Very recently BioTech Times had the opportunity to interview the very sweet and accommodating Ph.D. student Miss Shweta Tandon
She is doing her research in genetics (working on Drosophila melanogaster) in Delhi University
The goal of this interview is to give readers a chance to peek into a regular Ph.D. student’s mind and understand the realities that are usually faced.
Ms. Tandon is a student who was always intrigued by science and the questions surrounding our everyday work. She did her schooling from the Sacred Hearts Senior Secondary School in her hometown of Dalhousie, her graduation and post graduation in Microbiology from Himachal Pradesh University.
Some excerpts from the interview include:
What inspired you to take up science?
Science answers every question. Questions like “Why I look like this?” or “Why the Earth is round? Science answers them. It was always fascinating. In the tenth standard, I just happened to choose science. I feel like it was my destiny and I was supposed to do this.
Is there any incident you remember clearly that left you in awe of science?
I think space has always awed me, people reaching there and taking photographs. The stars and galaxies have always awed me. Though, I have never considered being an astronomer or space, related scientist. Other than that genetics, what I’m pursuing right now, has always awed me. I have a feeling like there’s some kind of connection between space and our bodies. When I see live images of one I think of the other. Maybe there is some big plan, some blueprint that matches both. There is so much to know.
In today’s world where everyone is pushed towards Medical and Engineering who/what encouraged you to choose research?
Actually, nobody ever pushed me to take up research. It was my own decision. My parents had full trust in my choices. They never asked me to do anything else. They were always very supportive. I think parents should encourage and stand by their children’s choices. I have never heard things like “Who will marry you?” or “Earn money wise.”
How would you describe an average day in your life?
I usually work in the lab from 10 am to 7 pm. There are lunch and tea break of course. Sometimes I go early or work late, but usually, those are the hours.
What are your hobbies?
In my free time, I like reading. I am currently reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I don’t read scientific journals in my free time but rather in the lab only. I think it’s very important to have some time for myself and not bring work home.
How do you cope with the long hours?
I usually divide up my time, like in the morning I work, then I sit and write, or eat, after my lunch break I get back to work. Usually, I don’t have a time limit for working. I work when I work. In fact, when I don’t have work I feel like time is not passing. If you have work that you love doing I don’t think you’ll tire easy.
Tell us more about your work and why you chose it.
Our lab works on neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Diseases by using Drosophila as the model organism. In my masters, I worked on human vaccines for the dissertation. However, I was always keen to work on genetics and when I saw an opening for this topic I immediately applied for it, appeared for the interview and got it.
What would you like to pursue in the future and why?
I would like to teach and do research on the side. I wanted to become a teacher since my undergrad. It was my teachers who were so great and inspired me to help students. I always wanted to become like that and inspire and guide young students.
What Fellowship do you have? What do you think of the recent decision of the government to make laboratories fund half of their research?
I have a UGC funded JR Fellowship which I got after giving the CSIR-UGC NET. I get Rs 25,000 and on becoming SRF I’ll get Rs 28,000, enough to support me but not if someone is supporting their parents or family.
I don’t understand why in India they don’t fund research so much. So many people I know are moving out of India and I can’t blame them. So many people I know have not got their Fellowship money for the past 10 months. They are just going from office to office, unable to get it. How will India prosper if all the good brains are gone? We are in our mid-twenties and it’s time to support our parents rather than asking them for money. Being from middle-class families this much opportunity we should be able to have.
What is the environment like in your laboratory?
I was very warmly welcomed by my seniors and PI. They have never made me feel anything but comfortable. I am the junior most in my laboratory, all my seniors are always ready to help, be it about research or techniques. My PI understands I am from a different field and gives me ample time to catch up. He never pushes me. I have never felt any exploitation or alienation which I had been afraid of.
Who is any scientist who you really look upto and would like to be one day?
I really look upto this contemporary scientist Prof. SC Lakhotia, who is my PI’s PI. I had the opportunity to meet him once and was very inspired. Even after retirement, he is so super keen and enthusiastic about science. He really inspires me to be a better scientist. He still reads 10 papers a day! I could learn how to better manage time.
Any messages you would like to leave the young aspiring women scientist.
Don’t listen to anything people say because you’ll never be able to cope with any of it. Always follow your own dreams, be it a journalist, researcher or writer. Always love what you do and then you will never get tired of it.
We would like to thank Shweta for her precious time and understanding nature. I really enjoyed talking to her.