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Lindau lessons: Secret behind work-life balance

In June 2016, 21 young Indian scientists made a trip to the beautiful island of Lindau, in south west Germany, to attend the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting, dedicated this year to physics. In this sunny side of Germany, 29 Nobel Laureates met with 400 young scientists from 80 countries in an informal setting, which has come to be celebrated as the hallmark of these meetings.

On a boat trip from Lindau to Mainau island, Nature India caught up with the Indian delegation consisting of master’s students, PhDs and Post-docs, freshly chosen every year since 2001 by India’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) in collaboration with the German Research Foundation (DFG) to be part of this science extravaganza. In this blog series ‘Lindau lessons‘, Nature India will bring to you the unique experience of some of the young scientists from India who basked in the Lindau sun this yearJoin their online conversation using the #lindaulessons hashtag.

Today’s guest blogger is Ananya Mondal from the Department of Physical Sciences, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata. She shares the excitement of her selection process and reflects upon the core lesson of the meeting:  the 3 Ds behind a successful scientist — discipline, dedication and determination. Ananya also claims to have discovered the secret behind a successful work-life balance, quite early in her career.

Ananya Mondal

Ananya Mondal

It was a terribly sunny day in Kolkata when I ran around from one office to another at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) — I had only 24 hours to complete my application for the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings and send it to the Department of Science and Technology, (DST) India.

After a tough two-level selection procedure I received a mail saying, “Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that the scientific review panel of the Council for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings has selected you to participate in the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting taking place from 26 June to 1 July 2016, in Lindau Germany. Only the 400 most qualified young scientists can be given the opportunity to enrich and share the unique atmosphere of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.”

I was in my fourth year of 5-year Integrated BS-MS studies with Physics as my major subject .The following year I was required to do a year long master thesis project. During this transition, I was in dire need of direction and ideas, hence this was one of the best opportunities I could have got.

In Lindau, like most of my fellow participants, I was inspired by the very first talk by Prof. Hiroshi Amano, the 2014 physics Nobel Laureate — he was not a good student till high school and always wondered why he should study hard just to enter a renowned University. Until one day when an old professor at his University gave him a life-altering motto: “Study to connect to people”. He never looked back after that. Over coffee, I got a chance to talk to him about his research dilemmas and funding problems. There was a time when his lab could not afford some equipment but instead of giving up, he and his team designed those very equipment themselves.

Today when I recall his words I realise a few things. First: minor day to day things can be as important in your journey towards the Nobel prize as going to space. Second: everyday science done with conviction culminates in big discoveries and so the roots should never be abandoned. Third: the 3 Ds — discipline, dedication and determination — should never be forgotten. I gathered from him that courage to chase one’s conviction takes one far. It doesn’t matter if I end up with wrong results but at least I’d know I am wrong and can now do better!

Prof. Hiroshi Amano's life-altering philosophy

Prof. Hiroshi Amano’s life-altering philosophy

I made friends with many young scientists from various corners of the world. We discussed our ongoing research problems and exchanged views. I particularly remember a PhD student from Germany who works in my field of interest — complex systems. During a casual conversation, I suddenly found the solution to a problem I was stuck at, thanks to his expertise in the field that somehow guided me subconsciously. I realised that the amalgamation of culture, work experiences and age groups was a deliberate choice of the Lindau committee.

Science has no boundaries, it demands networking and connecting with researchers so that we can broaden our horizons. Even an introvert like me could not stop herself from meeting new people and knowing about their work during lunch breaks and cruise rides. Today I can motivate my juniors who are introverts like me to go up and talk to people because that is the best form of learning. And when one has had the chance to talk to Nobel Laureates and top young scientists one dare not miss this life-shaping opportunity!

The young scientist discussion sessions were one of my favourites because we had the chance of interacting with the Nobel Laureates. Students asked questions not only related to science but also regarding balancing one’s personal life with professional. I treasure the words of Prof. William Phillips, the 1997 physics Nobel winner,  because I believe he said something too beautiful to be true.While working on his research problems he would often be deeply engrossed but he made it a point to visit his son and wife in the evening. He read out stories to his son and only after he slept, the scientist left for his lab where he worked late nights. For a young researcher like me it was good to learn right at the beginning that one must master the art of balancing both worlds so that they coexist in harmony. I was also overwhelmed to learn about his enthusiasm to talk to the younger generation and answer their questions with as much detailing as possible.

The panel discussions, science breakfast discussions and poster sessions opened up to me the active research topics and a spectra of possibilities in the fields of general relativity, quantum information and soft matter physics. Different perspectives from the gems of physics broadened my outlook in these areas. Modern day science can no longer be demarcated as biology, chemistry, physics or mathematics. It is interdisciplinary and that is a how a scientist must be conditioned to think.

This interdisciplinary aspect came to life during panel discussions comprising people from various fields trying to argue the validity of a statement using basic scientific logic. The last panel discussion was dedicated to ‘The Future of Education in Sciences’ where pressing questions such as “How can we stimulate interest in studying science where it is lacking in the globe?”, “How can we rapidly scale education in natural sciences in emerging markets where resources are scarce but interest is burgeoning; are MOOCs the answer?”, “How do we account for the scarce female enrolment in science?”, were discussed.

There were several take home messages, one among those was delivered by the 2011 chemistry Nobel Laureate Prof. Dan Shechtman. He said in order to instil confidence in women that they are no less than men in science, one should start at a young age. Boys and girls should be given separate education and the idea that girls do not need to compete with boys in mathematics but only with oneself should be promulgated. He reported seeing better performance by girls in such cases.

I had always wondered what makes Nobel Laureates different. I presume it is not the blood or flesh but the never-say-die attitude, a good grasp of the fundamentals, asking the ‘right’ question, the indispensable instinct and the urge to do science to contribute to the society.

After the meeting, today when I look at myself in the mirror I can see a distinct difference — the clarity in my mind regarding addressing a research problem and a new spark in my eyes. Being a part of the alumni, I consider it my responsibility to spread the Lindau spirit ‘Educate, Inspire, Connect’ to young science enthusiasts in India and elsewhere.

More in the series: 

Comments

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    sabeera B said:

    Hi Subhra Priyadarshini,
    why can’t i access the articles:
    Lindau lessons: Where have all the women gone?
    Lindau Lessons: It’s OK to be ignorant
    Lindau lessons: Equality for genders, nations. Any kind of help is appreciated.