Columns @IndiaBioscience

How has YIM impacted your scientific journey? (Part 2)

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 second 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.

We asked these young scientists and science professionals about their memories from their YIM experience and whether they had any advice for future attendees.

Was YIM different from other scientific conferences that you have attended? If yes, how?

Sonia: Yes, of course! Most scientific conferences bring together scientists bound by a similar academic interest. The people YIM brings together — scientists, science administrators and heads of institutes, among others – are people invested in cultivating and nurturing science in India. This makes YIM special.

Anup: Well, I experienced YIM as a good mix of science (talks and posters), advertisement (of science in India), networking (for PDFs and YIs) and reality checks (discussing issues and solving them). Surprisingly, all of them are YIM mandates. I haven’t been to another meeting such as this. Incidentally, YIM participation is also limited to a single time. 

Sushmita: Yes, the informal interactions at YIM set it apart.

Karishma: YIM was less about the technicalities of the science, and more about building leadership and connectivity among young investigators in Indian science. This is a critical need for Indian science, especially for biology in India. The biological sciences in India constitute a small community, and it is imperative to foster mentorship through meetings such as YIM.

Sabarinathan: Indeed, yes! This meeting is not only focused on science but also the broader picture of the overall research programs in India, career development and a friendly atmosphere to meet with the institution heads and young investigators.

Dhiraj: Absolutely yes. This was a meeting involving less of science but more of a kind of parenting, where we learnt a lot from our Scientific Parents” and were happy to share our bits of knowledge with the upcoming YIs.

Poonam: Yes, the YIM experience was very different from other scientific conferences I have attended in India. I really appreciate the casual and no garland‑y” approach of the conference. All the scientists/​mentors/​organizers were very approachable and a pleasure to talk to. 

Kavitha: It was very well organized and executed. It was not a huge gathering and hence we had time for networking.

Shantala: YIM was very different from all the scientific conferences that I have attended in its design and intent. It is not a conference to showcase scientific advances but rather a networking and a mentoring meeting. It is geared towards helping and equipping postdocs and YIs navigate their early careers. 

Do you have any special memories of your YIM experience?

Sonia: There were numerous! But there two things I recall on a regular basis. The first was something Ron Vale spoke of — the culture’ of a lab or an institute. 8 months into setting up shop, this is something I reflect on daily. The second was Arvind Gupta’s talk – India needs so many more Arvind Guptas!

Anup: I attended two YIMs – YIM2017 (Goa) as a PDF, YIM2019 (Guwahati) as a YI (2018 was wasted in job hunting). I felt I gained a lot from 2017 because I was like a sponge soaking everything up. So much so that I hadn’t been to the beach even once! The sessions started early and by dinner time, the beach was closed. 

Another time, I was practising my lightning talk. One of the mentors walked up to me as volunteered to help me practise. It was so wonderful of that person to walk up to me and help me out. I carried what I learnt in those 30 minutes through my entire job hunt season. 

Sushmita: Yes, during my first YIM, a group of us young YIs sat together and talked about our struggles with balancing family life and work at new institutes. It was comforting to find similar experiences and share strategies. 

Karishma: In spite of the stress I was dealing with at that time, YIM2019 kindled a hope and a passion to succeed on this journey of returning to India. One of the best moments was enjoying the Brahmaputra cruise with fellow colleagues. The bonhomie and conversations were open, honest and uplifting. One of the highlights was the excellent interaction across genders, which was very heartening to experience. 

Sabarinathan: Yes, a couple of them. One was scientific — the YI and PDF discussion session, where several topics related to science in India were discussed. And the other one was unanticipated — meeting a peer who not only had my name but also works in a similar research topic (but luckily in the different model system).

Kavitha: The location was advantageous as it was in a remote area and people had to mingle with each other.

Dhiraj: The poster session where I could build friendships and ongoing collaborations.

Poonam: I remember falling very sick during the conference. The way the organizing team was prepared for such cases and helped me during that time was very kind and beautiful.

Shantala: I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the meeting, not the least of which was the venue — I mean it was Goa! But what really left a lasting impression on me was the diversity of the life science community that was not only highlighted but celebrated. A candid talk by a YI from Pondicherry University where she told us about all the ingenuity it took to get her research off the ground despite having multiple grants, a talk by Gangandeep Kang on persisting through failures with a sense of humour and lack of gloom, and finally a briefing on the Indian team participating in research at the poles. I have to admit, I did spend some time that evening trying to conjure a project to get myself to the Indian research centre at the Arctic (an open invitation extended to the YIM2017 by Dinabandhu Sahoo)!

Do you have any messages for other YIs/​PDFs who are planning to attend future YIMs?

Sonia: Do take the time to attend it! Meet and talk with as many of your peers as you can – they will be your collaborators and co-conspirators in meetings and projects in your entire scientific careers! It’s a meeting worth your time.

Anup: Yes. Be a participant and not a recipient. Try not to view YIM as a job-hunt/job-fair meeting. See the realities, problems and possibilities of being an Indian academic. Meet your potential peers. Explore collaborations (even if you end up elsewhere). All these will help you in seeing where, which institute and among whom you fit in. That, I feel, is extremely important. 

Sushmita: YIs should make sure they network with peers in addition to mentors.

Karishma: Make the most of it! It is (truly) a once in a lifetime opportunity. Leverage it to network and connect, find ways to get involved with the community and IndiaBioscience, consolidate new relationships and collaborations. Indian science is not free of problems, but train yourself to focus on what works and what unique opportunities it has. There is a very vibrant and dynamic group of young PIs in India, and I personally look forward to growing old (!) in Indian science with them.

Sabarinathan: Enjoy and utilize the fullest of this meeting. This is definitely different from other scientific conferences.

Dhiraj: Be Open minded – Don’t hesitate to ask any question, however stupid it might sound. Be curious and ready to embrace the possibilities (involving both success and failures) coming in your career. 

Poonam: For PDFs- One should plan to attend only when they are ready to go on the job market almost immediately. YIM often results in invitations for several job talks. If you are still a year away from applying its better to also hold off attending YIM for the following year. It’s hard to maintain the contacts for that long if things do not go forward. 

For YIs- Honesty in describing your experience and ways you found in tackling initial hiccups to the post-docs has a very positive impact.

Kavitha: Have an open mind, introduce yourself to as many people as possible and discuss your research interests. Email directors whom you are going to meet ahead of time. Sometimes your peers may also direct you to a potential position.

Shantala: My biggest takeaway from the YIM2017 was a sense of relief and confidence- There are a lot of positions open for young investigators’ and more importantly These are attainable for a postdoc such as myself’. There is always such a sense of doom and gloom associated with the discussion of applying for PI positions. The PDF satellite meeting really helped me cut through some of the hysteria and critically assess where I stand and what are my chances. Life science in India is in a wonderful period of growth- with many institutions actively hiring PIs, and funding agencies awarding re-entry grants.

My message to the PDFs would be to interact with all the institutional representatives and mentors at the meeting- even if their institution is not at the top of your list. Have honest and open chats with them with regards to where you stand currently and where you want to move forward with your scientific journey. I found that the more I asked of the senior scientists, the more they gave, all without any sense of judgement. They genuinely wanted to help. This brings me to another message – network, find mentors and senior scientists who are interested and keen to help and DONOT hesitate to draw upon them down the line when you are in the process of applying. 

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In the first part of this article, we asked YIM alumni about the impact of YIMs on their scientific careers. 

Written By

Program Manager - Science Communication