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 cultural differences, what they miss about India, as well as some top tips for postdocs headed abroad. You can join in the online conversation using the #postdochat hashtag.
Today’s blog comes from Arghya Basu, who wears many hats — that of a membrane protein researcher, an amateur photographer and a weekend hiking enthusiast. A doctorate from Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Kolkata, India, Arghya now lives his many passions working at the University of Alberta, Canada and says research might not always fetch you a Nobel but should be able to make life better for some.
Dad, my first science teacher
My father was my first science teacher. A banker by profession, he had an extraordinary skill to explain the world and all conceivable worldly acts in terms of science. I remember, as a kid I used to look forward to those hours when my father would come back from office and open my science books, be it the physical sciences or life sciences. The next few hours used to be magical. I always wanted to touch that magic. So, it was a no-brainer for me to choose science and scientific research as my future career quite early in my life.
My lucky break
I completed my doctoral studies at the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Kolkata. When I was writing my thesis, I started applying for postdoctoral positions abroad to expand my knowledge. I e-mailed Prof. Joseph R. Casey of the University of Alberta after I got interested in his work from his webpage. He offered me a fully funded trip to visit his laboratory. During the three day trip to Canada I loved the lab environment and research projects. Prof. Casey was very well funded and there were a lot of opportunities to apply for personal funding also. I did not have to think twice when he offered me the postdoctoral position.
Research and the Rockies
I work as a Research Associate in the laboratory of Prof. Casey now in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Alberta. My interest revolves around the structure and mode of action of human anion exchanger protein, AE1. This membrane protein helps us in managing carbon dioxide level in our cells. It also regulates the acidity and basicity of cells. Disruption of the function of AE1 leads to many diseases like haemolytic anaemia and distal renal tubular acidosis.
Canada is probably the most beautiful country. I live in Edmonton, which is not far from the Canadian Rockies. We often take the weekend off from our urban life and go to the mountains. I love hiking in the Rockies. Being a serious amateur photographer this is almost heaven for me.
Getting used to Canada
It was a huge cultural jump for me to come to Canada from India. I will always be indebted to my supervisor, Prof. Casey, who helped me a lot to settle down in a totally unknown country. In the last few years I have changed a lot. My vision has broadened. My food habit has changed. Now I love my espresso, the most bitter coffee of all. But, I really enjoy it here, with friends, co-workers and friendly Canadians.
The worst part of being in Western Canada is the fact that it is too close to the Rockies! Canadian Rocky mountains are home of some of the most beautiful places in the whole world. Edmonton is only a three hour drive from these places. So, it is sometimes really difficult to concentrate on work during the weekdays. But, just one trip to the mountains can see you through some of the busiest weeks. We often go the mountains during weekends, be it winter or summer.
Harsh weather alert
Canada is a country of harsh weather. The winter can be really cruel here. You either love it, or hate it. If you are afraid of temperatures like -30 or -40 degree Celsius, you should not consider Canada, at least not Edmonton.
But, if you like winter sports and bright snowy sights, this is your destination. In terms of funding opportunities, Canada is doing better now as compared to the US. So, look for good quality research, good funding opportunities and some cool fun!
What don’t I miss about India?
If someone asked me what I miss about India, I’d say the list of “what I don’t miss about India” would be a lot shorter. I miss my beloved country. I miss my friends and family. I miss all the festivals. Though we have a very strong and happening Indian community here and we do celebrate all the major Indian festivals in Canada, I miss the Indian totality in them. Particularly during the time of Durga Puja, the greatest festival of Bengalis, I miss my city Kolkata.
Science knows no boundaries
For me working in India or abroad does not make much of a difference. It is more important to work in a place where I can give my 100% effort to add value to the society. We researchers often forget that we are not doing research to publish high impact articles. We are doing our job to add our little bit to improve the quality of life. If I think I can do that from a particular place in the world, then I will try to be there, be it India or abroad.
After spending more than ten years working in the field of science, I realized what one of my teachers once told me — “create your own measure of success”. All research projects will not produce a Nobel laureate. Being a postdoc will not make one rich. But, there are far more satisfying things than awards and money — the satisfaction of doing something adventurous which will help mankind. So, if you are that adventure loving person who enjoys the magic of science, research is definitely your path.