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Regional Young Investigator Meeting reaches the nation’s capital

Aditi Jain

During the 10th Young Investigators’ Meeting (YIM), a need was felt for stronger local networks within the Indian scientific fraternity. Following the success of Regional Young Investigators’ Meetings in Kolkata and Hyderabad, the third Regional YIM was held in Delhi NCR. The meeting followed the motto — Unite, collaborate for a better tomorrow” and gathered scientific minds from throughout the National Capital Region.

Regional YIM Delhi
Regional YIM Delhi 

The third Regional Young Investigator’s (RYIM) meeting was held at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR), New Delhi, on 6 – 7 August, 2019. The meeting brought together academic researchers, industry representatives, post-doctoral researchers, PhD students, and funding agency representatives from all over Delhi NCR under one roof. The two-day meeting included two keynote addresses, six plenary talks, three panel discussions, talks from funding agencies & bio-incubators, and a poster session.

The meeting was organized by Jagadis Gupta Kapuganti and Senthil-Kumar Muthappa from NIPGR, Divya Chandran, Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB), Mukesh Jain, Jawaharlal Lal Nehru University (JNU), and Rohini Garg, Shiv Nadar University with inputs from IndiaBioscience.

In the welcome address, Jagadis Gupta Kapuganti stated that the objective of regional YIMs is to provide a platform where researchers can meet, network and share their experiences. Subhra Chakraborty (NIPGR), in her opening remarks, asked young researchers to take this opportunity to identify researchers with similar interests with whom they can work, collaborate, and grow. 

Finally, Smita Jain gave an overview of IndiaBioscience and its various initiatives related to networking, science communication, science career development, skill-building, policy discussions, etc. She spoke about the ethos on which Regional YIMs were initiated and stressed on the fact that these meetings are by Young Investigators (YIs) and for YIs. 

Keynote addresses

Glimpses of speakers at RYIM Delhi
Glimpses of some of the speakers at RYIM Delhi (Clockwise from top left: K VijayRaghavan, Shekhar Mande, Meenakshi Munshi, Sandeep Verma, Gagandeep Kang, Sarah Iqbal)

K VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Advisor, Government of India, and Shekhar C Mande, Director General- Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), gave keynote addresses on 6 and 7 August, respectively. VijayRaghavan urged the scientific community to take collective responsibility for the issues at hand and opened the floor for discussing various challenges that restrict the growth of the life science fraternity in India. 

Researchers deliberated on age limits for faculty recruitment, reasons for delays in finishing PhD, and the high turnout of PhDs from Indian laboratories vis-à-vis lack of faculty jobs in the market. A need was felt to encourage scholars towards other science careers like science communication, policy, administration, IPR etc. based on their skills and interests. 

Mande, in his turn, gave an overview of the timeline of development of science and technology in India (starting from ancient times). He added that only those post-colonial countries who, like India, made friends with science after independence were able to prosper and develop in the last century. He also spoke about the role that CSIR has played in nation-building. For example, the indelible ink used during Indian elections was created in the National Physical Laboratory and CSIR was one of the partners in the development of Electric voting machines (EVM).

Speaking about current challenges in the scientific space, Mande said that the ecosystem for start-ups is not well developed, which is hampering the translation of research from basic science laboratories. He opined that a dialogue between basic researchers and translational researchers could help in taking the outcomes of scientific research to the market for the good of society.

Opportunities for Early career researchers

Representatives from various funding agencies described opportunities for early career researchers provided by their respective agencies. Sandeep Verma, Secretary, Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB), discussed various schemes for early career researchers such as National Post-Doctoral Fellowship, Early Career Research Award, Startup Research Grant, Social Equity Program, Ramanujan Fellowship and Teachers Associateship for Research Excellence (TARE). He also mentioned four new and upcoming schemes: SERB SUPRA, SERB TETRA, SERB-STAR and SERB-NSC. 

Meenakshi Munshi from Department of Biotechnology (DBT) explained the attributes of a good research proposal and gave an overview of various schemes for young scientists from DBT, such as DBT-Research Associateship, Innovative Young Biotechnologist Award (IYBA), BioCARE, CREST, B4-Boston, Ramalingaswamy Entry Fellowship and DBT- Wellcome India Alliance fellowships.

Sachin Sharma (Wellcome Trust/​DBT India Alliance) spoke about Early Career, Intermediate and Senior level fellowships along with three new funding schemes: Team Science Grants, Clinical/​Public Health Research Centres and Clinical Research Training Programme.

Finally, Matthias Kiesselbach, Director, DFG Office, India discussed the various opportunities for Indian researchers who intend to carry out research in Germany, collaborate with German scientists, or travel to Germany for workshops. 

Science Communication

Sarah Iqbal (Wellcome Trust/​DBT India Alliance), described how science communication helps in building public trust, formulating evidence-based policies, and generating funding support for science. Pointing out the differences between an academic research paper and a science news article, she emphasized keeping the audience in mind while communicating science. She stated that science communication is a moral responsibility for scientists as most of the science funding in India comes from tax-payers’ money.

Panel Discussions

Panel Discussions during Regional YIM Delhi
Panel Discussions during Regional YIM Delhi

Scientific collaborations can enhance the research output of laboratories by bringing experts from various fields together for a common goal. The first panel discussion, entitled The art of establishing and maintaining collaborations” deliberated on various strategies to ensure that collaborations are fruitful and meet the expectations of all the researchers involved. The discussion was chaired by Amulya K. Panda, National Institute of Immunology (NII) and included Manoj Prasad, NIPGR, Ashwani Pareek and Deepak Gaur, JNU and Suman Govil, former Adviser, DBT, as panellists. The panellists deliberated on various personal, legal and scientific matters to be kept in mind for a successful collaboration, as well as the need to ensure clarity and benefits for all parties involved.

To give young researchers a gist of upcoming research in various disciplines of biology, a panel discussion on Emerging trends in life science research” was also organized. Neeraj Jain, National Brain Research Centre, talked about artificial intelligence as an emerging technology for neuroscience and the need for integrating already available brain data to gain better insights into this complex system. Anurag Aggarwal, Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), emphasized the need for multidisciplinary and collaborative research projects in human biology. He also mentioned that although precision medicine may seem unaffordable at the moment, with an economy of scales and good data management, it is realizable. 

Sujatha Mohanty, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, talked about recent advances in tissue engineering and her work on cornea and skin replacement. Debasis Chattopadhyay from NIPGR talked about innovations in plant phenotyping facilities that help in weed management, nutrient status assessment, pathogen detection, drought stress assessment, and yield prediction. Sudhanshu Vrati, RCB, who chaired the session, spoke about the rise of new human pathogens and related infectious diseases, perhaps due to increased human-wildlife contact.

The scarcity of women in leadership positions in science has been quite a concern in scientific community. To discuss this issue and brainstorm solutions, a panel discussion on Women in leadership” was also organized at the meeting. Chandrima Shaha, President, Indian National Science Academy (INSA), and Professor of Eminence, NII, chaired the panel that included Gagandeep Kang,Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), Satyajit Mayor,National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore, and Subhra Chakraborty (NIPGR). A point that emerged was that while a considerable number of women can be found in PhD and faculty positions, the burden of family responsibilities may prevent many women from opting for high profile positions. 

Onsite child care facilities, flexibility in work timings, extension of maternity leaves, mandatory inclusion of women in forums and most of all, respect from the society were put forth as some of the ways to increase the number of women in academia and later in leadership positions.

Words of Wisdom: Life in Science

Rajesh Gokhale (NII), in his plenary talk, suggested that young researchers should look for both competitive advantage and potential applications while selecting a research problem. Citing examples of two biopharmaceutical companies (Vyome Biosciences and Ahammunune Bioscience) that brought his lab’s research in dermatology to the market, he encouraged researchers to take their research from the bench to the market for the greater good of society.

Satyajit Mayor, Director, NCBS, shared his journey from a Post-Doctoral fellow at Columbia University to a scientist at NCBS. Graduating as an engineer, followed by a Masters in Chemistry and a PhD in life science, gave Mayor the ability to look at problems from many different angles, which subsequently helped him in his research on membrane organization and trafficking. He advised students to make well-informed choices, keeping eyes open for various opportunities, and network with other researchers.

Gagandeep Kang (THSTI) talked about her journey from medical student to scientist. She spoke about the high burden of rotavirus infection in India, which led her to focus her research on its biology. Adding a fresh dose of positivity to the session, she encouraged young researchers to believe that they can solve any problem and not shy away from asking help from others if required.

Bio-incubators: From Lab to Market

Suman Gupta (RCB) and Ashutosh Pastor (IIT-Delhi) discussed the BioNEST Bio-incubator and the Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer (FITT), respectively, which are housed at their respective institutes. They said that bio-incubators provide an ecosystem that is conducive for startups. The incubates are mentored by senior scientists, assisted by in-house patent team for formulating patent applications, and put in touch with the funders and industrial partners.

Attendees of RYIM Delhi
Attendees of RYIM Delhi

The talks were followed by concluding remarks by Satyajit Mayor who applauded the large number and active crowd at RYIM-Delhi. The meeting concluded with a vote of thanks by Kapuganti.

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