2020 has been an exceptional year, one with unprecedented global events that left an indelible impact on our lives and forced us to reexamine our priorities. This was also a year of many new beginnings, innovations, and breakthroughs, aided by courageous efforts from across the scientific ecosystem. In this article, Smita Jain, Executive Director, IndiaBioscience, reflects on what this year has meant for IndiaBioscience.
What a year this has been! It made us witness a time of which we neither had any experience nor had ever imagined. Global activities came to a grinding halt across sectors, economies slowed down, unemployment increased and mental health took a major hit. However, the situation also strengthened the belief of the masses in science and technology, a sector that mobilized massive resources in no time at all to learn more about the unknown enemy — the novel coronavirus — and provided the world with ways to fight against it.
Here, I would like to share with you how the year 2020 unfolded for IndiaBioscience and how, even while working remotely, we remained a cohesive and productive team.
The IndiaBioscience team was in the thick of preparing for YIM 2020 at Mahabalipuram when the news about COVID-19 started to trickle in. With the situation still under control in India, we went ahead with our plan and had a very successful meeting. Post YIM 2020, it was just a matter of time before the situation changed and the country went into lockdown. By this time, we had made several big plans for new projects that were to unfold in the coming months and we were quite unsure of bringing these to realization with the team working remotely. However, each one of us rose to the occasion and made the best possible use of technology that allowed us to stay connected as a team. Regular online coffee meetings have been particularly helpful in maintaining our cohesiveness. And with all that was going around the globe, we remained constantly aware of how privileged we were.
The stringent lockdown also helped foster both national and international collaborations. Many of these involved the coming together of diverse teams which we were fortunate to become part of. We could also establish timely partnerships that helped us in reaching out to the larger life science community across India.
We got the opportunity to be part of a multi-institutional effort, COVID-Gyan, which was created under the aegis of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc) with the aim of disseminating scientifically curated content related to the virus which had, by then, taken the world in its clutches. The IndiaBioscience team played a crucial role in strategizing for and planning the website, as well as in creating relevant content.
Also, an idea that we had discussed over coffee at YIM2020 with folks from the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), an international organization that stands for excellence, took shape into a concrete plan over multiple online calls during the lockdown. It resulted in the launch of the EMBO | IndiaBioscience Online Seminars. We delivered two very successful grant writing workshops under the banner. The third session, which will focus on oral communication in science, has recently been announced.
A little later in the year, IndiaBioscience was chosen by the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) as the publicity partner and host for the first talk in its centenary lecture series that intends to bring the best of all disciplines to discuss evolution, taxonomy, ecology, biodiversity, and other topics that represent unified biology and the topics of prime importance to address contemporary problems such as climate change, endangered species, food and nutrition, health etc. This talk was delivered by Rattan Lal, The Ohio State University, USA, who was the recipient of the World Food Prize 2020.
It has been a year of multiple new initiatives at IndiaBioscience. We rolled out the first-of-its-kind IndiaBioscience Outreach Grant (#IOG) for our YIM and Regional-YIM alumni to help strengthen and integrate outreach activities as part of research programs. We kickstarted the International Grants Awareness Program (#iGAP) to create awareness about international grants that are accessible to Indian life science researchers and equip them to apply for these with full confidence. For this, we received the Research Management Grant under the IRMI program of India Alliance and became part of its first cohort of awardees.
During this time, we also moved our in-person Crafting Your Career (#CYC) workshops to online mode. We conducted four sessions this year with an overwhelming response from the community. We also conducted a few other skill-building workshops in conjunction with CACTUS communications. The first season of our podcast IndiaBiospeaks also covered various aspects of crafting ones’ career and featured informational interviews with science professionals from diverse sectors and roles.
IndiaBioscience launched some useful resources for the community this year. Disha: a comprehensive Career Resource Book for Life Science and Biotechnology Students was launched at YIM2020 while Means to a Beginning: Funding opportunities for PhD Students and Postdocs in India was launched in November 2020. Both resources have received an overwhelming response from the community and are available to download for free on our website. We are currently working towards a grants-related information booklet for young investigators as well as working on a compendium that would provide insights about academia-industry transitions to those who wish to take that route. Our news and columns articles, as well as special series, continued as always. The “Researchers in lockdown” and “Mental Health” series were a few highlights of this year.
This was just a glimpse of what we achieved in this amazingly exceptional year. Thank you for patiently reading this. IndiaBioscience has come a long way from its inception and one of the major reasons for its success is the support we have received from each one of you. We hope that you will stay connected with us, continue to support us, and be our brand ambassadors, helping us reach the deepest corners of our country. We hope that together we will bring out the triumphs and tribulations of our journeys and make this ecosystem a better place for us and for the generations to come.
We wish you a very happy and successful New Year 2021. Stay engaged in order to enable change!