Columns @IndiaBioscience

How has YIM impacted your scientific journey? (Part 1)

Shreya Ghosh

Since their inception in 2009, the Young Investigators’ Meetings (YIMs) have been bringing together bright young researchers on a dedicated platform for networking, collaboration and mentorship. With YIM2020 just around the corner, we decided to look up some of the past attendees and ask them about the impact that YIMs have had on their scientific journeys. This is the first of two articles compiling their stories.

12 Years of YIM
12 Years of YIM 

About the Contributors

The scientists and science professionals who have contributed to this article come from different backgrounds and have followed unique career trajectories. Sonia Sen, who attended YIM2019 as a post-doctoral fellow (PDF) is currently a Senior Scientist at Tata Institute for Genetics and Society (TIGS), Bangalore. Two-time attendee Anup Padmanabhan (YIM2017 as a PDF; YIM2019 as a YI) is currently an Assistant Professor in Biology at Ashoka University. Sushmita Jha, an Associate Professor at the Department of Bioscience and Bioengineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Jodhpur, is also a two-time attendee, attending YIM2013 as a YI and YIM2017 as an institute representative. 

Karishma Kaushik and Dhiraj Bhatia attended YIM2019 as YIs. The former is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology (IBB), Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) while the latter is an Assistant Professor in Biological Engineering at IIT Gandhinagar. Sabarinathan Radhakrishnan attended YIM2017 as a PDF and is currently an Assistant Professor (Reader‑F) at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru. Kavitha Bharatham, who attended YIM2013 as a PDF, is a computational chemistry team lead at Centre for Chemical Biology and Therapeutics (CCBT), inStem, Bengaluru. 

Poonam Thakur, who attended YIM2019 as a PDF, is a Wellcome Trust-DBT India Alliance Early Career Fellow at CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad. And finally, Shantala Hari Dass, who attended YIM2017 as a PDF, has recently joined the IndiaBioscience team as Associate Director.

Here is what they had to say about the impact of YIMs on their careers.

Did attending a YIM benefit your career? If yes, how?

Sonia: I attended the Young Investigator’s Meeting in Guwahati in 2019. The meeting was wonderful. It was very interesting to meet my peers from all over the country, in staggered stages of their careers and in diverse settings – from research institutes to public and private universities. This was an enriching experience and has allowed me to make scientific allies and friends. A year on, I’ve reached out to some of them for their expertise and have likewise been pinged by others!

Anup: Yes, definitely, in the following ways.

  • It was a single platform which brought together institute directors (aka recruiters) and potential applicants (YIMPDF attendees) over 3 – 5 days and allowed multiple interactions to get an idea about the institute’s mandate and openings. This also gave an idea about the support, colleagues, and leadership culture at these institutes. 
  • It gives you an idea about your peers and potential future colleagues and/​or collaborators
  • Interactions with YI’s helped in understanding the research landscape. A lot of these conversations helped me in soft landing’ when I started my lab. 

Sushmita: Yes, attending a YIM helped me network. 

Karishma: I was encouraged to apply for YIM2019 in Guwahati by LS Shashidhara, when I met him at IISER Pune. Trained in India as a medical doctor, I moved to the US for my PhD. Returning back to India as a Ramalingaswami Re-entry Fellow in mid-2018, I jokingly call myself the outsider’ to Indian science. My re-entry to India as an independent investigator was my first interaction with Indian science. With YIM2019, I started my journey of connecting, networking and integrating with the Indian science community. 

I was at a rough place in my professional return, with my host institute (a private biotech start-up) undergoing some unexpected and sudden changes. Walking into the hotel room in Guwahati, I was informed (over the phone) that I would need to find a new host institute due to these unforeseen events. Deciding to land on my feet’ (as much as I could), I thought to myself that as tough as the situation might be, the best place to seek advice and opportunities would be YIM 2019.

Through the three days at YIM2019, I openly shared my situation with colleagues and mentors and asked for suggestions. At the poster session, I met Rakesh Joshi from IBB, SPPU (a fellow attendee) who shared with me the possibility of an open position at IBB, SPPU. Returning to Pune, he set up a meeting with the Director of IBB and I gave a seminar at the institute. In a few weeks, my candidacy was approved and I joined IBB, SPPU as an Assistant Professor/​Ramalingaswami Re-entry Fellow in April 2019.

Therefore, YIM was crucial in helping me navigate a very tough time for me and opened new doors.

Dhiraj: Yes, definitely. Principally, in the following three ways: 

  1. Being a very new PI to India, I did not know about many government schemes that facilitate scientific research, which I came to know of only through discussions at YIM with senior experts.
  2. YIM gave me a chance to network for potential collaborations on specific scientific questions. We were able to quickly set up good friendships with similar young investigators in different parts of India and abroad with diverse expertise and facilities.
  3. Guidance from seniors was of utmost importance in terms of their experience in running labs, facilities, potential pitfalls, and strategies they followed to overcome challenges or burdens in their scientific careers. I feel more confident as a group leader after attending YIM 2019

Sabarinathan: Yes, this meeting provided an opportunity to meet and discuss my research interests with different institution heads and young investigators in one place. This helped me get to know institute-specific details related to hiring, setting up and running the lab.

Kavitha: I did my PhD and postdoc abroad and hence had no network in India to guide me in applying for jobs. While I was doing my postdoc at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, USA, I was looking to move back to India. I did not want to start off as a PI but rather wanted to be in an interdisciplinary research team as I am a computational chemist and wanted to work closely with experimentalists to test my hypothesis.

To understand the possibilities, I applied for YIM2013 at Jodhpur. I presented a poster where I met a faculty from inStem. He understood my research interests and connected me with an institute which was looking for someone with my experience. I joined CCBT in Feb 2014 and am very thankful to IndiaBioscience for helping me find a position that I hoped for.

Poonam: Yes attending YIM was very helpful for me professionally. I had been abroad for several years and therefore my scientific network in India was rather limited. YIM gave me a wonderful opportunity to connect with so many excellent scientists. Some of these connections have now become nice mentor-mentee relationships. 

Shantala: My journey post-YIM 2017 was rather fortuitous. I attended it as someone who had been in a postdoc in Canada for 3 years and wanted to move on. I was oscillating between going back and forth between wanting to be a PI and wanting to move out of academia. I attended the YIM with an intent to educate myself on the life science landscape in India and the potential career avenues. 

The meeting impacted my career journey in two major ways. Firstly it highlighted the length and breadth and current growth of the Indian Life science community. This made me want to move back to India to be a part of this vibrant and evolving community. And secondly, it enabled me to engage with and understand the activities of IndiaBioscience. This seed of interest down the line led to me applying for a position and joining IndiaBioscience. I have come a full circle with respect to the YIMs, from being a participant to now being a part of the organising team at IndiaBioscience.

Which part of your YIM experience did you find the most useful while setting up your lab or later in your scientific endeavours?

Sonia: It was certainly meeting people — those who were at a similar stage as myself in their careers, but also people who are now established. With the latter, I have found it useful to chat with and keep perspective when I hit real or perceived speed bumps. With the former, I appreciate talking about the possibilities. There are projects in my lab now that have been catapulted ahead by inputs from friends I made at YIM 2019.

Anup: For me, it’s like cooking — all the ingredients had come together to make the meeting worthwhile. I was undecided on coming back but interacting with institute representatives at YIM helped me decide. Meeting PDFs gave me a renewed enthusiasm that if these bright minds are going to be my colleagues, I pretty much want to be there. And the problems faced by YI’s (and the solutions they came up with) gave me a reality check that things are a bit different in India when you start out, but there are ways, help, and solutions if you look around. And I wouldn’t trade anything off from YIM2017 (including the organisers — Deepa, Sumit, Praveen and Sudha, who were fantastic!)

Sushmita: I found the panel discussions on grant writing really useful.

Karishma: I would say it is the networking. Just knowing and meeting other young colleagues, and building a community of young scientists with shared goals and concerns has been a huge step in setting up my career as an independent investigator. Specifically, these connections have helped me find new funding opportunities, enabled the sharing of resources, and created a sort of support group for advice and assistance. 

Sabarinathan: The mentors’ talks and the breakout session on mentoring were quite useful to me.

Dhiraj: Almost every part of YIM was equally useful but the panel discussions on future directives to run labs and the life stories of seniors were very inspiring. These sessions actually triggered a spark in me to look for problems which can haunt us for decades of running a lab and not just focus on short-term gains. 

Kavitha: Setting up the lab is not applicable to me. Discussions on challenges faced by the young investigators were very informative and prepared me for the challenges ahead.

Poonam: Opportunity to talk to PIs who have recently started their labs was the best experience. It put us into a realistic perspective and prepared us mentally to know what lay ahead. 

Shantala: Personally, as a postdoc, it was especially valuable to be exposed to representatives from funding agencies, institutional heads, mentors and recently minted young investigators all in one meeting. It gave me a sense of clarity on the process and requirements of becoming a YI which was otherwise relegated to anecdotal conversations.

In the second part of this article, we ask YIM alumni about their memories from their YIM experience and their advice to future attendees of YIM.

Written By

Program Manager - Science Communication