As promised our ‘Away from home‘ blogging series will feature sporadic entries under the ‘Away from home’ category of the Indigenus blog from time to time. The series was earlier a weekly featuring 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.
Here’s the account of a scientist couple, looking at opportunities to come back to India. Naresh Bal, a PhD from Jawarharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and a postdoc from the Ohio State University, USA is currently wanting to start an independent research group of his own. He is busy writing grants overtime given the “current grant situation in the USA”. Naresh urges the Indian government and institutions to think of schemes to recruit scientist-couples to work as a team. Read on and leave your comments — have you had a similar experience, do you know someone who has or are your bracing up for this now?
The enigma of protein structure
My interest in science originates from my curiosity about the incredible diversity in protein structure and the unique ways they perform their functions.
My doctoral research was from the Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), Lucknow and a the PhD from Jawarharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. I evaluated three postdoctoral positions in three different places — Paris, Amsterdam and Vancouver. At the same time I got an offer from Dr. Periasamy of the Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio to work on a “calcium-binding protein” called calsequestrin. As I always wanted to work on structural aspects of proteins, this sounded like my type of research. So I chose to join Dr. Periasamy’s lab and came to USA.
After joining Dr. Periasamy’s research group, I applied my doctoral experience of protein structure on calsequestrin. But a major twist in my scientific career was waiting for me. I came across two publications showing role of sarcolipin (a muscle protein) in heat production. Since a knockout mouse model was already available in our lab, I became interested in investigating this at the whole animal level. Not being a thermogenesis study lab, many challenges came in the way of my testing the idea. Finally, after two years I became successful and the study is now published in Nature Medicine.
Pursuing this project changed my career and I became a physiologist. Now, I am working as a research scientist and looking for an opportunity to establish my independent research group.
I like our current group, as each of us have our own independent view points about the mechanistic details of our project, but in the bigger picture we are united towards a single goal. I also like the efficient work culture in the scientific field and opportunity to work with people from diverse background here in the USA.
I was able to acclimatize quickly and my transition was smooth. On the very first day, when I was introduced to all the lab members, I found one among them was from Lucknow whom I had seen many times while working at CDRI. Although we did not know each other well, soon we glued to each other like old buddies: realizing world can be so small at times.
I think many things might have changed in the way a PhD student in India looks at doing a postdoc today. When I was at that stage in 2007, we used to apply randomly to hundreds of labs worldwide and based on the response, we decided. But now I think defining a long-term career goal and then applying to the labs that fits those goals is very important. The early years of postdoc are very important to become successful in academic career here in the USA.
Indian needs schemes to recruit couple-scientists
Being in the West, I miss near and dear ones. I am fortunate enough that my wife and son are here with me, which compensates for the loneliness here. I would love to come back to India. I have been looking for opportunities all over India. Till now, I have had no success, even though skeletal muscle biology (my field of research) is a rapidly expanding and promising research area, it remains almost invisible in India. My wife Nivedita is also working as a senior postdoc and looking for an independent faculty position. Her field of research is organic and medicinal chemistry. Her current research is related to cancer and infectious diseases. Nivedita is a PhD from IICT, Hyderabad and works in the Ohio State University.
Many postdocs and postdoc-aspirants have a two-body problem like us and getting employment for both is a very difficult issue. Therefore, it would be encouraging if the Indian government and/or institutions think of schemes to recruit scientist-couples to work as a team.
The Indian government has done a great job in creating many new central universities and institutions in last few years. However, the process of recruitment in most of the organization is not impartial. Moreover, Indian science has to shed its “me too” approach in science. In most places, I find that Indian scientific recruitment follows the scientific trend that was hot a couple of years back in the USA. But I urge the directors of Indian institutions to give opportunity to people with potential to create a whole new area of research.