What is your scientific background?
I completed my Masters in May 2018 at Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research Mohali, with a major in biological sciences. Through multiple internships abroad, I have developed a strong background in neuroscience, and training in behavioural, molecular biology, and imaging techniques in both vertebrate(mice) and invertebrate(worms and flies) model systems. For my master’s thesis, I worked on how transcription factors and associated molecules are involved in associative learning in C. elegans. In general, I am interested in neurobiology, animal behaviour and evolution. I am going to start my PhD this fall.
Do you come from an academic family?
I grew in a small town on the southern coast of India to a family of electrical engineers. Even though in the strictest sense they are not “scientists”, their career did have a big influence on upbringing. My mother was one of the very few women who worked in the male-dominated technical department and she was always known for her strong grasp of fundamentals. Even when I was two, my mother would tell me stories about scientists, their inventions and laws of physics instead of fairy tales. I am really indebted to them for my scientific mindset and critical thinking. Also, they were very supportive of my decision to study science in the later part of my life.
Did you have a role model that influenced your decision to work in science?
I have had several role models that influenced me to study and work in science. During my high school, my biology teacher Mrs Rani Mathew had a huge influence on me (and many of my classmates). Her teaching style was so pellucid and entertaining that you would immediately fall in love with any animal or plant she was talking about. That’s when I decided I was going to study biology.
My love for biology grew stronger when I started my undergraduate degree. Here, I was exposed to different domains of biology through coursework (theory and lab). I particularly remember taking a lecture on evolutionary theory and population genetics that got me thinking “Wow! This theory is so simple yet robust!”. At the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed the versatile laboratory courses. We learnt to perform PCR reactions to amplify DNA, grow bacteria, dissect fruit flies and observe bird diversity and behaviour within the campus. Overall, many profs from the biology department influenced me to work in science.
What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day in the lab would involve a lot of maintenance work (taking care of the animals), browsing through scientific literature and performing experiments (whenever the animals for the experiments are ready). Once the experiments are done, we have tons of data to analyse. Working in science often requires a lot of commitment and sometimes no free weekends because of the maintenance work. While this might seem intimidating to many people, I enjoy spending time in the lab whenever I can.
What are your biggest achievements, and what your biggest failures?
My biggest achievement would be receiving the President’s Gold Medal for academic excellence by the President of India himself. I was also selected by the Department of Science and Technology to represent India at the multiple international events like the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting and the Asian Science Camp.
As far as failures are concerned, I can’t think of my serious ones. But, if given a chance, I would have invested more time in handling stress, taking care of myself (mentally and physically) and staying away from the toxic company during college. I must admit my undergrad had a severe toll on my mental health and I should have sought help from the start.
Besides your scientific interests, what are your personal interests?
My father introduced me to badminton as a child and I spent the majority of my childhood training. Badminton was my first love and has played a huge part in what I have become. I undertook professional training until the age of 15 and participated in several state and national level competitions. Even though I didn’t continue rigorous training after joining BS-MS degree at IISERM, I play badminton frequently and follow all of the BWF Superseries events closely. Besides badminton and science, I love traveling, wildlife photography(especially birds and butterflies) and exploring different cuisines. Check out my Inaturalist profile here for my pictures!
Is there any scientific topic (outside of your field of research) that you think should have more scientific attention? Which one?
Ecology and evolution, undeniably, are one of the most neglected fields, particularly in India. I hope you can see the irony here because India is so biodiverse and there aren’t enough people studying it. India has several major biodiversity hotspots including the Western Ghats and Himalayas that are known for its endemic species. However, recent studies have highlighted the severity of loss of biodiversity due to habitat fragmentation, overuse of pesticides and pollution in urban areas. The extinction rate has increased drastically over the last century and its high time we focus our efforts on the conservation of these endangered species. Hence, I strongly feel that we need to pay more attention to ecology. We also need to educate and create awareness among the common public about conservation. I strongly endorse taking part in citizen science projects like “The Great Backyard Bird Count” that monitor bird species around the world. Large scale projects like these can give us insights about which where we need to focus our conservation efforts.