How outreach blends my worlds as a scientist and mom

Karishma S Kaushik, an Assistant Professor and Ramalingaswami Fellow at the Institute of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology in Savitribai Phule Pune University turned the pandemic into an opportune time to spur children’s interest in science, including her own son’s.

Karishma with son Abhay.

My phone pinged in the middle of the session. It was a message from my almost 10-year-old son. “Spelling mistake in slide 36. Instead of 1st you wrote ist” – the message read. I chuckled. Here I was, conducting a summer science quiz for children and their families across India, and getting instant feedback from the next room in the house. This was a heart-warming moment. It effortlessly represented how in a pandemic-stricken year, science outreach bridged my worlds as a scientist and a mother.

The pandemic forced a nation-wide lockdown in India in March 2020. It was around this time that my research colleague Snehal Kadam and I co-founded Talk to a Scientist. Schools were closed and I was giving informal science lessons to my son at home. He had so many questions – What is this virus? What is a pandemic? Why do we need to wear masks? Does the virus spread through food? As our science conversations gathered steam, I saw an opportunity in this rather distressful time to get children interested in, and excited about, science. I asked my son, “Do you think other kids your age, your friends for example, would be keen to talk to a scientist about all that is going on?” He was excited, “That would be great mom, but not just COVID, other topics as well.”

The first session of our webinar series went live on March 30, 2020, befittingly on COVID-19 for kids. Snehal and I made the visual content for the session, and I ran it by my son. He made edits and suggestions, and we got ready to roll. We expected 5 children to show up, and I was counting on my son and his cousins to be three of them. Much to our surprise and excitement, we had 75 children from across India join in. On popular demand, we started a weekly webinar for young minds.

The project has grown, and my son and I have spent hours brainstorming. For a session on medicines, he asked us to change the word ‘drug’ to ‘medicine’ on the slides. ‘Kids should not think you are talking about those kinds of ‘drugs’ that make people woozy, mom!” he said. I laughed and thought, my son is growing up. When I suggested a theme for a season, he would quickly come up with names from among my colleagues to be the guest scientists. “What about that scientist who works on peafowls, you shared a room with her in the Delhi conclave?” He has been a part of my professional life through conversations and conference books I brought back home, and now he was using it all to contribute to our outreach programme!

On the momentous occasion of us winning a grant to grow the platform, he stood near me, jumping with excitement, as I called Snehal to tell her the good news. Through weekly sessions spread over one year, he has enjoyed doing small jobs for the outreach – suggesting new features in the website, ideating for hands-on sessions with home supplies (as a parent myself, I did not want families to go out shopping for supplies in the middle of a pandemic), checking for typos in the slides, and sending flyers and posters to his school friends. For him, the ownership and importance of being a part of a national outreach programme has been thrilling. I would like to think that he will grow up to remember how it all started, with a casual conversation between us at home, and the time we spent together growing it in what was otherwise a tough year.

For me, in a year filled with professional uncertainties, pressures of working from home and home-schooling, science outreach has been a beautiful amalgam of my roles as a scientist and a mother. When the world was turning to science for answers, the scientist in me wanted to contribute to science outreach and education in the country, by sharing the process of scientific discovery and its power to transform lives and livelihoods. That I could co-create this with my son made this initiative even more special. Since the time I was a pregnant PhD student, determined to balance my life and career as a scientist and mother, I have day-dreamed scenarios where my son and I would talk about scientific advances, when he would join me on conference trips, and even imagined the possibility of us working together some day. I would like to believe that ‘Talk to a Scientist’ is the beginning of this journey.

While there have been numerous fun moments, one has been extra special. In the middle of one of the sessions, I caught my son taking a snack break in the kitchen. I looked at him questioningly, “Why are you not attending the webinar?” He replied matter-of-factly, “Your slides got a little boring mom, I will help you make better ones for next week”.

In addition to correcting typos, such no-filter feedback has been part of the deal!

Announcing winners of Nature India Photo Contest 2020

After a week of open voting for favourites, and selection by a global jury of Nature Research editors and designers, we are ready to roll out the verdict of the Nature India Photo Contest 2020.

The photographs have been judged for their adherence to this year’s theme ‘pandemic’, for their creative thinking, quality and print worthiness.

The winner of the Nature India photo contest 2020 is:

Partha Paul

for his powerful composition ‘Sampling immunity’, which has a child in the middle of the COVID-19 triangle, and symbols of the virus and the protective mother on either sides.

In Partha Paul’s words: “A health worker collects blood sample from a child in Kolkata, West Bengal as part of a sero survey to determine prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in populations. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, these surveys were conducted to determine what part of a population had developed antibodies. This was the first day of antibody tests in Kolkata’s Belgachia slum, one of the worst affected by COVID-19. This child, seen here with her mother, came from a ‘red zone’ where the government had enforced maximum containment measures.”

The second prize goes to:

Amitava Chandra

for his striking picture ‘Immersive innovation’, which makes a beautiful juxtaposition of faiths — of religion and of science.

Amitava Chandra says, “The annual Durga Puja festivities end with the immersion of the gods’ idols in river Hooghly, a tributary of the Ganges. Every year thousands of people take part in the idol immersion processions. Following COVID-19 restrictions, the festival organising committees created temporary water bodies to ‘immerse’ the clay-made idols by dissolving them with high power water jets, like in this picture taken at the Tridhara Sanmilani Puja Pandal, Kolkata on 26 October 2020. The benefits were two-fold – no processions, and no pollution of the Ganges’ waters.”

The third prize winner is:

Kaushik Dutta

for his imaginative picture ‘Migrant trouble’, which captures in the eyes of a child the threat of the pandemic symbolised by the ‘gun’ of the thermometer.

“Sending millions of migrant workers from across Indian cities back to their hometowns became a herculean task for the Indian government during the COVID-19 lockdown. This little girl boarded a train of migrant workers hoping to return home with her family. Unaware of the pandemic and what it means, she looks on with amazement at a healthcare worker in protective gear measuring her temperature with a thermal gun at the Howrah train station in West Bengal, India.”

Many congratulations to the winners!

The winners of the Nature India photo contest 2020 will get cash awards ($350, $250 and $200 respectively). They will receive a copy of the Nature India Annual Volume 2020 and a bag of goodies from Nature Research. One of the winning entries also stands a chance of being featured on the cover of a forthcoming print publication.

A special mention for all our other finalists (Deepak KumbharNila Nandi, Sandip Sarkar, Aishwarya Nilakhe, Sourav KarmakarAnindya Chattopadhyay), whose pictures portrayed various aspects of the pandemic’s socio-cultural impact. These pictures will linger in our memories for a long time.

Nature India Photo Contest 2020: Finalist #10

Marking the end of the shortlist, we unveil finalist #10 in the Nature India Photo Contest 2020 themed ‘pandemic’:

Kaushik Dutta, Kolkata, West Bengal

Photo Caption: Migrant trouble

“Sending millions of migrant workers from across Indian cities back to their hometowns became a herculean task for the Indian government during the COVID-19 lockdown. This little girl boarded a train of migrant workers hoping to return home with her family. Unaware of the pandemic and what it means, she looks on with amazement at a healthcare worker in protective gear measuring her temperature with a thermal gun at the Howrah train station in West Bengal, India.” — Kaushik Dutta

Congratulations Kaushik for for your second entry making it to the top 10 shortlist of the Nature India Photo Contest!

That brings us to the final picture in the 2020 Nature India Photo Contest shortlist. Watch this space for the announcement of the winners in the coming weeks.

The Nature India editorial and design teams have chosen ten stunning finalists, that will be rolled out (in no particular order of merit) over the next few days. These entries have been judged for novelty, creativity, quality and print worthiness. Nature India’s final decision to chose the winner will be partly influenced by the engagement and reception these pictures receive here at the Indigenus blog, on Twitter and on Facebook. To give all finalists a fair chance, we will consider the social media engagement each picture gets only during the first seven days of its announcement. The final results will be announced sometime in early February 2021.

Watch this space as we announce the other finalists in the coming days. Like, share and comment on your favourite photos on Twitter and on Facebook with the hashtag #NatureIndphoto to make them win.

The winning pictures will get cash prizes worth $350, $250 and $200 respectively. The top 10 finalists will be featured here, on Nature India’s blog Indigenus and in our subsequent annual issue.

The winner and runners-up will also receive a copy of the Nature India Annual Volume 2020 and a bag of Nature Research goodies. Winning entries stand a chance of being featured on the cover of one of our forthcoming print publications.

 

Nature India Photo Contest 2020: Finalist #9

Here’s finalist #9 in the Nature India Photo Contest 2020 themed ‘pandemic’:

Nila Nandi, Kolkata, West Bengal

Photo Caption: Sole congregation

“A man offers namaz alone at the famous Lodhi Gardens in Delhi following restrictions on religious congregations under the COVID-19 social distancing protocol.” — Nila Nandi

Congratulations Nila for making top 10 shortlist of Nature India Photo Contest!

The Nature India editorial and design teams have chosen ten stunning finalists, that will be rolled out (in no particular order of merit) over the next few days. These entries have been judged for novelty, creativity, quality and print worthiness. Nature India’s final decision to chose the winner will be partly influenced by the engagement and reception these pictures receive here at the Indigenus blog, on Twitter and on Facebook. To give all finalists a fair chance, we will consider the social media engagement each picture gets only during the first seven days of its announcement. The final results will be announced sometime in early February 2021.

Watch this space as we announce the other finalists in the coming days. Like, share and comment on your favourite photos on Twitter and on Facebook with the hashtag #NatureIndphoto to make them win.

The winning pictures will get cash prizes worth $350, $250 and $200 respectively. The top 10 finalists will be featured here, on Nature India’s blog Indigenus and in our subsequent annual issue.

The winner and runners-up will also receive a copy of the Nature India Annual Volume 2020 and a bag of Nature Research goodies. Winning entries stand a chance of being featured on the cover of one of our forthcoming print publications.

Nature India Photo Contest 2020: Finalist #8

And now it’s time for the finalist #8 in the Nature India Photo Contest 2020 themed ‘pandemic’:

Sandip Sarkar, Kolkata, West Bengal

Photo Caption: Safety is in fashion

“As the World Health Organisation deemed cloth masks fit for use, apparel designers across the world made masks that would appeal to youngsters and encourage them to wear the simple protective gear to check the spread of SARS-CoV-2. This young woman was happy to be clicked with her mask on, as she stepped out of home during the festival season, making a fashion statement alongside practicing safety.” — Sandip Sarkar

Congratulations Sandip for making it to the top 10 of the Nature India Photo Contest!

The Nature India editorial and design teams have chosen ten stunning finalists, that will be rolled out (in no particular order of merit) over the next few days. These entries have been judged for novelty, creativity, quality and print worthiness. Nature India’s final decision to chose the winner will be partly influenced by the engagement and reception these pictures receive here at the Indigenus blog, on Twitter and on Facebook. To give all finalists a fair chance, we will consider the social media engagement each picture gets only during the first seven days of its announcement. The final results will be announced sometime in early February 2021.

Watch this space as we announce the other finalists in the coming days. Like, share and comment on your favourite photos on Twitter and on Facebook with the hashtag #NatureIndphoto to make them win.

The winning pictures will get cash prizes worth $350, $250 and $200 respectively. The top 10 finalists will be featured here, on Nature India’s blog Indigenus and in our subsequent annual issue.

The winner and runners-up will also receive a copy of the Nature India Annual Volume 2020 and a bag of Nature Research goodies. Winning entries stand a chance of being featured on the cover of one of our forthcoming print publications.

Nature India Photo Contest 2020: Finalist #7

And it’s time for finalist #7 in the Nature India Photo Contest 2020 themed ‘pandemic’:

Aishwarya Nilakhe, New Delhi

Photo Caption: All-pervasive pandemic

“A researcher at the National Institute of Immunology in New Delhi, picks up a forgotten hobby to relieve the mental stress of the pandemic but ends up painting the very malady he is trying to get his mind away from. Painting by Owais Rashid Hakeim.” — Aishwarya Nilakhe

Many congratulations Aishwarya for featuring in the top 10 of the Nature India Photo Contest!

The Nature India editorial and design teams have chosen ten stunning finalists, that will be rolled out (in no particular order of merit) over the next few days. These entries have been judged for novelty, creativity, quality and print worthiness. Nature India’s final decision to chose the winner will be partly influenced by the engagement and reception these pictures receive here at the Indigenus blog, on Twitter and on Facebook. To give all finalists a fair chance, we will consider the social media engagement each picture gets only during the first seven days of its announcement. The final results will be announced sometime in early February 2021.

Watch this space as we announce the other finalists in the coming days. Like, share and comment on your favourite photos on Twitter and on Facebook with the hashtag #NatureIndphoto to make them win.

The winning pictures will get cash prizes worth $350, $250 and $200 respectively. The top 10 finalists will be featured here, on Nature India’s blog Indigenus and in our subsequent annual issue.

The winner and runners-up will also receive a copy of the Nature India Annual Volume 2020 and a bag of Nature Research goodies. Winning entries stand a chance of being featured on the cover of one of our forthcoming print publications.

Publishing metrics and agricultural science

Having achieved an H-index of 100, Rajeev Varshney* explains what the metric means in scientific publishing and why it is a milestone, especially in an agricultural scientist’s life.

H-index is an author-level metric that measures both productivity and citation impact of an author’s publications across the global scientific community. It is calculated by counting the number of publications in which an author has been cited by other authors. H-index 100 means each of the latest 100 of the author’s papers have been cited at least 100 times.

Opinions vary on these metrics and the number of citations is not the only way to measure scientific impact. But it certainly is one of the many metrics that recognise scientists’ publishing lives, and in turn, their science. Research publications are a great way to share the latest advancements in science with the global community. They also help reduce redundancy or duplication in research while directly or indirectly saving the valuable time and effort of the scientific community as also taxpayers’ money.

Generally speaking, medical science generates more research innovations that are used by different biological disciplines, including agricultural sciences. As a result, citations in medical science research are higher than agricultural science publications. When agricultural science publications have high citations, it does indicate that the research is making an impact in advancing science. The milestone of 100 h-index is a recognition of the high-quality science at ICRISAT with colleagues and partners from across the globe.

The metric that matters even more

The real battle that agricultural science should wage is against hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. Scientists in the same discipline anywhere can learn from the latest research and take it forward to address issues of smallholder farmers while advancing the cause of scientific research for global good.

As scientists, we believe in every study we conduct irrespective of the results we get. Some of the research we conducted with a large number of global partners has an edge over the others because of massive learnings from the multidisciplinary scientists involved. For example, our genome sequencing work of 429 chickpea lines was a collaboration of 39 scientists from 21 research institutes across 45 countries. It tapped next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology to better understand the genetic architecture, centre of origin, migration route as well as genetic loci for agronomic traits in chickpea. This study1 with several brilliant minds from across the world offered much learning for me.

Chickpea crop improvement has been a key area of Varshney’s research.

There is a great sense of satisfaction when the upstream research we conduct delivers results in farmers’ fields in addition to advancing the cause of science for global good. As a genomics scientist, I provide research outputs for breeding programmes that develop improved crops.

ICRISAT’s collaborative work on genomics-assisted breeding helped develop and release the first set of products in 2019. There were three high yielding, wilt resistant varieties of chickpea2, 3 and two high-oleic varieties of groundnut4. The Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research also released a high-yielding chickpea variety5. The groundnut varieties were among the 17 biofortified crops dedicated to India on World Food Day 2020.

My efforts in genomics-assisted breeding will continue with an aim to accelerate the replacement of older crop varieties to help smallholding farmers improve their income and ensure better nutrition and health for the society.

(*Rajeev Varshney is Research Program Director, Genetic Gains and Director, Center of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad, India.)

Nature India Photo Contest 2020: Finalist #6

Here is finalist #6 in the Nature India Photo Contest 2020 themed ‘pandemic’:

Partha Paul, Kolkata, West Bengal

Photo Caption: Sampling immunity

“A health worker collects blood sample from a child in Kolkata, West Bengal as part of a sero survey to determine prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in populations. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, these surveys were conducted to determine what part of a population had developed antibodies. This was the first day of antibody tests in Kolkata’s Belgachia slum, one of the worst affected by COVID-19. This child, seen here with her mother, came from a ‘red zone’ where the government had enforced maximum containment measures.” — Partha Paul

Many congratulations Partha for your second entry in the top 10!

The Nature India editorial and design teams have chosen ten stunning finalists, that will be rolled out (in no particular order of merit) over the next few days. These entries have been judged for novelty, creativity, quality and print worthiness. Nature India’s final decision to chose the winner will be partly influenced by the engagement and reception these pictures receive here at the Indigenus blog, on Twitter and on Facebook. To give all finalists a fair chance, we will consider the social media engagement each picture gets only during the first seven days of its announcement. The final results will be announced sometime in early February 2021.

Watch this space as we announce the other finalists in the coming days. Like, share and comment on your favourite photos on Twitter and on Facebook with the hashtag #NatureIndphoto to make them win.

The winning pictures will get cash prizes worth $350, $250 and $200 respectively. The top 10 finalists will be featured here, on Nature India’s blog Indigenus and in our subsequent annual issue.

The winner and runners-up will also receive a copy of the Nature India Annual Volume 2020 and a bag of Nature Research goodies. Winning entries stand a chance of being featured on the cover of one of our forthcoming print publications.

Nature India Photo Contest 2020: Finalist #5

Rolling out finalist #5 in the Nature India Photo Contest 2020 themed ‘pandemic’:

Sourav Karmakar, Kolkata, West Bengal

Photo caption: Faithful fielder

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, this old man walked in a group with other senior citizens at Lodhi Gardens in New Delhi, India. They followed a schedule – evening-walk, physical exercise, badminton and a chat session. In the new normal, most senior citizens are home-bound. This man found a new companion in his dog and tweaked his fitness schedule with the canine sports partner.” — Sourav Karmakar

Congratulations Sourav for getting a spot in the top 10 of the Nature India Photo Contest 2020!

The Nature India editorial and design teams have chosen ten stunning finalists, that will be rolled out (in no particular order of merit) over the next few days. These entries have been judged for novelty, creativity, quality and print worthiness. Nature India’s final decision to chose the winner will be partly influenced by the engagement and reception these pictures receive here at the Indigenus blog, on Twitter and on Facebook. To give all finalists a fair chance, we will consider the social media engagement each picture gets only during the first seven days of its announcement. The final results will be announced sometime in early February 2021.

Watch this space as we announce the other finalists in the coming days. Like, share and comment on your favourite photos on Twitter and on Facebook with the hashtag #NatureIndphoto to make them win.

The winning pictures will get cash prizes worth $350, $250 and $200 respectively. The top 10 finalists will be featured here, on Nature India’s blog Indigenus and in our subsequent annual issue.

The winner and runners-up will also receive a copy of the Nature India Annual Volume 2020 and a bag of Nature Research goodies. Winning entries stand a chance of being featured on the cover of one of our forthcoming print publications.

Nature India Photo Contest 2020: Finalist #4

Unveiling finalist #4 in the Nature India Photo Contest 2020 themed ‘pandemic’:

Kaushik Dutta, Kolkata, West Bengal

Photo caption: Personal protection

“This little boy, struggling to come to terms with life with a mask, seems to believe that his mother might protect him from all calamities, even an unseen virus. The healing and influencing power of mothers in protecting families has been at the forefront of many awareness campaigns and immunisation programmes during public health emergencies such as the COVID-19. Clicked at the Howrah station in West Bengal, India.” — Kaushik Dutta

Congratulations Kaushik for making it to the top 10 in the Nature India Photo Contest 2020!

The Nature India editorial and design teams have chosen ten stunning finalists, that will be rolled out (in no particular order of merit) over the next few days. These entries have been judged for novelty, creativity, quality and print worthiness. Nature India’s final decision to chose the winner will be partly influenced by the engagement and reception these pictures receive here at the Indigenus blog, on Twitter and on Facebook. To give all finalists a fair chance, we will consider the social media engagement each picture gets only during the first seven days of its announcement. The final results will be announced sometime in early February 2021.

Watch this space as we announce the other finalists in the coming days. Like, share and comment on your favourite photos on Twitter and on Facebook with the hashtag #NatureIndphoto to make them win.

The winning pictures will get cash prizes worth $350, $250 and $200 respectively. The top 10 finalists will be featured here, on Nature India’s blog Indigenus and in our subsequent annual issue.

The winner and runners-up will also receive a copy of the Nature India Annual Volume 2020 and a bag of Nature Research goodies. Winning entries stand a chance of being featured on the cover of one of our forthcoming print publications.