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Regional YIM Kolkata 2019: Some highlights

Smarajit Polley

Following the success of national Young Investigators’ Meetings (YIMs) and the first Regional YIM in Hyderabad, the scientific community of Kolkata gathered in Presidency University on 5 – 6 February, 2019, with the motto: Together today for a better tomorrow” for the first Kolkata chapter of Regional YIMs.

Regional YIM Kolkata
Regional YIM Kolkata 

The first Kolkata chapter of the Regional Young Investigators’ Meetings (RYIM) was held on 5 – 6 February, 2019 at the historic campus of Presidency University (erstwhile Presidency College) situated in the heart of Kolkata’s educational district.

The idea of RYIMs was sowed during the 10th national Young Investigators’ Meeting in 2018 when YIM alumni from the past ten years met and felt the need for better connected local scientific networks in India. When the idea of organizing a Regional YIM (RYIM) in Kolkata was pitched, we were excited and readily agreed.

The organizing team consisted of Piyali Mukherjee, Abhik Saha, Shubhra Majumder and Chandrama Mukherjee from Presidency University, Benu Brata Das from the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), Dipyaman Ganguly from CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB), Geetanjali Sundaram from the University of Calcutta, Bornali Bhattacharjee from National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG) and myself (Smarajit Polley from Bose Institute).

Inaugural Session

The first day began with a welcome address by Piyali Mukherjee who gave a short introduction to the concept of Regional YIMs and mentioned how the local culture of coming together over a cause could be translated into making a better research environment for a brighter tomorrow. Right after this, Smita Jain spoke about IndiaBioscience and its goals and mandates. These two lectures helped set the tone of the meeting and helped the attending Young Investigators (YIs) from the region connect to the theme of the meeting. Shortly afterward, the ~90 attending YIs introduced themselves to the community. 

Bikash C. Sinha (Homi Bhabha Chair Professor of the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre (VECC)), an internationally acclaimed nuclear and high energy physicist from the city, delivered the keynote address. He described his journey as a scientist and his experience of seeing Indian scientists playing important roles in gigantic international projects like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN and succeeding against all odds. Several times during his lecture, he reminded the audience of the importance of scientific culture and temper in building a vibrant nation. 

Attendees of Regional YIM Kolkata 2019
Attendees of Regional YIM Kolkata 2019

Mentor Talks

A number of well-established researchers from almost every walk of life science research were invited to share their scientific journeys with the YIs attending the meeting. These mentors came from different working environments, prior experiences, backgrounds and different practices. Nevertheless, there was one thing common in them — passion! No matter how successful are they today, they all had to struggle at the onset to remove the roadblocks in their path, be it financial, infrastructural or administrative.

Maitrayee Dasgupta, Professor in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Calcutta, explained how she has addressed some fundamental questions in plant biology like symbiosis, nodulation, and photosynthesis using her strengths in biochemistry, slowly progressing into organismal biology. Her journey encouraged many who had found themselves in rough working conditions near the beginning of their scientific careers.

Anindya (Rana) Sinha, Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) introduced the audience to the world of primates and his discovery of a new primate species called the Arunachal macaque. It was quite an experience listening to the story of his transition from botanist to molecular biologist to behavioural ecologist and cognitive psychologist of primates. 

Ron Vale, Professor at the University of California, San Francisco, has been involved with IndiaBioscience and Young Investigators’ Meetings from the very beginning. Addressing the audience via Skype, Vale reiterated the importance of conducting meetings like this on regular intervals to allow the scientific culture of a region to thrive. 

Shantanu Chowdhury, Senior Principal Scientist at CSIR-Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (IGIB), described his journey from chemistry to biology and mentioned the importance of remaining focused on one’s goals. He explained his fascination with unusual DNA structures and their importance in gene regulation with special emphasis on cancer initiation and progression.

Soumen Basak, Senior Scientist at the National Institute of Immunology (NII), is an immunologist who blends biochemistry and mouse genetics to obtain a systems view of immunological questions. He stated that it is necessary to support home-bound YIs who bring cutting-edge science to the country and maximize the benefits of their postdoctoral experiences.

Lolitika Mandal, Associate Professor at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Mohali explained how she was able to take advantage of a rather large force of highly excited undergraduate students at her institute for getting her lab to take off. She also pointed out how she created her own niche and exploited the strength of Drosophila genetics through her work. 

Suvendranath Bhattacharya, Principal Scientist at CSIR-IICB, explained how his long-term goals to understand various aspects of miRNA biology helped him find his spot in the global research scenario in this field. He also showed the audience how he streamlined a number of aspects of miRNA biology in his independent research program. 

Parthasarathi Chakraborty, Associate Professor at the Centre for Oceans, Rivers, Atmosphere and Land Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, explained how his work on metal-natural ligands interactions established their crucial roles in controlling distribution, fate, mobility, and bioavailability of heavy metals in marine ecosystems.

Mamta Chawla Sarkar, Senior Scientist at National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED), explained how she used omics-based approaches to discover important post-translational modification dynamics of cellular proteins upon infection with rotavirus. 

Jayanta Mukhopadhyay, Associate Professor at Bose Institute, explained how he loves to rethink textbook knowledge about prokaryotic transcription regulation. Most of his discoveries in his lab came out of questioning popular beliefs. He also emphasized the fact one doesn’t always have to be too serious to be in science.

Abhishek Dey, Professor of Chemistry at IACS, calls his lab the MADLAB. He talked about emulating the elegant design principles of metalloenzymes for bio-inspired catalysis, work that is of vital importance for a cleaner, more habitable environment for our future. 

Glimpses of the meeting
Glimpses of the meeting

Special Lectures

Apart from the Keynote lecture and mentor talks, we had the privilege to witness two special lectures delivered by Partha Pratim Majumder, Distinguished Professor, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani, and Chandan K Sen, Director of the Indiana Center for Regenerative Medicine & Engineering, Indiana University, USA.

Majumder described his journey from the field of mathematics and statistics into experimental genomics. He mentioned the extraordinary difficulty of earning the confidence of the community in his early days as a scientist and convincing them that a scientist who mastered numbers could actually contribute to the field of biology. 

Sen described the science of adult tissue reprogramming practiced at his Institute and lab to come up with solutions for an array of diseases. He shared some fascinating discoveries from his group on tissue injury and repair with special emphasis on post-infarction myocardial remodelling and cutaneous wound healing.

Panel Discussions

At the onset of organizing this meeting, the organizers unanimously decided to include multiple panel discussions on important issues that deal with various aspects of a YI’s journey. The panels included many eminent scientists, educators, clinicians, current and former Directors of institutes and VCs of universities of the region along with many YIs and mentors. 

Panel 1: Collate and Collaborate: an administrator’s perspective

Panellists: Anuradha Lohia (VC, Presidency University), Dhrubajyoti Chattopadhyay (VC, Amity University Kolkata), Sujoy K Dasgupta (Director officiating, Bose Institute), Sharmila Sengupta (Former Director, NIBMG), Saumitra Das (Director, NIBMG)

The first two panel discussions focused on the path to creating a research environment that is collaborative and YI-friendly. Anuradha Lohia shared her journey of nurturing a research atmosphere in a nascent state-funded university. Dhrubajyoti Chattopadhyay, on the other hand, spoke about the very different ways in which a private university functions. While Sujoy K Dasgupta explained the role Bose Institute played in nurturing its young brigade, Sharmila Sengupta spoke of the journey of creating a cutting-edge genomics institute. Saumitra Das urged the YIs to display more conviction in their approach in creating their niche research programs. The panelists also informed the audience of different schemes undertaken by their respective organizations as well as the government agencies to foster infrastructure developments that could be accessed by all the researchers in the country. 

Panel 2: Collate and Collaborate: the investigators’ perspective

Panelists: Malay Das (Presidency University), Chandrima Das (Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics), Amitava Sengupta (IICB), Smarajit Polley (Bose Institute), Bornali Bhattacharjee (NIBMG), Geetanjali Sundaram (University of Calcutta)

In the counterpart to the above discussion, investigators shared their own experiences and views on establishing a research program. A need for proactive interdisciplinary collaborative associations was stressed upon. Overall, the panelists also agreed that funding agencies could come together in creating independently-run regional infrastructural facilities that could be seamlessly accessed by all the researchers.

Given the dearth of funds in research, avoiding the creation of clones of the same kind of facilities in each organization could open up possibilities of creating high-end infrastructural facilities that would otherwise be impossible given their costs. This would also broaden the horizons of conducting research for many researchers in not-so-well-funded organizations. Another issue that the researchers felt needed immediate revamping is the General Financial Rules (GFR) for research purposes and subsequent financial audits. The current scenario does not help a YI while establishing their laboratory, and takes up a huge amount of their man-hours in dealing with mundane paperwork that may have a net negative impact on their scientific pursuits. 

Panel 3: Science, health and society

Panelists: Subhash C. Lakhotia (Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi), Partha P. Majumder (NIBMG), Hemanta K. Majumder (IICB). Raghunath Chatterjee (Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata), Soma Banerjee (Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research, Kolkata)


Panel 4: Public Outreach in Science: an educator’s perspective

Panelists: Parthiba Basu (University of Calcutta), ParthaSarathi Mukherjee (Indian Institute of Liver and Digestive Sciences, Sonarpur), Dipyaman Ganguly (IICB), Punyabrata Gun (Sromojibi Sastho Udyog), Arup Kr. Mitra (St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata), Krishna Ray (West Bengal State University, Kolkata)

The other two sessions were devoted to the theme of outreach. The panelists were experts from different walks of life — teachers, researchers, clinicians, and YIs. The discussion session encompassed various issues starting from scientific temper, science vs. pseudoscience, science communication, engaging with society to eradicate misbeliefs, education for all and universal healthcare. 

Panelists agreed that everyone concerned must play their part in order to create a society that runs based on a solid scientific temper. However, it will need the engagement of people from many domains in order to be able to eradicate deep-rooted views based on faith instead of logic, which could be tricky for a country like India. It was stressed that it is necessary to talk to the community at large in a language and form they are comfortable with to get the message across. 

The panelists, as well as the audience, agreed that misreporting of scientific facts in the mainstream media is a concern and that this is a two-way process, with researchers exaggerating their findings out of proportion and journalists sensationalizing their piece to make it more attractive. 

From the educators, we learned how important it was to increase the funding in education and basic research in India. Last but not least, the clinicians educated the attendees about the possibility of universal healthcare and busted many myths around the concept. They discussed how spending on public hygiene and healthcare through public entities could be beneficial for the GDP-growth of India as well as contributing to public health. 

Funding opportunities for basic and entrepreneurial research

Meenakshi Munshi (Adviser, Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India) spoke about various funding schemes of DBT for researchers at various career levels. Viswanadham Duppatla (IKP Knowledge Park, Hyderabad) presented various funding and logistic possibilities for science entrepreneurs. 

Looking ahead

After two days packed with highly stimulating science lectures, mentor talks, poster sessions, panel discussions along with great food, this meeting came to an end. Participants decided to form a forum of local YIs to share resources and meeting formally once or twice a year. They also proposed that the R‑YIM of the Kolkata chapter be continued in the future as a biennial event. 

Organizers and Volunteers
Organizers and Volunteers of RYIM Kolkata 2019

In retrospect, organizers think that the event couldn’t have been a reality without tremendous support from the Presidency University on every aspect of organizing a meeting like this, and financial support from Partha Pratim Majumder, Bose Institute and IndiaBioscience. They would also like to thank the commercial sponsors for their generous support.

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