The ‘Away from home‘ blogging series features Indian postdocs working in foreign labs recounting their experience of working there, the triumphs and challenges, the cultural differences and what they miss about India. They also offer useful tips for their Indian postdocs headed abroad. You can join in the online conversation using the #postdochat hashtag.
In this post, microbiologist Devendra Dusane, a doctorate from the University of Pune and a postdoc at McGill University, Canada talks about the importance of the postdoc phase, which he says, is crucial for shaping one’s goals — both in life and in research. It is “overwhelming when my wife and daughter appreciate my published research papers and celebrate with me”, he says.
The ABC of Microbiology
When I joined the master’s programme of the University of Pune in India, I started learning about antimicrobial agents and biofilms. I found that bacterial cells, which I earlier thought to be lonely, actually attached to surfaces, communicated, multiplied and formed detrimental biofilms that were resistant to most antibiotics. This phenomenon of bacterial cross-talk (quorum sensing) and antibiotic resistance triggered my interest to study new antimicrobials that could inhibit and disperse these biofilms.
The research was a part of a collaborative programme between the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the University of Pune. I had to travel for a few months every year from Pune to the BARC unit at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu to seek guidance, use confocal microscopy and collect marine samples. It was fun. I had good colleagues at both places. I had the best supervisors during my Ph.D.
I was fortunate to be associated with great minds and places during my career. Before pursuing PhD, I had an opportunity to work in an industry for three years and then for a year with Prof. Anil Gupta at IIM Ahmedabad. Prof. Gupta is an authority in intellectual property rights, grass-root innovations and a Padmashree awardee. This was the time when I got the opportunity to interact with the former director general of CSIR Dr. Raghunath Mashelkar and former DBT adviser Dr. S. Natesh.
I am presently a postdoc at the Department of Chemical Engineering, McGill University, Canada. I am in one of the best labs at McGill doing research on anti-biofilm agents and quorum sensing inhibitors (to disrupt the bacterial cross-talk). My mentor is young and dynamic and always ready to help her students.
In everybody’s life, there comes a time when you have to decide on the right career path. Life is all about correct choices; consequences follow. After comparing my well paid peers in the IT sector and those in research waiting endlessly for the government’s decision for a marginal rise in research fellowship/stipend, I thought if the decision to pursue research was right or not. However, I am happy about deciding to undertake research — it has not just been a great career choice but also an immensely satisfying one. It is especially overwhelming when my wife (who is also pursuing research) and daughter appreciate my published research and celebrate with me.
Advice for postdoc aspirants
No matter where you do your postdoc, selecting the right mentor is very necessary. I know it is difficult to gauge this before you meet and start working with your mentor but you have to look for a supervisor who is working in your area of interest and is established. One who understands his/her students’ research goals and treats you as a colleague.
I would advise new postdocs to be innovative in their research, get work published to set up a platform and move ahead in achieving future goals. One should also remember that postdoc is just a temporary phase — don’t get attracted to it and stay for a long time. Think about achieving career goals — academia or industry is always waiting for prepared minds.
Speaking about research in Canada, it is one of the best places to start your career as a postdoc. Winters are pretty cold but its fun to go skiing with friends and family.
Path to success
I would advise postdoc aspirants to pursue a postdoc career in India or abroad and gain expertise to set up their own lab (academia or industry). Also, doctoral or post-doctoral training is a crucial step not just for setting and achieving your career goals but also to understand life. During this time you know more about yourself, people around you, different places and how to adjust to different situations. So keep up the hard work and enjoy life.