IndiaBioscience’s International Grants Awareness Program (iGAP) aims to improve the success rate for Indian applications at international funding opportunities by spreading awareness, imparting skills, and inculcating confidence to apply. In this new series of articles, we speak to past and current awardees of some of these international funding schemes to gain a deeper understanding of their experiences and insights of applying and acquiring these funds.
In March 2019, EMBO launched its new programme, the Global Investigator Network (GIN). GIN builds upon the model of the Young Investigator Programme (YIP) and aims to provide early-career scientists in life sciences from a select number of countries with a fertile ground to network and collaborate. GIN also provides the awardees with support to further their scientific career, such as, (i) an avenue to access instrumentation facilities in Europe, (ii) support for hosting and attending seminars, talks, and student-exchange, and (iii) opportunities for mentorship.
Earlier in 2020, Shantala Hari Dass spoke with Dimple Notani. Notani’s lab at NCBS focuses on studying chromosome architecture through temporal and spatial transcriptional regulation that affects normal homeostasis and development, and causes diseases if dysregulated. In the following conversation, Notani reflects on her journey towards becoming a EMBO Global Investigator, her expectations from this award, and suggestions for prospective candidates.
Congratulations on being awarded the EMBOGI. Can you walk us through how you got to know of this award?
Thank you, Shantala. I was aware of EMBO’s YIP and was looking forward to applying for it. I had casually logged in to EMBO’s website and then got to know that they had started a new program called the “Global Investigator Network”. The scheme is similar to the existing YIP but here they have restricted the applications to some countries like India, Singapore, Taiwan and Chile. Instead of waiting for YIP till next year I thought I should apply for this because the eligibility and benefits looked similar.
What did the application process entail?
The application process, like most other applications of this type, involved a CV, an online application, professional qualifications, scientific achievements including some papers that I had published, and the contributions made in the field. Apart from that, a two page summary of research currently being carried out in the PI’s group was needed. These two pages took the maximum time of my application preparation because I had to really think about (i) what I’m doing, (ii) the projects going on in the lab, and (iii) where I see myself in the next 5 years, in a logical manner, such that when someone reads those two pages, they would clearly see where I want to be in the next few years. I think this process was really important and I dedicated a lot of time to writing this. Once I was done with it, I sent it to a couple of my friends to read. The feedback I got was very important because while you are passionate about your field, someone on the outside has the ability to give an opinion which is really unbiased.
Can you tell us about the post-submission process and the interview?
I submitted the application in June, 2019 and in July I got to know that I was shortlisted for the interview, which was to happen in November in Heidelberg. In terms of eligibility, the PI has to be within 6 years of starting their independent lab and should have published at least one paper as a corresponding author. When I applied, I fitted the first point, but the last author paper was a bottleneck since I had submitted a manuscript which was still under review. I was expecting it to be accepted by the time of the interview.
It was very clear to me that I would be considered only if my paper got accepted by the day of the interview. Since my paper was not yet accepted on the day of my departure for the interviews, I was in a dilemma whether to go or not. My husband motivated me to go for the experience which I would gain from attending and meeting people. As I was waiting for my turn on the day of the interviews, I received a mail saying that my paper was accepted which sounded like a miracle! During the interview, I had to explain the on-going research in my lab in just 10 minutes. I was also surprised to find that the interview panel was well-read about the research of each and every candidate. Within two days, we came to know about the final outcome of the GIN selection process.
From your journey, when do you think aspiring applicants should start working on their application?
I think one has to give a lot of time to it. It also depends on the person. I take very long to distil ideas, put them on paper, and polish them. It took me almost two months to finish my application.
What were some of the challenges that you faced during the application process?
The biggest challenge I faced was to believe that I am good enough to apply. I knew many people who had applied for YIP but didn’t get through, so at one point I was reluctant to apply. I also noticed lack of awareness and bravery in people regarding such applications. Another challenge came when I started drafting my application: I felt isolated and was worried about how much data to reveal in order to make a good application for myself. Making this call was a challenge.
What role did support from your institute play during your application process? Were there any mentors you would like to speak about?
Mentoring really helped and assured me that I was not alone in this process. I have some mentors including Gaiti Hasan, Raghu Padinjat and Uma Ramakrishnan at NCBS, who motivated me to apply and helped put my research work into a bigger picture, Minhaj Sirajuddin (InStem), who is an EMBO-YI, gave me some pointers for the interview. These interactions really helped. Apart from this, my postdoc mentor Michael Geoff Rosenfeld, UCSD, was also encouraging. His support was quite meaningful as I regard him to be one of the best scientists that I know.
Taking a step back, why did you apply for this award? What do you think it will mean for your scientific career? The kind of support EMBO offers to GIs is very different. Through other EMBO awardees, I knew that EMBO does not provide direct research funds but is of huge help for forging collaborations, building leadership skills, learning laboratory management, obtaining support for travel and networking. Networking is a very beneficial aspect. I think at the early career stage, it is very important to have such large networks to discuss your ideas and receive feedback on manuscripts and grant proposals. Through this award, I am hoping for more collaborations.
EMBO is open for using instrumentation facilities in Europe as a GI for me and my students, which will be covered as part of this award. The annual meetings are a platform for discussions and learning. After receiving this award, I’m getting many more opportunities and I don’t think I would have got them only through my publications. EMBO also provides allowances for childcare while attending conferences which is important for people like me who have a young one.
There are many prospective candidates who are looking forward to applying. Based on your experience, what do you think EMBO is looking for in a GI application?
When I went for the interview, it was very clear that EMBO was looking for great science and not just focusing on where one has published. Whoever I interacted with was doing great science. Being able to present one’s current research in a manner in which one also highlights one’s future, is very important to EMBO. Clarity of vision is also important.
During the application process of GI, a list of fields is provided that EMBO is interested in. I would certainly suggest prospective applicants to see if what they are proposing is there in that mandate or not. I also learnt upon writing to EMBO that there was no age limit or criteria. I found the EMBO staff really interactive and helpful.
Do you have any advice for aspiring applicants?
It is my observation and was also pointed out by other EMBO members that applicants from India, in general, have an inhibition. Whatever the outcome, the application process itself teaches a lot. Interacting with the committee members is helpful regardless of whether the application is selected.
I would suggest that prospective applicants put their best foot forward. They need not be timid while projecting themselves and have no need to shy away from speaking out about their achievements and successes. I also encourage female scientists to apply. Often, we [female scientists] carry responsibilities of both family and lab and applying for such awards takes the last priority.
How do you think you can help aspiring applicants?
DN: I’m open to sharing my feedback for presentations and holding discussions with aspiring applicants. I will be happy to offer any help in application crafting and other aspects.
The details of the next call can be found here. The previous call was opened for applications on 19 March, 2020 and ran until 1 June, 2020. For any other details and clarification write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Information on EMBO Schemes for Young Investigators