Our ‘Away from home’ interactive map features 51 bright Indian postdocs from around the world. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to suggest names of postdocs from countries and disciplines we haven’t covered yet.
Soma Ghosh is a postdoctoral fellow at the Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS) in Israel. A doctorate from the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences, New Delhi, she works on a strategy to prevent the resistance that some lung cancers develop to immunotherapy, one of the main treatments for certain types of cancer. In this guest post, Soma talks about living far away from family and working six days a week in the lab to realise her research dream.
Peering into cancer cells
For the past three years, I have been in Prof. Yosef Yarden’s group in the Biological Regulation Department of WIS researching a protein often overexpressed in cancer cells. This protein can make certain tumours resistant or more aggressive to anti-cancer therapies.
After a doctorate focusing on radiology and oncology, I had joined a pharmaceutical company as an oncology consultant to work on strategies for drug development and marketing. I was good at my job, but realised that it wasn’t for me. After two years in the company, I started searching for labs where I could do a postdoc. I wrote to a lot of professors working in my field of interest.
One of the professors I wrote to was Prof. Yosef (Yossi) Yarden. I had not paid attention at first to the fact that he was in Israel. He answered fairly quickly and suggested I visit his lab first. I found a great atmosphere in the lab. I met people from all over the world, including India, and the research interested me very much. Although I had been out of a lab for two years, my passion for research was alive. Yossi took a few days to discuss things with his lab members, and his answer was a ‘yes’.
I wrote a project proposal and soon got a grant through the Feinberg Graduate School. From writing the letter to finalizing the grant, everything happened fairly quickly. Three months later, I was unpacking my bags at WIS. Answers from the other places I had written arrived in drips and drabs but I had already found my calling by then.
Coming to Israel on Yom Kippur
I arrived in Israel on a Friday – the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day of atonement. I was shocked to find everything closed and deathly quiet. I ate food from home, which some friends here had thankfully suggested that I bring along. The holiday ended on Saturday night and I got an email from Yossi saying we would meet on Sunday. That was strange too – I didn’t realize back then that Sunday is a workday in Israel. The reception in the lab was a warm one, and things have been great ever since. One of my lab member’s even took me to the open market in Rehovot so I could buy ingredients for the food I love to cook.
My husband’s patent-consulting job is based in New Delhi but when I told him of my plans to conduct research in Israel, he was supportive. Though the separation has had its difficulties, we manage to meet several times a year.
My father was supportive as well. As a scientist with India’s science ministry, he had worked with WIS researchers and was aware of its excellence. My mother had doubts but after visiting Israel she has fallen in love with the place.
Maximising the work week
Working with Prof. Yossi Yarden is a very special experience. He starts his workday at 7:00 and ends it at 7:00. We sometimes get emails from him at 11 in the night, always with thoughtful, constructive comments. It might seem that he asks a lot from his students, but ultimately we achieve higher, get better results and opportunities to advance our scientific careers. He creates a positive atmosphere, always speaking quietly and with reason. That doesn’t mean we don’t have fun ‒ we also laugh a lot. His research assistant Sara Lavi is always ready to lend an ear or solve a problem. My lab members are very friendly, supportive and helpful. I feel really lucky.
In my spare time, I like to cook. I also enjoy Indian music and global cinema. I am an ardent fan of Marvel characters.
In between my ongoing research and writing a paper on the results of her three years of research in Yarden’s lab, I keep thinking about my return to India and reuniting with my husband and family. I also look forward to driving again when I return. Whatever else awaits me, scientific research will continue to play a central role in my life.
Making Israel you research destination
Israel is a beautiful country to work in. Drawing from by experience, here are some of my general tips for researchers looking for a postdoc position in Israel:
- While applying for positions, focus on the work that you are doing and be clear on why you did those and experiments and what their implications are. Everyone is well informed these days and they expect clear and direct answers.
- Broaden your wet-lab skills and get expertise on molecular diagnostic approaches, especially the new ones such as CRISPR. I believe Indian labs nowadays provide platforms and opportunities to get hands on experience to such techniques.
- Be transparent and honest in your resume about the techniques and knowledge that you have and do not try to write things that you haven’t done. Eventually, people find out and it can lead to a problem later.
- In cancer research, one thing I have observed is the importance of thinking how your research or study can have clinical implications. This is a key question which every major lab/ research institute/ university would like to hear when you apply in Israel or anywhere outside.
- Pick your lab of interest and study what they are doing or have done in the past. Align and search for labs that match your interest, don’t just select random labs where you would not be able to justify your candidature.