Through our raising talents program, Bio standups aims to increase the visibility of women Early Career Researchers (ECR) who are contributing equally as men for betterment of research and science in India. We aim to provide a trend-setting platform to bring all the raising talents under one umbrella. Get motivation and inspiration from our raising talents who made their mark in science and research.
Dr. Zarna Pala
Senior Research Fellow (CSIR)
Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani
“I was looking for company to pass my minutes at BioAsia 2017 and stumbled on to this young and brilliant lady named “Zarna Pala”. Our chit chat started from knowing the real meaning of her name “Zarna” and ended up with discussing most deepest dirtiest practies of scientific community and the real struggle of coming generation regarding their career success. The more we talked the more we disclosed the closest and the common interest we share. Immediately, i decided to share her thoughts with our fans at “Biostandups” as her views are meaningful and influential.” – said our CEO and Co-founder Dr. Sabeera.
BS: Firstly, thank you for accepting my invitation and am happy to interact with you through the Q&A session. How you feel about the meet?
ZP: The meet as of now is exciting as this is the first time I am attending this event. I hope to gather some fantastic experiences and a lot of new perspectives about the biotechnology and healthcare sector in India and abroad.
BS: Describe yourself as scientist?
ZP: Marie Curie has rightly said that, “Science has great beauty. A scientist is not just a technician in his lab, he is also a child placed before a natural phenomenon which impresses him like a fairy tale.” So, me as a scientist is that inquisitive child placed before some amazing natural phenomena which enthralls me each time I see it and wish to explore the unseen and unknown and help me create my own fairy tale.
BS: Currently you belong at Birla Institute of Technology and Science Pilani (BITS) as Senior research fellow. Can you tell us about your current research interests?
ZP: My current research interests broadly belong to Molecular Biology and specifically are focused on Molecular Parasitology. We are basically looking for new drug targets for the treatment of Malaria.
BS: Any other passions you possess apart from Science and research?
ZP: I have a few passions like photography and cooking topping the list after science. I have a few hobbies like dancing, playing badminton and running but, I am passionate the most about photography and cooking. Of the two, I pursue cooking on daily basis, but photography becomes a bit difficult.
BS: Where and When did you complete your Doctoral studies?
ZP: I will be completing my doctoral studies in 2017 from BITS Pilani, Pilani Campus.
BS: What is your best ability as Scientist?
ZP: My best abilities as a scientist are that I am a keen observer and I can multitask. Apart from this, like how you have 3C’s and 4P’s for a perfect marketing plan, as a scientist I strive for 3D’s (Dedication, Devotion, Determination) and 2P’s (Principles and Priorities).
BS: Science, Biotech and Healthcare. Which sector is more crucial for future sustainability?
ZP: Sustainability is a balancing act between all the three of them, although the base would always remain science. Basic science lays the foundation for application oriented research i.e. biotechnology, and whatever knowledge is gained from biotechnology, is further used for the benefit of mankind in the healthcare sector. So, whatever we learn from basic science has to be applied using various biotechnological tools in the health care sector for a sustainable future.
BS: Have you won any awards/fellowships so far in your career?
ZP: Yes. I have won the following awards:
- I have won the Ramarao Adik Gold Medal for being the topper of my Master’s Program (M. Tech –Biotechnology).
- I have been awarded the DST-INSPIRE Fellowship from Department of Science and Technology, Government of India to pursue Doctoral studies.
- I have been awarded the CSIR-Senior Research Fellowship from Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Government of India to pursue Doctoral studies.
- I have won four Best Poster Awards and one Young Scientist Award during the course of my research career till date.
- I have been awarded the DBT-Travel Award and CICS Fellowship to present my research work in an International conference.
- I have also represented BITS Pilani, at the national BioCamp organized by Novartis, Hyderabad and won the team event.
BS: Where do you want to see yourself in next 5-10 years?
ZP: In the next five years, I see myself working in healthcare sector towards the development of a product which will be utilized for the benefit of mankind.
BS: You are participating at BioAsia-2017. What do you wish to collect from here?
ZP: I always had an inclination towards joining an industry and making some significant contribution in terms of delivering a product to the market with my research. But, I did not have a clear picture as to what should be the next move in my career. I wish to know more about research and development in the healthcare sector and what are my prospects as a researcher in this sector.
BS: How important networking is in Science? Does network with purpose actually helps to overcome the struggle?
ZP: Networking is really important in any given field not only Science. Interdependence is certainly more valuable than independence and learning is an interdependent phenomenon. You can learn new things from different people only if you network. Networking with purpose definitely helps overcome struggle as whatever doubts we have in our minds can be clarified immediately when we personally go and discuss the problem with the experts of the respective field.
BS: What is the best part of being here at BioAsia2017?
ZP: BioAsia is an amazing platform for graduate students, young scientists or for that matter any person who wants to pursue a career in healthcare sector. It opens up new avenues for an individual and helps one to explore themselves as to where you stand in the professional world or where do you see yourself in the next few years. It was an outstanding opportunity for me as a researcher, as I got to interact with experts from industry and academia which will help me shape my future and achieve my professional goals.
BS: Coming from an academia, do you see any advantage in attending BioAsia2017?
ZP: As mentioned earlier by me, I have had an inclination towards the industry since the beginning of my career. But, for those who still want to pursue academics this is definitely a great platform, as it opens doors for collaborations between the academia and industry. BioAsia is a step forward to bridge the gap between the research being conducted in the academic institutes and the products being developed in the industry. It also gives academicians the chance to explore the various funding schemes Government has initiated to pursue such kind of collaborative research between the institutes and industry. It has definitely been of great advantage to me and my institute.
BS: Your best moment at BioAsia2017?
ZP: The best moment for me was listening to the talk given by Nobel laureate Prof. Kurt Wuthrich and then discussing some basic principles of protein crystallography with him over lunch.
BS: Do you have a message to researchers out there?
ZP: My mantra has always been “Never say never”. I just have to say that irrespective of the field you are working you should never give up, you should keep trying always and there is no substitute for hard work. Sooner or later, the efforts would count.
BS: Any recent discoveries in Science and technology that you would appreciate personally?
ZP: There was a major breakthrough in the field of organ transplant at the beginning of this year, where human stem cells were able to grow and differentiate in a pig. This could help solve our current organ donation crisis and thus help save a lot of lives. This has by far been the most fascinating discovery in the recent times which I would appreciate personally.
BS: Gender equity is lacking in STEM. Do you agree and why?
ZP: It is definitely lacking but, we will be there soon. There is no specific reason about this inequality although the social background does play an important role. Never the less, I believe if we want to bring equity, we need to work for it and enlighten and encourage more women towards these fields.
BS: Any comment on our startup “Biostandups”?
ZP: Biostandups is that much needed stage where we can get all the information at just one click. It is really a great effort by the entire team to put tons of information at our fingertips. The best part is one is updated at all forums related to biology, be it academia, industry, or any other events happening across the globe. I would like to congratulate the entire team for their splendid efforts in raising such a great platform.
Dr. Jasmin Shamshoddin Shaikh
Department of Physics
I have been completed my Ph.D in Physics on 2011 under the guidance of Prof. P. S. Patil at Shivaji University, Kolhapur-416004, India. After that I have completed one year (2011-2012) post doc in Hanyang University, Seoul, South Korea. Later, I joined to Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, India, as a research assistant for one year (2013-2014). Currently, I am working as a DST-Women Scientist-A in Shivaji University, Kolhapur under supervision of Prof. P. S. Patil. I have published 18 papers in International journal on supercapacitor and solar cell. My one book entitled “Nanomaterials in the field of supercapacitor” has been published in Lamber publishing group.
My research interest is basically in Nanotechnology. I am grateful to do work in energy storage devices like supercapacitor, energy conversion devices like solar cell and Water purification device like photo catalysis. My research deals with synthesis and characterization of different types of nanomaterials for above mentioned applications. We are interested to fabricate devices using nanomaterials having low cost and eco-friendly. In this aspect, we done work on cobalt oxide, copper oxide, ferrous oxide, nickel oxide and graphene based materials. Currently, I am working on perovskite solar cell which is recently emerged and have high efficiency (~20%) but it has limitation of poor stability towards humidity and toxic in nature. Our task is try to fabricate solar cell device which overcome above mentioned limitations. Also, we started to work in fabrication of DNA sensor by using different nanomaterials.
Sudarsan: Was scientific exploration and science‐based topics of interest to you as a child? Do you remember what sparked your interest in science?
Jasmin: During my school I was not interested in study. Even though I am not interested in school study I want to read books of various scientists in different field. When I was in 6th class my classroom was near to library. In that library, various scientist books were available which describes the story behind the success of their experiments. These books are very small hardly 20 pages in each book. So, whenever I got off lecture I went there and read those books. During that time, I read books on famous scientists like Newton, Einstein and Thomas Edison. These books created unconscious mind towards research.
Sudarsan: What event in your childhood has had the most impact on the way you now look at the world?
You: During my childhood one of my teacher always encourages to do sports. Due to his support, we went for different places for sports and got different lessons like team work, support to collogues, excitement about work, courage, power of acceptance of successes- failures and hope for good achievement in near future after failure. And courage to find new step after one successes for achieve one step ahead of last successes. I have always thankful my childhood for giving such nice lessons which is/will always helpful in my life.
Sudarsan: Of all the opportunities out there, why did you choose to pursue scientific research?
Jasmin: During my master studies, I got project on nanotechnology. I found very interest in that field so I believing to do research to bring happiness in life.
Sudarsan: Who are the people that have mentored you over your professional career? How has this helped you shape yourself as a person and a scientist?
Jasmin: I have completed my Ph. D under the guidance of Prof. P. S. Patil. Under his guidance approximately 10 women students have completed their Ph. D and 3 women pursing their Ph.D. work. He is very prompt and positive everywhere and interested in lots of research work. He is always encouraging to students to do research in various applications with excellent results. They motivated and supported to students during their carrier. He always trying to make best to their students. We have studied how to do smart and hard work, enthusiastic and courage to do work in team from them. They always created inspirational surrounds by talking their excellent speech about great achier (scientist) in the same field. They always encourage to go in different Institutes/University, abroad and discusses research with great scientists. They believe discussion creates long period enthusiasm and new direction in research.
Sudarsan: Do you think unconventional methods and hands‐on activities are needed to engage the young scientists of tomorrow? Why?
Jasmin: These things are depended on the ability of person to person. I think new method always try to get results. it gives new approach to find out solution of any problem However, first we need to understand the conventional methods and first do on that method. After results try to what limitations and problem in that method. Then we need find new method to resolve this limitations and problem by trying new methods.
Sudarsan: What are some difficulties or challenges for a woman in science? & What do you like to do outside your professional pursuits?
Jasmin: To stay in science field require lot of support and courage. The relatives and family friend make question about future. According to their philosophy women must move on conventional path.
I would like to teach children’s and encouraging them by telling stories.
Sudarsan: what was the fascinating subject when you were a kid at high school?
Jasmin: Science and Mathematics.
Sudarsan: What is the secret behind your success?
Jasmin: Positive attitude towards life is always path of successes. I believe on hard work, persistence and stay hunger to learn new things. I thought never give up until you get successes for that whatever the problems, reasons and causes arises. Stay on belief and do accordingly by well planning, action, thinking and hopes. Always, found ourselves in achiever even though in failure. Since, I know I have spirit and power to overcome these circumstances. It is not permanent and I am goanna make this change happen.
Sudarsan: As a woman, have you ever faced intolerance against gender diversity in your career?
Jasmin: No, I have never been felt intolerance against gender diversity. I have been always surrounded by positive thought peoples who always believing that women can do anything whatever they want with positive results. Instead of making difficulties they always support me and encouraging me. And not gave any special treatment or excuses that are like you are women so you are allowed fewer achievements or results are ok. They want same achievements/successes by both genders. If in future I got face to intolerance against gender diversity I will be just tried to ignore them and will move forward with positive vision.
Sudarsan: Tell us any craziest thing you ever done in your career/life?
Jasmin: My first conference always I remember because I have presented poster presentation only on two figures.
Sudarsan: Do you support women empowerment in STEM? What is your opinion on Women in STEM?
Jasmin: Yes, I believing this is very import thing to support women empowerment in STEM. Because, I thought women is 50% energy of the world (male has 50%) that must be used to get any (~100%) positive achievements. I thoughts number of women are doing carrier in STEM. But in villages in India everywhere arts colleges but not science-engineering colleges. So, women are required to out of villages which is main obstacle. Also for 11th and 12th class of science required tuition to compute for next education. So, in that case it is very difficult for poor women to convey family for getting admission in science when they have brothers. Many times, family members believe that good job for women is primary teacher even that she has ability to do science they force to do course which required less time and money. So, it is necessary to change the view of society by telling inspiring stories of women who are succeed in STEM on different media and by making movies on them.
Sudarsan: How do you manage work and personnel life?
Jasmin: Due to family support, it is very easy for me to balance the work and personal life. I took help from my family members, friends and work partners for managing my both task.
Sudarsan: Women empowerment in STEM is a global issue. How do you feel about it?
Jasmin: Even though many good purposes and initiatives, gender inequality is still common in science. Despite percentage of women education is equal or comparable to Man education, women are lack behind of men in terms of good jobs, publications and citations. I feel very sorry regarding this when I thought about that how this can happen although all countries tried for improvements and empowerment of women.
Sudarsan: Do you think women empowerment in Science and Technology is underpinned in India?
Jasmin: I think in India only lot of programs, scholarships and fellowships and reservation are provided to women for overcome obstacles and get up. Number of fellowship scheme for women are provided by INDIA like Department of Science and Technology (DST), New Delhi, India provided DST-Women Scientist fellowship, University Grant Commission provided number of UGC-e-Governance project for empowerment of Women in STEM. There are lot of scheme are provided by Ministry of Women and Child development, Government of INDIA like working hostel, program for support to training and Employment program for women in STEP. Details of programs are available here http://wcd.nic.in/schemes-listing/2405 .
Sudarsan: We have very few women pioneers in science and technology. What will be the reason behind it?
Jasmin: There are lot of reasons behind this. In many countries women are restriction of lot of things. Many women are badly influenced by family restriction, the view of society to look them, and other responsibility made them get low attention towards carrier in STEM. Therefore, encourage women to get education in STEM and positive vision towards carrier in STEM are required to overcome these obstacles.
Sudarsan: Do you have any suggestions to raise the bar for women scientists?
Jasmin: I think lot of program for empowerment women in STEM are available now days. Only support the women who are belong to countries where women are under restriction and encourage them to do out of box. Women are less in business of STEM. If they are owner of company which is based on STEM then the vision of general women who are under pressure by society will be get confidence by we can also achieve not only job based carrier also own business where we can provide job to men and women. Make many collaboration and advertisement to empower the path which you want to follow. Positive towards take risk of to do take new path. Do not settle in carrier up to you get your satisfactory work and try by taking new opportunities, risks and vision.
Sudarsan: What are the challenges for women in science that need immediate attention?
- Many society stereotype that science is not for girls.
- Weird behavior from colleagues.
- Less number of available jobs
- Less number of women able to establish business in STEM.
- Only few women are leader in STEM field.
Sudarsan: Please share your opinion about our new start-up biostandups.com?
Jasmin: This website is one of good route for encouraging women and shared how problem them are arises and which vision and way they can be resolved with positive attitude.
I like sports mostly badminton. When I have been in Korea I used to play badminton with my friends and now in India with brothers. Also, I would like to read books and watch movies on holidays. I am always enthusiastic in journey to village and enjoy places which are wonderful for trip.
Ranjita R Save
Intern at IIT Bombay
Sunandan Divatia School Of Science
Sabeera: How was your experience as a bank employer and how long have you served?
Ranjita: Well, Working for bank was like working to get trained. Retail banking underwent massive transformation during my tenure. I started when retail banking was in its primitive stage i.e. manual banking and when I left; it had already leaped at least two generations of automation and computerization. So I had opportunity to learn and implement some of the retail banking tools like Crismac, Finacle etc. Apart from customer centricity, it made me agile, flexible and most importantly “ever-learning”. 22 years banking odyssey has made me what I am today and I owe a lot to each and every one of my colleagues in Vijaya Bank.
Sabeera: After retirement, what was your daily routine at home?
Ranjita: Retirement was primarily for my kids, but we as a family believe in “giving back”. So while I was supervising kids at home, occasionally I would go to municipal schools during summer vacations and help in conducting summer camps held by some retired school principals which would help the students enrich their knowledge base beyond what was taught in text book. I also set up a library in one of the government schools in tribal area of Thane district to encourage and inculcate reading habits among the tribal school children.
Sabeera: When and why did you choose to join college/university for science studies?
Ranjita: I had already decided to pursue my post-graduation when I left banking. That two year break was also used to do recce. I met several of my teachers who taught me in Bhavans viz. Prof. Parvesh Pandya Vice Principle of Bhavans College, Prof. Anuradha Patel the HOD, Prof. Nitin Labhane….. and many more. In spite of the fact the traditional and established education system is not so friendly and flexible for people like me, they were extremely cooperative and of course on merit, but they promised me that I will certainly be considered. Meanwhile, my husband, who happens to be a HR professional, came across with this Master’s Degree in Biological sciences in NM – Sunandan Divatia School of Science in newspaper ….. and suggested the same to me. I went through the syllabus and scope of this PG. It sounded difficult but certainly exciting and state of the art. Also, there was an entrance test, interview and then admission so if at all I would be selected, it will be only on Merit and hence I decided to choose this institute and course. I am sincerely grateful to Dr Aparna Khanna, Dean, NM – Sunandan Divatia School of Science for the consideration.
Sabeera: Did you had diehard emotions towards Science as child or it’s a recent passion you developed?
Ranjita: Of course my penchant for biological sciences has been there for years. We have travelled almost in all continents and whenever I would visit these places, I would experience it from a student’s (of biological science) perspective. SO the fire was always there, it was just a matter of ignition in terms of opportunity.
Sabeera: Are you planning to develop science as career or just get masters degree and get back to non-academic life?
Ranjita: No Way, else why would I do so much?? Many people ask me the same question and my answer is I was never craving for a master’s degree; there are easier options available if that’s what I would have been looking for. I would certainly continue in research. I feel the biggest advantage I have is I am not competing with anyone for marks or any other so called academic parameter and hence I can only focus on pure research with no other byproduct which will give me promotion or extra money ( I am already a pensioner, so money is not the thing I am looking for). I think this is the sweetest spot one can be in.
Sabeera: Why Science, why not MBA or MCA?
Ranjita: Firstly my passion for biological science was the trigger so no question of any other option. Having said this, I believe management lessons are better taught on floor than in classrooms. I have learnt them on the job in 22 years and regarding computers, I was certainly considered to be expert in the retail banking softwares like Crismac and Finacle. In fact I am pretty confident of getting job in those areas even today if I desire so but I have been there, seen that and done as well so why reinvent when you know that you can do it.
Sabeera: Will you do PhD after post-graduation? What is your plan about future?
Ranjita: Certainly the plan is to aim at Ph D and later post doc if possible. I have taken CSIR-NET and will also look at GATE as well
Sabeera: Who planted this idea in your mind or is it own ideation?
Ranjita: This thought process has always been there but here I must credit my husband Dr Rajesh Save to have encouraged me. I was a bit tentative not from my passion perspective, that I was always clear but from realistic perspective and I got the assurance from him and kids to go ahead and just do it. We will see if there are any problems in future.
Sabeera: Which college and course your admitted currently?
Ranjita: Sunandan Divatia School of Science, NMIMS Mumbai
Sabeera: Have you approached any other PI/Scientist for your Final year project? If yes, what was their response?
Ranjita: I am in my second year of M.Sc. I had approached Dr Abhijit Majumder, Assistant Prof @ IITB in Oct. 2016 for my final year project and was extremely delighted to get a positive response from him. Currently I am an intern in M-Lab of the Department of Chemical Engineering under Dr Majumder.
Sabeera: You are setting an example as a role model to watch by many married and parent-guided young women out there who dropped out from pursuing their scientific career. How do you feel about it?
Ranjita: Frankly speaking I never thought about all this. These days we see several women successfully leading huge corporates. In fact the field I came from, Banking has given some of the best Women leaders like Ms. Chanda Kochar, Ms. Kalpana Morporia and my personal favorite and Role model, Ms. Arundhati Bhattacharya. I am nothing compared to what these women have achieved so please don’t burden me with these heavy words like being role model etc. I just responded to my call and both of my kids and husband supported, that’s about it.
Sabeera: Women empowerment in Science is a global issue. Any comments?
Ranjita: Again, I am too small to respond to this question, but yes if you look at list of famous women scientists globally, you would see very few women. Don’t know if empowerment is the only issue but yes. Research in science has long runway and traditionally, women are expected to “settle down” with family and kids and take up soft careers. I strongly feel, we should institionalise this second innings career track for wives and mothers (without compromising merit). Empowerment is far too heavy word but I am sure you will have many women takers. I hope and would urge platforms like biostandups to play a pivotal role to empower women in Science. (and of course in TE and M)
Sabeera: Your message to the women who’s dream was once to do science?
Ranjita: I don’t see any need to give a specific message other than “respond to your call and follow you passion- act now” but yes I would appeal to all the husbands and kids of women who would like to start this second innings, please respect and share your wife’s / mother’s passion and you will be amazed to see a different individual.
Sabeera: Comment on our project “Biostandups”?
Ranjita: Frankly speaking, I wasn’t aware of biostandups till the time your mail came in. I was quite amazed to see such a platform. I am sure, today, in the era of social networking; these avenues will not only open up new vistas for aspiring researchers like me but also help the burgeoning young scientists. I particularly like the face of the month section. It’s motivating and your batteries get charged reading such success stories. I must say it’s an extremely versatile channel and everyone has something in it for her @ Biostandups, Kudos to you, Ramesh and Sudharshan and thank you so much
Dr. Anupama V. N
D. S. Kothari Postdoctoral fellow
Dept. of Biotechnology
University of Kerala
My current areas of research broadly include environmental biotechnology, microbial ecology, and molecular microbial analysis. More specifically on environmental monitoring of emerging micro-pollutants like toxic oxyanions (perchlorate), pharmaceutical residuals, etc., developing microbial systems and bioprocesses for decontaminating these pollutants, screening and characterization of potential microorganisms for environmental applications, and microbial community analysis of engineered biological systems for wastewater treatment through metagenomic approaches, etc. At present development of quorum quenching mediated biofilm control mechanism for wastewater treatment applications is the work I am involved in mainly. The project aims to screen out novel bio-molecules from marine microbiota to inhibit quorum sensing mediated biofilm formation in new generation bioreactors causing fouling related issues. In summary, my research activities are of interdisciplinary nature integrating microbiology, biotechnology and environmental engineering.
Sabeera: You are a Gold medalist in Post Graduation. Please tell us about your experience during PG?
Anupama: My post graduation was on Industrial Biotechnology and during that time I really grew a passion for science. After my classes I used to spend a lot of time in library. I was very much interested in lab than classes. I was more focused on understanding my subject deeply rather than preparing for exams, but that helped me to perform well in my exams and later when I pursued research.
Sabeera: In 2011, you have been awarded Young Scientist Award. How did that happen?
Anupama: The Young Scientist Award was conferred to me during my Ph.D. research period. Every year KSCSTE (Govt. of Kerala) conduct YSA contest on different categories as part of Kerala Science Congress. I applied in Environmental Science category and my paper was selected for contest and I received the prestigious award. The paper presented was on assessment and bioremediation of perchlorate (rocket fuel), which brought out environmental contamination of rocket fuel in Kerala for first time. The award included a cash prize and research grant for two years.
Sabeera: Please share with us your successful moments and achievements in your scientific journey?
Anupama: First achievement in scientific journey was selecting as CSIR-Diamond jubilee internship in 2006 at CSIR-NIIST, and then I got CSIR SRF in 2009, PhD scholarship from University of Kerala followed by Young scientist award in 2011, Project grant (YSA grant) in 2012 from KSCSTE, Govt. of Kerala, Got my Ph.D. in Biotechnology 2015, Dr. D. S. Kothari Postdoctoral fellowship in 2015 and the latest SERB Overseas Postdoctoral fellowship in 2016. During my research career I could publish 15 international papers and presented papers in many conferences.
Sabeera: You have been selected for SERB Overseas Postdoctoral Fellowship Program Award to perform your future research at University of British Columbia. How do you feel about it?
Anupama: It is every researcher’s dream to work with prestigious international groups and I consider SERB Overseas Postdoc provides a great platform to make my dream come true. The host institute, University of British Columbia (UBC), Okanagan Campus is one of the top ranking Universities doing advanced research in frontier areas of science & technology. I am so happy and realise the importance of hard work and commitment I need to render availing prestigious fellowship like SERB opdf.
Sabeera: What is the advantage you see through SERB Overseas Postdoctoral Fellowship?
Anupama: SERB Overseas Postdoctoral Fellowship is a great platform where I can get an opportunity to interact with top class researchers which will improve my research capabilities to carry out independent research back in India. I feel, working in UBC, Canada will help to broaden my views, perceive new things, boost my confidence and working on constructive ideas helps to solve issues common to both Canada and India. Receiving a prestigious fellowship like SERB will definitely help me in getting a scientific position back in India.
Sabeera: What was the greatest achievement so far in your career as women researcher?
Anupama: Each achievement I got in my career inspired me to work harder and set new goals. I consider SERB odf is the greatest achievement so far.
Sabeera: How do you want to help society through your research programs?
Anupama: I am deeply interested to take up serious environmental challenges and to find solutions through my research. My PhD work was such a kind, where we reported for the first time the presence of perchlorate (rocket fuel) in drinking water in Kerala and the serious public health issues associated with that. Our earnest attempt helped the recovery of nearly 70 people (including children) suffering from hypothyroidism due to the consumption of rocket fuel contaminated water. Our research effort was also successful to develop a bioprocess for decontaminating rocket fuel. This find application in rocket fuel contaminated regions to ensure safe drinking water for large number of people. The proposal I submitted for SERB Overseas postdoctoral fellowship deals with harnessing energy from waste water which will help to resolve major challenges such as energy crisis and waste treatment. In future also, I am determined to work on key environmental challenges for the betterment of society.
Sabeera: Have ever had experienced gender parity in India especially in Science and Research?
Anupama: I have never experienced gender parity but I understand many women are facing that in research. I always felt there are equal opportunities for men and women in research. But the concern is the social constraints; that prevent a lot of female researchers to excel in this field. A women researcher often finds it difficult to balance between family and research. I am sure that if female researchers get good support from family and work place, they can reach great heights.
Sabeera: Do you think Science and Research in India need more women as pioneers?
Anupama: Yes, this will help in policy making to ensure more active participation of women in research and science.
Sabeera: Do you have any plans in mind on how to raise the bar for women talents in Science?
Anupama: Government should make policies to relax working time for female researchers to balance between family and career. Ensure safety of women as research demand work at late hours. More opportunities should be there to bring women back to research with breaks. Most of the scholarships/positions now have age limit 35 years or even below that, this restricts women who have career breaks to apply for such positions. Hence my suggestion is to relax age limit for women.
Sabeera: Who is your motivation to pursue science and research as career option?
Anupama: My teachers
Sabeera: Please tell us about your take on our new start-up “Biostandups.com”?
Anupama: I personally feel Biostandups.com is a great initiative as it provides a platform for young researchers to get deserved recognition in science and research. It is truly inspiring to read stories and views of outstanding researchers which will motivate others to achieve their goals. I congratulate the whole team of Biostandups.com for their efforts in developing a scientific platform like this.
Travelling & Photography
Dr. Chaaya Iyengar
Department of Biotechnology
NIPER- SAS Nagar
After completing her PhD, Dr. Chaaya joined as a research fellow at ICGEB-New Delhi. Later she moved to National Cancer Institute, NIH, Bethesda, USA for Postdoctoral studies (2003-2004). Dr. Chaaya appointed as research associate, Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh (2004-2005). From 2006 to 2008, Dr. Chaaya appointed as Project Investigator, DST WOS (A), Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh. Since 2008, Dr. Chaaya appointed as assistant professor at Department of Biotechnology-NIPER.
Dr. Chaaya Iyengar has been awarded “National Women Bioscientist-2015”.
My laboratory is interested in the understanding how the human host and Mycobacterium tuberculosis the causative agent of tuberculosis interact. One of the major areas of interest is iron acquisition which is critical for bacterial survival. Our attempts identified that in order to survive M.tb utilizes recruits conserved proteins including the enzyme Glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase to the bacterial surface. These proteins then capture and hijack host iron transport protein transferrin into the bacterial cell. This strategy enables the bacilli to acquire iron and simultaneously evade detection by the host. We are also working on protein multi-functionality to identify conserved metabolic enzymes that function as virulence factors. Other areas of interest are to identify novel strategies to improve TB diagnostics, intervention and expression of M.tb derived recombinant proteins.
Official page: Dr. Chaaya Iyengar
Ramesh Neppalli: Who has inspired you in your life and why?
Dr. Chaaya: My parents particularly my mother. She was a medical doctor and a scientist and as kids my sister and I sometimes tagged along to her laboratory. I remember being fascinated by smell of chemicals, eggs (she used chick embryos as a model system) and pictures of beautifully stained tissue sections. I am also very grateful to my Class XII Biology teacher Ms Rita Talwar whose enthusiasm and love for her subject are an inspiration.
Ramesh Neppalli: What is your proudest moment as a scientist or researcher/entrepreneur?
Dr. Chaaya: My first Masters students and PhD student graduating are very memorable moments. Also, after close to 5 years of struggle to establish my laboratory, we made a major finding in our Research field (tuberculosis), seeing the article in print was a pleasure.
Ramesh Neppalli: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Dr. Chaaya: Hopefully it is yet to come.
Ramesh Neppalli: What are your long-term motivations in this organization or position?
Dr. Chaaya: I enjoy my research, I am not aiming for positions but would appreciate a good work culture and adequate facilities.
Ramesh Neppalli: How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?
Dr. Chaaya: Success is to absolutely enjoy one’s work and to look forward to each day which is not difficult because there is always something new in the lab. For me my research is not a “job”so I’d say I am successful!
Ramesh Neppalli: Can you tell me about a situation that was difficult and you were able to overcome it?
Dr. Chaaya: No situation is too difficult to handle. Patience and a “this too shall pass” attitude usually gets me through most hurdles.
Ramesh Neppalli: Do you think gender parity is lacking in India? If yes can you reason it out?
Dr. Chaaya: It is most certainly lacking in India, while more women take up basic sciences at the undergraduate level, as faculty there are very few women. One reason is family responsibilities and lack of encouragement. Gender sensitization should also be inculcated in our educational system at an early stage. Deep-rooted mindsets that women are somehow inferior or incapable also is not helpful.
Ramesh Neppalli: If you had to choose one thing, what do you think you’re the best in the world at?
Dr. Chaaya: One of my strong points is thinking intuitively which is needed in science…but I would not go as far as saying I’m best in the world.
Ramesh Neppalli: What creative things do you do to develop a likeable working culture?
Dr. Chaaya: Ask students to come up with solutions to a problem, offer a small prize for a job well done, celebrate small and major achievements, encourage laboratory members (senior or junior) also to co-operate for routine jobs apart from their research projects.
Ramesh Neppalli: How did you felt after receiving the National Women Bio Scientist Award?
Dr. Chaaya: A little surprised but also happy.
Ramesh Neppalli: What is your opinion about our project “Biostandups”
Dr. Chaaya: Very informative and useful for students and researchers.
Gardening, Reading and Music
Dr. Rupinder Kaur
Staff Scientist V
Laboratory of Fungal Pathogenesis
Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics
After obtaining her post-graduate degree in Biotechnology from Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar in 1993, Rupinder Kaur joined Dr. Anand Bachhawats group at Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh for her Ph.D programme. As a graduate student, she addressed the issue of diverse substrate specificity of multi-drug resistance pump, Pdr5p in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Using a combination of genetic and molecular approaches, she showed that both the efficiency as well as the substrate specificity of Pdr5p is modulated by the altered lipid/sterol composition of the plasma membrane. After the completion of her doctoral thesis work in 1999, Rupinder joined the group of Dr. Tamar Enoch at Harvard Medical School to carry out a genetic and biochemical analysis of cell cycle checkpoints in the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe. In the fall of 2001, she decided to venture into the field of fungal pathogenesis and joined the lab of Dr. Brendan Cormack at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Here she changed the organism of her choice form fission yeast to a pathogenic yeast Candida glabrata. Using a combination of genetic screens, micro-array and biochemical analysis, she showed that a family of cell surface associated aspartyl proteases is required for virulence of C. glabrata. After returning to India, Dr. Kaur joined CDFD as a staff scientist in Nov., 2006. She was awarded DBTs Innovative Young Biotechnologist award (IYBA) in March, 2007. Her current interests are aimed towards a better understanding of the patho-biology of C. glabrata.
Dr. Kaur has been awarded “National Women Bioscientist-2015”.
Invasive mycoses pose a serious therapeutic challenge and resistance of fungal pathogens to current antifungal targets is a major clinical issue. A search for new fungal-specific drugs and a better understanding of the cellular processes of pathogenic fungi will help tackle this clinical challenge. Candida species are the most common cause of invasive fungal infections with glabrata accounting for up to 30% of total Candida blood stream infections. Although C. glabrata is a constituent of the normal human microflora, it also possesses the added capacity to disseminate and cause disease in several host niches, including the blood, in immunocompromised individuals. Research in my laboratory is aimed at delineating the strategies that C. glabrata employs to acquire resistance to antifungals and survive antimicrobial environment of the mammalian host. Our long term research goals are to develop noninvasive diagnostics tools for systemic fungal infections, and better understand the intrinsic properties that make commensal yeasts potential pathogens.
Neelofar: Who has inspired you in your life and why?
Rupinder Kaur: I can’t think of any single person who has inspired me greatly. However, I feel my family members, friends, mentors as well as my students have enriched my life in many ways, and inspired me to always do my best.
Neelofar: What is your proudest moment as a scientist or researcher/entrepreneur?
Rupinder Kaur: Graduation of my first PhD student Gaurav Bairwa
Neelofar: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Rupinder Kaur: To have been able to establish a vibrant team of motivated and passionate young researchers
Neelofar: What are your long-term motivations in this organization or position?
Rupinder Kaur: To excel in the field of Medical Mycology
Neelofar: How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?
Rupinder Kaur: I feel there is no single yardstick for defining success. Success means different things to different people. To me, it means happiness and contentment, and I consider myself extremely successful.
Neelofar: Can you tell me about a situation that was difficult and you were able to overcome it?
Rupinder Kaur: I don’t think that I have encountered a situation that could really be classified as a very challenging situation. In the early stages of my independent research career, I had hard time managing some difficult people but with my mentors’ advice and a lot of patience at my end, I was able to defuse a tense situation and find an amicable solution.
Neelofar: Do you think gender parity is lacking in India? If yes can you reason it out?
Rupinder Kaur: I feel gender inequality is omnipresent, and India, of course, is no exception. Fortunately, I myself have not faced gender discrimination in my life or career. I believe that lack of gender parity is due to the patriarchal mindset of our society, and ‘radical’ and not incremental changes are required to bring gender equality in all areas of life
Neelofar: If you had to choose one thing, what do you think you’re the best in the world at?
Rupinder Kaur: I feel I am pretty good in maximum utilization of available resources, although I won’t say that I am the best in the world at it.
Neelofar: What creative things do you do to develop a likeable working culture?
Rupinder Kaur: I am a strong advocate for mutual respect, trust and open communication in the workplace. In our group, we do not follow the hierarchical system, have honest detailed discussions on all issues (big or small), respect everyone’s opinion and go out for day-long lab picnics to distress. We also have an open door policy in the lab, and believe in owning up to our mistakes as well as to our accomplishments.
Neelofar: How did you felt after receiving the National Women Bio Scientist Award?
Rupinder Kaur: Delighted
Neelofar: What is your opinion about our project “Biostandups”
Rupinder Kaur: I feel it is a great initiative to showcase contributions of women scientists to research in India.
Listening to music (especially ghazals) and watching tennis
Dr. Suchitra Devi Gopinath
Translational Health Science and Technology Institute
I am interested in understanding the problem of fetal growth restriction (FGR) that has emerged as a leading cause for infant morbidity and mortality in India. In particular, I am interested in analyzing how specific nutrients regulate fetal growth, with a specific focus on muscle mass changes and consequently the effects of these nutritional deficiencies on birth weight in neonates. One of the main aspects of my studies is to evaluate stem cell functionalities in nutritionally deficient neonates and maternal dietary requirements in configuring the fetal genomic landscape. The broader aim of my scientific pursuits is to provide robust scientific evidence for nutritional supplementation trials, thereby effecting public policy changes within the Indian society.
Sabeera: what motivated you to sing up for the IYBA award 2015?
Suchitra: I need funds to carry out my research objectives
Sabeera: How did you here about the IYBA award nominations?
Suchitra: On the Department of Biotechnology-India website
Sabeera: what was your feeling when you came to know that you were selected for IYBA 2015?
Sabeera: have you nominated your self to any other awards/fellowships in 2015?
Suchitra: Yes- Ramanujan fellowship from Department of Science and Technology-India (I did not get it)
Sabeera: Do you have plans to nominate your self for the upcoming awards in 2016?
Sabeera: Where do you want to see your self in 5-10 years of time?
Suchitra: I think less about where I want to see myself or possessing a particular designation, and more about where I would like my research in the next 5 years. I hope to have a better understanding of fetal growth restriction and methods to alleviate this problem.
Sabeera: The 2015 awardee list has a total of 15 members, out of them, 4 are women. Do you wish to see more women being awarded or not?
Suchitra: Yes, but not at the expense of merit
Sabeera: In India, especially in science and technology do you see gender discrimination or not?
Suchitra: I personally haven’t experienced gender discrimination, but have listened to reports of inappropriate behavior from certain male faculty who consider themselves entitled in Indian scientific academia.
Sabeera: Any advice to the upcoming women scientist?
Suchitra: Don’t give up on academic research regardless of familial duties and inconsistent governmental support. We need more women in academia.
Assist. Prof. Divya Chandran
Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB)
Broadly, I am interested in studying plant-pathogen interactions with the goal of developing crops with durable resistance. Food legumes represent major crops cultivated and consumed in India owing to their high nutritional value, but are vulnerable to a number of plant diseases. Specifically, I am interested in understanding how legume host immunity and metabolism are modulated by obligate biotrophic pathogens like the powdery mildew fungi. One of the main objectives is to use infection site-specific analyses to identify novel plant host genes that limit powdery mildew growth with no associated yield penalty. Another major area of focus is to elucidate how these obligate biotrophs modulate host carbon metabolism and transport to divert sugars from the host plant to fuel their own growth and reproduction. The long-term plan is to target a combination of host factors, which would contribute to durable resistance that is less likely to be rapidly overcome by pathogen counter-evolution.
Neelofar: what motivated you to sign up for the IYBA award 2015?
Divya: There were two main motivating factors behind signing up for IYBA 2015. One was a requirement of funding to support my research work and the second was the support of my mentors and colleagues who believed that I was well suited for the award.
Neelofar: How did you here about the IYBA award nominations?
Divya: I heard about if from a previous IYBA awardee.
Neelofar: what was your feeling when you came to know that you were selected for IYBA 2015?
Divya: I was pleasantly surprised as the competition was really tough.
Neelofar: have you nominated your self to any other awards/fellowships in 2015?
Neelofar: Do you have plans to nominate your self for the upcoming awards in 2016?
Divya: Yes. I have applied for the SERB Early Career Research Award.
Neelofar: What are your future goals/research progresses?
Divya: My goal is to derive the gene regulatory network underlying the legume-powdery mildew interaction to identify novel host defense genes, compatibility factors, & pathogen effectors impacting pathogen proliferation.
Neelofar: Where do you want to see your self in 5-10 years of time?
Divya: In 5-10 years, I would like to see myself having made innovative discoveries that will significantly contribute to our understanding of plant-pathogen interactions. I also hope to have contributed to early childhood science education in some manner.
Neelofar: The 2015 awardee list has a total of 15 members, out of them, 4 are women. Do you wish to see more women being awarded or not?
Divya: I would certainly like to see more women scientists apply for this award. Having said that, the decision to present the award to a particular individual should always be merit-based.
Neelofar: In India, especially in science and technology do you see gender discrimination or not?
Divya: In my opinion, gender discrimination is prevalent in every field, and science and technology is no exception. Although things are changing for the better, some gender stereotypes still exist. For example, women scientists with strong opinions are considered aggressive and generally not encouraged to voice their concerns. Further, incidents of inappropriate behavior from male staff members, if overlooked, usually result in uncomfortable work environments. I strongly believe that workshops on gender awareness/sensitization will help mitigate these problems.
Neelofar: Any advice to the upcoming women scientist?
Divya: Be bold, be ready to persevere, have faith in your own abilities and don’t be afraid to question conventional wisdom while pursuing your research aspirations.
Running and Dancing