Every Wednesday, our ‘Away from home’ blog series features one Indian postdoc working in a foreign lab recounting his/her experience of working there, the triumphs and challenges, the culture factor, tips for Indian postdocs headed abroad and what he/she misses most about India.
Today we hear from Anil Shukla, a PhD from the Department of Biotechnology, IIT Guwahati, who chose to work as a postdoctoral fellow at the National cancer Institute in USA to be able to get a world view of cancer research. Though he loves his work environment and research standards, he misses the warmth of Indian friendships and human relationships.
Hospital trips shaped my thinking
During my childhood, I used to get stressed out seeing the condition of patients suffering from various diseases whenever I used to go to a hospital. I knew then itself that I had to spend my life in a profession where I can help to improve the life of these patients. I wanted to be a medical practitioner or researcher.
Years later, I completed my PhD from the Department of Biotechnology, IIT Guwahati. I was working on drug development against Leishmaniasis which is a lethal tropical disease. I wanted to carry out further research on cancer that afflicts millions of lives. The National cancer Institute seemed like one of the best places to work and pursue research in cancer.
I currently work as a CGS postdoctoral fellow at the Laboratory of Protein Dynamics and Signalling at NCI (NIH), USA. The primary goal of my research is to validate the co-relation between centriole cycle and cell cycle events and identify function and location of several proteins involved in centriole reduplication in cells, a hallmark for several tumors and ciliopathies.
Excellent research facility
The best thing about this place is that you have all the resources for excellent research, access to high-end equipment and better collaborations. People are really helpful and interactive. Laboratory environment varies from place to place. Fortunately, I am in a very competitive as well as supportive environment. My research background was 80% different and I was very hesitant and nervous in my initial days, but here people help you a lot in all the aspects. Truly speaking, I never found the same positive competition and support in Indian research environment.
USA is a very good place to live in. You can live the way you want. It has complete freedom as well as it is rich in culture.
Lack of emotional support
There are several challenges as well. I was completely in a new environment: new country, new people and new culture. During my initial days, sometimes I found lack of emotional support — I missed my fun filled PhD days, wanted that spicy food again and wanted to be with my family members and friends. I missed the Indian culture, “chai-samosa”, fights with my friends, watching movies together in our small hostel room. I still miss these things a lot, but you have to bear all this for your bright career.
I feel that people are a bit too formal here. If you wish to meet even your friend, you have to take an appointment. I don’t know exactly whether it is good or bad, but I think something is missing in the relations here.
Crazy for science? Come to the US
If you wish to really work hard, be a crazy scientist and spend your life in research, I think good institutions in USA are the places for you. But if you want to do some research, cannot find enjoyment is science then I am not sure.
I think these days several opportunities are coming up in Indian academia for fresh PhDs. Several new institutes have come up (such as the IITs, NITs and other private and government colleges). So new scholars have a lot of flexibility to join either as an assistant professor or as a researcher in India.
What after PhD
But the question is: do you always wish to remain in India as a scientist? When I completed my PhD from IIT Guwahati, I got a position as assistant professor and few postdoctoral positions. I decided to explore other parts of the world, expand my skills and knowledge and then come back. As a scientist it is significantly important to spread your knowledge of science. And postdoctoral life gives you immense experience in communication, writing, experimental skills etc.
There are several ways to apply for positions: 1) direct contact with supervisor under whom you wish to work, 2) finding positions online and applying or, 3) applying through fellowship programmes.
I would obviously want to get back to India. I came abroad to get better exposure and research experience. I would like to come back to India and join an academic research institution.