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 we have Dilraj Lama, a PhD from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Bioinformatics Institute, A*STAR, Singapore. Dilraj is having a great time with biological modelling and simulation experiments as he seamlessly blends in with the local community owing to similar facial features. Exposed to a healthy multi-disciplinary work team, he is also learning important lessons in industry-academia linkages early on in his research life.
Switching between sciences
Learning has always been like a journey for me. I opted for mathematics over biology as my major during schooling, went for engineering thereafter, and guess what? I did a PhD in biological sciences! So it has never been a conscious effort on my part to be in any particular area. Looking back, I was always a bit curious and that might have driven me towards a carrier in science.
After completing a PhD from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, I was looking for an appropriate laboratory for postdoctoral training and Dr. Chandra Verma’s work at the Bioinformatics Institute, A*STAR, Singapore, caught my attention. He uses a computational approach corroborated with extensive experimental collaboration to address biological problems and he has made significant scientific contributions over the years. I was very keen to join him and today I work as a postdoctoral researcher with him.
My primary focus is designing and modelling of peptide-based inhibitors against biomolecular targets whose malfunctioning gives rise to pathological conditions. I use the computational approach mostly involving molecular modelling and simulation for my research. The work is done in extensive collaboration with an experimental group which complements our approach and validates the designed models. We are working towards developing high-affinity inhibitors which are biologically active and hence will have the potential to expand into drug molecules.
We have people working in different areas which provides an excellent opportunity to broaden my scientific skills. The work culture in the group is very positive. Besides, we also get to interact extensively with other scientific groups, meet eminent scientists, organise talks and events, all of which are an integral part of postdoctoral training.
Singapore is very close to home which is very comforting. It has an exceptional infrastructure, cleanliness, warm people, boundless cuisines, great tourist destinations and is a prime location to explore South-East Asia. I am also told that it is the sixth least corrupt nation in the world. Now, how cool is that!
Making the switch
It was a very smooth transition for me, primarily because of the people I came in contact with during the initial days. There have been several interesting incidents but one of them stands out. I come from the north-eastern part of India where the physical features of people are similar to Singapore locals. During my search for an apartment with an Indian agent (who looked more Indian to the locals), the owner asked me for my badge mistaking me for the agent and him for the prospective tenant. It was hilarious and we had a hearty laugh when the matter was clarified.
Singapore is overall a great place to be. Yes, it is not perfect. Naturally there are issues at hand. But I believe it’s all about how you deal with it and make it work for you.
Successful industry-academia linkages
One of the things that post-doctoral researchers can learn from training in Singapore is the intricate worki culture between industry and academia. It is a very nice place for collaborative research since one of the prime conditions for funding here is that the work has to be cooperative in nature. It will also be an attractive destination for people who are interested in product development also known as applied science.
Home is where the heart is
Home is where the heart is, they say. I stand by that and nothing can substitute the feeling of being in close company of your near and dear ones. I do look forward for an opportunity to come back and work in India.