent application. Must be filed before the parent application abandons or issues.

 

Continuation Application

  • A continuation application pursuing unclaimed subject matter of the parent application.
  • USPTO filing fee of $1600 for a large entity and $730 for a small entity.
  • Patent attorney/agent fees from $1000-2000 depending on the complexity of the invention.
  • Claims priority to the parent application. Must be filed before the parent application abandons or issues.

 

Continuation-in-part Application

  • A continuation application filed by the applicant to pursue new matter that is not disclosed in the parent application. The new matter must be closely related to the subject matter disclosed in the parent application.
  • USPTO filing fee of $1600 for a large entity and $730 for a small entity.
  • Patent attorney/agent fees from $1000-3000 depending on the complexity of the invention.
  • Must be filed before the parent application abandons or issues.
  • Preserves priority for the old matter that was shared in the parent application.
  • The new matter gets the priority of the filing date of the continuation-in-part application.

 

PCT Application (also called “international application”)

  • International Application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).
  • USPTO filing fee of $240 for a large entity and $120 for a small entity.
  • USPTO search fee of $2,080 for a large entity and $1,040 for a small entity.
  • USPTO examination fee of $760 for large entity and $380 for small entity.
  • Patent attorney/agent fees from $3,000-$5,000 depending on the complexity of the invention.
  • Standard one format, one language application that can be used as a basis for filing patents in more than 140 member countries of the PCT.
  • USPTO accepts PCT applications in English by a U.S. national or resident.
  • Applicant has 30 months from the effective filing date of the PCT application to enter individual countries and file national stage applications.

 

Patent prosecution is said to begin once a patent application is filed. The application is eventually taken up for examination. Effective communication with the patent office and with the examiner, with an understanding of the nuances of patent law and the patent language, assists in making prosecution a smooth process resulting in savings of time and money. Some of the prosecution steps that applications invariably go through are briefly described below:

Restriction Requirement

  • Examiner states there are multiple inventions in the patent application being examined.
  • Applicant must elect one of the inventions designated by the examiner. Non-elected inventions can be pursued in a divisional application.
  • No USPTO fees if filed within time period for reply, extensions of time available.
  • Patent attorney/agent fee range from $500-1000.

Non-final Office Action

  • This is the first communication from the Examiner regarding the claims. Examiner raises objections or rejections to claims in view of the prior art.
  • Applicant is required to provide detailed responses to overcome the objections/rejections raised by the examiner. This advances the prosecution towards allowance.
  • No USPTO fees if filed within time period for reply, extensions of time available.
  • Patent attorney/agent fees range from $750-$1500 depending upon complexity of response required to overcome objections and/or rejections stated by the examiner.

Final Office Action

  • Examiner may again raise objections or rejections to claims informing why the response to the non-final action does not place the application in condition for allowance.
  • Applicant is required to provide additional detailed responses to each and every objection and rejection raised by the examiner and advance the prosecution towards allowance.
  • No USPTO fees if filed within time period for reply, extensions of time available.
  • Patent attorney/agent fees range from $750-$1500 depending upon complexity of response required to overcome objections and/or rejections stated by the Examiner.
  • Response either places the application in condition for allowance or Applicant files a request for continued examination (RCE).

Notice of Allowance

  • Informs the applicant that the patent is ready for issue.
  • USPTO issue fee is $960 for large entity, $480 for small entity
  • Patent attorney/agent fees $500.
  • After the application grants, you get 20 years of patent term from the filing date.

Maintenance Fees

  • Fees associated with maintaining the patent in force after issuance, late payment due if payment within 6 months after fee is due
  • 1st fee (due at 3.5 year): $1600 for large entity, $800 for small entity
  • 2nd fee (due at 7.5 year): $3600 for large entity, $1800 for small entity
  • 3rd fee (due at 11.5 year): $7400 for large entity, $3700 for small entity

 

Glossary of important terms

 

Abandon                                  Applications are usually abandoned when responses that are due are not submitted in a timely fashion to the USPTO. Abandoned applications cannot mature into patents. Prosecution stops.

Allowance                                A notice of allowance from USPTO informs that the application meets all the requirements for a patent to be granted.

 

Applicant                                 Can be the inventor(s), owner of the invention or assignee of the rights of the invention.

 

Assignee                                  The person(s) who hold rights to the invention, for example, the employer of the inventor(s).

 

Election                                   Choosing one of the inventions in an application for prosecution as a result of restriction requirement by an examiner.

 

Effective filing date                  The earliest filing date that can be claimed for an application. The effective filing date may be (i) actual filing date of the application; (ii) the date of the earlier-filed application to which priority is claimed.

 

Extension                                 Formal requests for extensions of time for filing responses can be obtained for a fee. Cannot exceed more than 6 months.

 

Filing date                               The date when the application is submitted to USPTO.

 

Grant                                      Grant of the patent. This gives rights to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States” for a limited time in exchange for public disclosure of the invention when the patent is granted. A bond paper copy of the patent grant is ribboned, sealed, and mailed by USPTO.

 

New matter                              Subject matter not initially disclosed in the application. USPTO does not allow new matter to be added at any time during prosecution.

 

Objection/Rejection                 The examiner issues an office action objecting/rejecting the claims during prosecution, based on prior art. When the office action is issued, the objections/rejections have to be overcome in order to advance the prosecution. A critical and significant portion of patent prosecution.

 

Patent Agent                            A person who has passed the Patent Bar examination administered by USPTO for registration at the USPTO.

 

Prior Art                                 The universe of printed publications, disclosures, talks, and other information that are publically available.

 

Publication                              USPTO publishes all applications around 18 months. The contents of the application are publicly available after this. In certain cases, a request can be made to withhold from publication.

 

Response                                 Formal filing of communications with the USPTO within the required time periods. They have to fully meet the requirements of form and content. A critical and significant portion of patent prosecution.

 

Restriction requirement           Placed on an application when the examiner believes that there is more than one claimed invention in an application. The applicant has to elect one invention for the prosecution to progress.

 

Subject matter                         The subject to which the application and the invention is directed.

 

*Disclaimer: The above information in only meant to serve as a guideline to understand the complexity of the patent process. It is in no way complete.

 

Syam Prasad Anand, PhD
Founder, Mainline Intellectual Property
Ardmore, Philadelphia, USA.

One Among Us

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD by

lapataa cubsciwri

15aug14-271x300

About the cartoonist and the blogger: 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.

http://www.iiitb.ac.in/faculty/sujit-kumar-chakrabarti

https://sites.google.com/site/sujitkc/professional2/professional-biography

©Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti

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

The grass is always greener….or is it?

in That Makes Sense by

As a PhD student in India, I was in a relatively privileged situation. I was in one of the best institutes in the country, a department with good resources, a good lab and a decent project to work on. Nonetheless, you learn pretty fast in grad school that, no matter how good your situation may seem from the outside, PhD is and always will be a hard process on one level or the other. Not just a bad day or month but rather a phase that can last years for some. At such low points, social media doesn’t really help. I would see pictures of many of my college batch-mates who, unlike me, had managed to secure a PhD position abroad and seemed to spend a significant amount of time roaming around and having fun. Granted that social media, at best, gives you a highly rose-tinted and biased view of a person’s life. But knowing that, didn’t necessarily help keep away the pangs of jealousy. Lab seniors, now working abroad, would visit and tell stories of abundance to the point of wastage, kits that reduced work-time to half or less and the luxury of weekends off that you could rely on. From the point of view of a struggling grad student, who felt guilty taking even a Sunday off, this certainly did sound like paradise. I don’t know what did it, whether it was years of watching English movies or all the conditioning from others’ experiences, but I knew I wanted to work abroad at least for a while. Even when I was questioning research as my career path, one of the allures of a postdoc was the option of experiencing a life outside of India. It may not be the best way to make a decision, but I was and still am unashamed of my motivation.

Ever since I moved to the US, I’ve been really intrigued at getting to know the system here. As a postdoc as well as a potential teacher, I am really intrigued by the education system here and how it contrasts with India.  It’s been a lot of fun quizzing people here about their system and I’ve learned a lot in the process. One of the first big surprises for me when I came here was the age factor. Back home, I was used to using a person’s academic level to calculate their age. The math is pretty simple. A biologist’s life graph is pretty predictable; Bachelor’s degree at 21, 23 at Masters, finish PhD by 29 and 5 years for postdoc. Then you frantically apply for faculty positions before the dreaded 35 hits and so on. If a faculty position in India is what you want, then that pretty much has to be your trajectory. And if you don’t want to be in academia, then what you do doesn’t really matter anyway (or so my PhD mentor would say)!! Which is why, it was a huge shock to me when I realized that my roommate, who is a final year PhD student, was 38!!! And it’s not a one off case. I know a number of people who are approaching 30 and are in the early phase of their grad school or sometimes even medical school!! I’ve heard some of their journeys from high school students to undergrad and finally grad school and each one of them is unique and remarkable. Whether it be economic hardship or just figuring out what subject truly interests them, each one of them has had to walk a road of self-discovery before entering grad school. And the beauty is, that they can! The system here seems to set no store by age whatsoever. All that seems to matter is that you really want to be here and that you have the ability to succeed. It makes me really wish our system in India was as open, that an unconventional path was cherished rather than looked down upon, that confusion and lack of clarity was met with patience and compassion rather than rejection. No doubt there are students here who follow the conventional path, or who join grad school because it seems like the easiest or best option. But every once in a while, you get grad students who’ve fought against the tide because this is really what they want to do. I bet there are people like that in India too and we should really open our arms and welcome them into science because they are so likely to want to make a real difference. It’s made me feel a lot more compassion for myself and my own confusion after seeing this.

What’s been rewarding in turn, has been the appreciation I feel (and also received from others) for the kind of training we went through as Phd students in India. And no this isn’t about our willingness to work long hours and work weekends. No doubt that, in many ways, research is made easier here by the availability of resources. Time is considered better spent doing work rather than preparing reagents. But corny as though it may seem, all those hardships and cutting of corners has given us an advantage. I personally feel that the quality of mentorship and training given to me by my lab seniors has been invaluable. Not only did we have to make everything from scratch, but also learn the why and how of everything as we made it. I remember my first 6 months in the lab, just being incessantly quizzed and grilled whenever I learnt something new. But that training pays off every time I have to trouble-shoot, every time I have to design an experiment. That is something working with kits could never have given me. The abundance is so taken for granted here that there just isn’t any need to learn the details. It also makes me really glad that I had the chance to train Masters students in grad school. It seemed absurd to me at the time, training students who were only a year or two younger than me. But I think I learnt more while I was mentoring them than I did as a student. Even something which seemed onerous like lab and department presentations has trained us so well for public speaking. It’s an invaluable asset and it’s surprisingly rare among the students and even postdocs here. We undervalue our own skills way too much.

One of the things I was most curious about when I came here, was the quality of mentorship. I had a pretty bleak view of mentorship in India, especially in the life sciences, and wondered how things operated here. In my limited time here, one thing I’ve come to realize is that good mentorship is rare no matter where you go. No doubt, the expected working hours tend to be much more reasonable here than in India. But even then, you continue to find PIs who micromanage their students or monitor their coming and goings, as if the number of hours spent in lab is an indicator of productivity. Fortunately, I have had the chance to work with two people who are excellent mentors and they have really made a huge impact on my life. It is truly heart-warming and rewarding to work with a boss who feels that their success is tied to your success, who feel like it is their responsibility to look out for your personal growth and enable you to reach your life goals. I must say that I am pretty much spoilt for life now. Such people can really change how you feel about your work. I find myself wanting to do better, not necessarily because I love my work that much, but because I want to help them succeed the same way they want me to succeed. No doubt the systems, both in India and in the US, are cut throat and you need to push the limits of yourself as well as your subordinates to survive and excel. I’m not saying that being nice and lenient and supportive gives you the same kind of success that a whiplash does.  It may or may not. But it’s heartening to know that such people exist and that they can survive in the system. I know a lot of people who would rather be in a renowned but high pressure lab, because even though the life there is tough, it guarantees them the high profile papers they need to move ahead in life. If that is what you want and need, then by all means make that choice. But it’s important to know that you need not sentence yourself to that life for lack of other options. The rat race isn’t a bad thing, but it’s our choice whether we want to be a part of it or not.

It’s been a valuable lesson, learned the hard way but I am glad I got to where I am. It’s been eye-opening to talk to so many people and learn from them. There’s just so much out there if only we are willing to listen. Something as simple as reading university emails every morning has opened up avenues I didn’t even know existed. This is true no matter where you are and what you are doing. You don’t necessarily need to be in the “right” place for good things to happen to you. You just need to be in the right frame of mind to make the best of the opportunities that come your way.

Why am I doing Science ?

in That Makes Sense by
bacteria-426997_960_720

Just the other day, after a not-so-pleasant meeting with my boss…I started asking myself the following question: Why am I doing science?

It’s a question that many have asked me, the list includes the closest people I know. Some have said, and continue to say that I should have taken up literature or any form of liberal arts. Some of them have said, I should have just taken up engineering and led an easier corporate life (I don’t mean to say that my engineer friends have a much better life). Others have said that I am just meant for management. A few have also ventured into music and painting. Only one or two had said that a career in science would suit me.

As far as I remember, at first I wanted to be a pilot, and pretty soon it changed to being a leg spinner who was also an engineer. That was sometime in class 6-7. Ever since that only two things had stayed with me…a footballer (that was a dream) or a scientist (the more realistic). I did not know then what in science interested me. I think it’s more about the pride involved…What I mean to say is that I would everyone say “That my dad is a doctor, or my mum’s a journo…”, none of them would ever leave a mark on me, but if someone said “My father is a scientist”, I would always wonder “What’s he like!” That always interested me. Then in Class X, I read about genetic engineering and cloning…and I was fascinated. Was it really possible? Can people actually do that. I would tell myself that when I grow up, I would want to do that kind of work.

Meanwhile I grew up, read a little more about science. Chemistry interested me a lot…I would say that I was natural with theoretical chemistry (please don’t read that “I got a lot of marks in chemistry”). Then slowly slowly genetic engineering started leaving me and chemistry started to take more of a centre stage. I changed my interests now, I told myself I would want to do something that involved both chemistry and biology. I tried in several places and after several rejections, I went to study pure chemistry further and further and further. Ultimately while doing Masters I came close to doing a bit of genetic engineering and I did routine cloning experiments and realized that, since I couldn’t quite see what exactly is happening, it is not my mug of beer. Then came the idea of doing medicinal chemistry.

I was indeed very happy when I joined for PhD at JNCASR. But soon I realized that I wasn’t quite tailor-made for life at JNCASR. I was not happy initially and by this time I started doing real science. As I went along, failures and frustrations kept adding up. Several times I felt like quitting. But why is it that I did not? The truth is I just wanted to do science. I want to get a PhD. I am sure initially my boss had very high expectations from me. But may be slowly he had to come to terms with my several limitations. But with all his frustrations with me, and my frustrations with myself, I could never leave it entirely.

So why am I doing science? Is it just because I want a PhD? A part of it is true, I always wanted that degree. But is that all? See the work that I do always has some promise. The promise of curing something. The promise giving something to the world that nobody has yet given. It doesn’t have to be the next penicillin or the next Taxol. But even if it is small, it will be still novel. I always believed that whatever you do should be different. I am not saying everyone has to know about it and you have to become an instant celebrity. But it should create some impact somewhere. May be by looking at  the failure of my drug, someone else would be able to create another. That will eventually contribute towards the progress of science. And that’s what keeps me going.

There are days when I feel terribly low, there can be several reasons, sometimes I feel I am not up to the mark, sometimes it’s the boss effect, sometimes I miss the people closest to me and sometimes I feel jealous of everyone around who has a smile on their face (silly as it may sound). But nothing deters me from going back to the lab and painting pictures of new potential drug designs (almost 99% of them can’t be created). But those designs keeps me afloat. I feel great, I feel I have done a lot of science. But the actually I have not even done 1%. The challenge is to do the next 50%. I try and fail and land up in misery, but when I tell myself that it is my design and may be my intuition is right, I start working on it again. This feeling of belonging towards a molecule is another reason why I do science.

I know most of us do not always like to sit in a seminar. But sometimes I find it fascinating. As many of you might know (some with a little bit of disregard for this liking of mine) that I enjoy talking and I enjoy talking about my interests, I always wondered how it would be if I could go up and talk about my path-breaking work (currently it is breaking my path towards achieving a PhD)! I don’t know how good or bad I would be but still if there is even 1% of the audience appreciating me, it would give me immense pleasure and I would believe that yes my science is not a complete failure. This lure of taking up stage and lecturing people (admit it, we all like to do it, not necessarily in front of an audience though) also contributes to my interest in doing science.

Through your research you can reach to the world. You get to meet different people with a common interest. Most importantly you get to taste a lot of grey matter and sometimes that gives me immense pleasure. I believe the biggest challenge for a young scientist is designing a new experiment and for that your knowledge of the field and a little bit of grey matter is necessary. And for people like me who are fooled into believing that they have a little bit of grey matter, that’s the most relishing part. (Mind you, I still haven’t done any of the things that I have mentioned.) The hope that one day I would be able to design a very nice experiment to prove my hypothesis, urges me to do science.

The last part is silly but interesting. Every successful scientist gets to travel a lot. I always had wanderlust. I hope that one day I would be a little successful and get to see the world. That is another reason why I do science.

I know I might have bored a lot of you. I might have irritated a few too. But if I have shared any of your thoughts through my writing, I would know that I am not too bad a scientist.

About the Author

DSC_0502 sepia

Chandradhish is a medicinal chemist by profession, a poet by heart and a footballer by feet. Pursuing research in antimicrobial peptidomimetics and drug discovery at JNCASR, Bangalore, CD (as he is fondly known) also indulges in literature, movies and music. Quintessentially Bong, he eats everything ranging from water to alcohol to cigarettes to biriyani, so when he is not eating, footballing, day-dreaming, CD is free to discuss all of this and of course his science at chandradhish@gmail.com

The different hats of technology transfer officers

in Entrepreneurship/Sci-IP by

business-561387_1920

With the establishment of Bayh Dole Act in 1983, US universities started establishing “Technology Transfer Offices”, whose main job was to evaluate inventions coming out of their laboratories. This helped universities to protect their intellectual property (IP) and license it out to startups or established companies. Technology transfer begins as soon as inventors disclose their technology to technology transfer offices. A technology transfer officer then wears different hats- an inventor’s, an attorney’s, an entrepreneur’s, an industrialist’s or a consumer’s to weigh various aspects of the technology before he/she consents to file a patent. As simple as it sounds, it requires a sound knowledge of the science involved and the rules and laws of patent prosecution. It also requires the business acumen needed to license a technology after filing a patent. Let us go through these steps one by one:

Determining prior art: The first and the most important hat worn by a technology manager is that of a patent agent. He/she asks the most important questions on the disclosed technology that a patent office will also ask: Does the technology have “utility” in the real world? Is the technology “novel”? Given all the previous knowledge or literature in the field, is the technology described by the inventor “obvious”? A patent will be granted by a patent office only if the answer to the first two questions is affirmative, and the answer to the third question is negative. Based on literature and patent database searches for the disclosed technology and judgment from experience, technology transfer officers decide whether to proceed forward with the technology and file a patent.

Freedom to operate (FTO): Wearing an attorney’s hat, the tech transfer officer asks another crucial question: Assuming that a patent is issued for the disclosed technology, can the owner or licensee of the patent practice the invention without infringing upon other patents? In other words, how much “freedom to operate” does the patent actually confer to its inventor/owner/licensee when compared with other patents that have been granted in the same area. A patent that cannot be practiced is as good as not having the patent. It is like investing in a dead technology. No business will buy or license out the technology. Patent prosecution being a very expensive process, a technology transfer officer evaluates the FTO very carefully to decide whether or not to invest university’s money to protect the technology. In my future blog, I will discuss FTO in detail.

Market: The next hat that a technology transfer officer wears is that of a marketing analyst. A tech transfer officer is not only involved in protecting the IP but is also instrumental in supporting the development of the technology. The whole idea of protecting the technology is to incentivize the companies to license out the technology from the university to make it useful to the society. To attract industries to invest in the technology many important questions are asked in advance: 1. What is the current market for the technology? 2. What is the market landscape (what other companies are involved in the technology space?) 3. If the technology enters the market, how much market penetrance will it get? In other words, will the industry see the return of investment if they license the technology from the university? Stage of development: A crucial factor in marketing university-owned technologies is to gauge the stage of development of the technology. Most of the university-based technologies are very embryonic or in other words, very early-stage technologies. Such technologies, especially in biotechnology, need a lot of investment from companies who are licensing it, both in terms of money and product development. Remember, an issued patent has a term of 20 years from the date of filing in

Stage of development: A crucial factor in marketing university-owned technologies is to gauge the stage of development of the technology. Most of the university-based technologies are very embryonic or in other words, very early-stage technologies. Such technologies, especially in biotechnology, need a lot of investment from companies who are licensing it, both in terms of capital and time investment. Remember, an issued patent has a term of 20 years from the date of filing in USA. A technology that requires a long incubation time will eat up the patent term (number of years of the patent rights). Losing the patent term means losing the competitive advantage. Therefore, the technology transfer officer needs to ascertain that there will be sufficient patent term remaining for the company, to recover its invested dollars and generate a considerable return of investment on the product.

Tradeoff analysis: One of the primary objectives of technology transfer offices, as I have already mentioned, is to see the university technology get developed into a product that is directly useful to the society. Therefore, the tech transfer officer evaluates pipeline products of companies, their business and development plans, their market share and capital as well as their past performance in developing the licensed technologies. The question whether the technology is suitable for a startup or an established companies is very crucial. A startup will have a vested interest in developing a technology. Therefore, it will have a focused approach towards the development of the product. In the case of established companies, they will have several products in their pipelines. Therefore, their focus, and hence, the development plan my change with changing priorities that is heavily shaped by the market. At the same time, startups are risky, and their product development pipelines are not as well charted out as an established enterprise. Therefore, an important challenge for tech transfer officers is to do a tradeoff analysis to narrow down the companies that will provide the best opportunity for the technology to get developed into a viable product.

Technology valuation: This is perhaps the most difficult part of the technology transfer process in the universities for which there are no easy answers. In general, the technology transfer officers rely on past deals (also known as comparable deals) for similar technologies and market analysis to come up with a value. There are complex quantitative ways to estimate the cost of the product 5-10 years from the present day for a thorough evaluation. One can easily imagine the difficulty in predicting the market a decade in advance. The two most important aspects of valuation are license issue fee and royalty. The latter is most important for universities, as it is their return of investment for their innovation. It is through royalties that universities can pump back money into the basic research and infrastructure. They can also incentivize inventors by giving them a part of the royalty.

Salesman: A tech transfer officer also needs to be an excellent salesman. Like a prudent salesman the officer has to win the best possible deal (in terms of royalty from the sale of the technology (also known as consideration) and due diligence (DD) terms for the technology development) for the universities. This is the most challenging hat worn by a tech transfer officer. It starts when a company shows interest to license a technology for making, using and selling it as a product. The tug-of-war involved in coming to a perfect term for a licensing deal is a thesis on its own. It will be sufficient to stress that this step requires the wizardry of a technology transfer officer to win a profitable deal for the university to support everything that a tech transfer office stands for. During the negotiation process, the officer always makes sure that the interest of the university and its IP is given the supreme interest. Once, the negotiation is done, the deal is formalized in a license agreement and is then bound by the law of the state.

Police Officer: Following license agreements, tech transfer officers monitor the strict DD terms. DD is very crucial for technology transfer officers, because it acts as an instrument to make sure that the technology gets developed in a timely manner. Breaching DD leads to termination of the license agreement.

The final goal is to see that the technology gets developed and is transferred to the masses for their consumption, thereby advancing the society through cutting-edge science and technology.

Ananda Ghosh

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ananda-ghosh-3238a716

Twitter Townhall @ClubSciWri #AskICMRsoumya on 30th April, 2016

in ClubSciWri/Face à Face/Poli-Scie by

soumya_poster2

Continuing to bringing forth science and healthcare policy makers for an informal discussion with our readers, we now invite Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Secretary, Department of Health Research, India and also the Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Dr Soumya is an expert on tuberculosis research in India and has not only steered research but also generated awareness towards management of this ancient disease, which continues to plague India.

With her recent appointment as a Director General of ICMR, it would be interesting to discuss research and funding policies of ICMR and also have a frank dialogue about the current scenario regarding disease management. So kindly participate in our second twitterchat (#AskICMRsoumya) with Dr. Soumya Swaminathan on the 30th April, 2016 from 11:00 – 12:00 hrs, IST. You can participate in person or post us (email: sciwri2016@gmail.com) your questions/suggestions if unable to make it on the scheduled time.

N.B. Enter the discussion using the following link on 30th April, 11:00 am IST

http://tweetchat.com/room/AskICMRsoumya

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

 

 

Go to Top
%d bloggers like this: