Nature India | Indigenus

Lindau lessons: It wasn’t about science, it was about life

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.

If the term ‘life-changing’ needed to be illustrated with an example, Belinda Damian‘s trip to Lindau would eminently qualify. For Belinda, a Masters student at Loyola college, Chennai, the meeting was not about science, it was about life skills. From a shy, young girl who had never travelled alone to an aspiring astrophysicist who wants to explore the world on her own, the metamorphosis has taken her own self by surprise. Belinda tells us what the ‘land of poets and thinkers’ did to her.

Belinda Damian

Belinda Damian

The first thing I recollect of my tryst with Lindau is the day I sent out my application for a meeting — a meeting I had never heard about before but one which would eventually turn out to be a life-changer. My day was jam packed with classes and I bunked a few (I regretted it then but can’t thank myself enough now) to literally run from door to door to get the application approved. During my marathon I nearly gave up thinking, “I don’t stand a chance”, but on the insistence of my compeer I finally sent out my application at the 11th hour. When I received a mail confirming my selection for the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting, my joy knew no bounds. Despite having come back from the meeting, the feeling has not yet completely sunk in!

It is ironic what I personally achieved having participated in one of the biggest science extravaganza — for me the take homes were rather non-scientific, that of a deeper realisation of self. One question that kept haunting me was “How did ‘I’ get selected” since it was a national competition with only 20 odd seletions and I was never a very competitive person (did I mention that this was the first time I ever got selected in a nationwide competition?). I found an answer to it on my flight back home on the last day.

After hours of travel, the ‘land of poets and thinkers’ welcomed us with refreshing drizzles. Lindau to me was more than just a town, it was like living in a fairy tale, a treat for the eyes — I was enthralled. Little did I know that the following week had more surprises. The meet kick started with a grand opening in the historic city theatre (historic since it was where the first of these meetings took place) and the following days had a series of lectures, discussions, and master classes.

With 2011 Nobel Laureate Brian P. Schmidt

With 2011 Nobel Laureate Brian P. Schmidt

The first thing that astounded me about the Nobel Laureates was their magnanimity. They were considerate, even when every soul in the room was bugging them enthusiastically with questions. Some of the laureates actually showed more enthusiasm to interact with us than vice-versa. I sensed the humility when one of them queued up with the students for lunch.

The 2011 Laureate Brian P. Schmidt, who won the Nobel for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe, said during a discussion,“My life did change overnight when I heard about the Nobel Prize but everything depends on how you take it”. The values we hold dear in life should never be compromised by our professional positions — that was the repeated message young researchers heard at the meeting. Schmidt also addressed the issue of how some women researches were entering and surviving in the field of astrophysics. As a woman and an aspiring astrophysicist, this was very motivating.

As I said, I did find the answers to my question on the flight back home. One long held belief of mine that proved itself right was that ‘Everything happens for a reason and for one’s own good’. As I stood confused at the crossroads over choosing a career, this opportunity presented itself to me like a clincher.

My trip to Lindau had many firsts — travelling alone, being totally independent and realising the fun and responsibilities of freedom. It transformed me from being a shy person to one who made friends with researchers from all over the world effortlessly. I was surprised that I survived the trip being in a group of total strangers who ultimately spoke the same language. From being a person who was uncomfortable staying away from Chennai (my place of residence) to a person who yearns to solo travel the world — the trip to Lindau has given me wings. Now I face life with an entirely different perspective.

The one thing that I can’t emphasise enough to fellow youngsters is: never give up. If I had given up that day on sending the application, I would have missed this life-changing experience.

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