Columns @IndiaBioscience

The first Young Investigators’ Meeting in UK

Nandini Rajamani

Poster session in progress at YIM UK
Poster session in progress at YIM UK   (Photo: YIM UK)

The first Young Investigators’ Meeting UK was held on 9 September 2015 in Cambridge, UK. The event was initiated by a group of postdoctoral scholars and PhD students of Indian origin in Cambridge, UK. Conversations with colleagues had them convinced of the need for such an event in UK, as the Indian diaspora wanted to know the pulse of current Indian research, said Bhavani Shankar Sahu, one of the organisers. Jointly organised with IndiaBioscience, the meeting was funded by the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance, British Council India, Department of Biotechnology, EyeStem Research Pvt Limited and the Institute for Life Sciences, Ahmedabad University.

The event focused on bilateral research collaborations between researchers in UK and India, and on the changing Indian science scenario, particularly in the life sciences. It was attended by 130 PhD students and postdoctoral scholars, mostly of Indian origin, from Cambridge as well as other universities in the UK and Europe.

The daylong event began with LS Shashidhara, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Pune, describing the current Indian scenario in the life sciences. “India is on a trajectory that is generating its own momentum”, he said, and went on to describe major new initiatives, especially those of Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST). Ashok Venkitaraman, who holds academic positions both at MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, and inStem, Bangalore, spoke about the science that drives him, stating that his two-country research was an outcome of his questions rather than a causal factor. The rest of the day included talks by representatives from research institutes and funding bodies from India, and scientists from the two countries. Research institutes represented were the IISERs, NCBS, inStem, C-CAMP, IIT Mandi, Presidency University, IISc, Institute of Life Sciences and Eyestem Research Private Limited. Funding agencies represented were the Department of BioTechnology (DBT), the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance, the British Council and EMBO. The keynote address (live webcast) was delivered by K VijayRaghavan, Secretary, DBT, who, in the ensuing discussion session also answered many practical questions regarding applying for jobs in India.

A poster session at the end of the day saw many of the attendees presenting their research work, and interacting with the invited delegates for feedback and advice. Research presented ranged from cellular to developmental biology.

The funding session was the most sought-after at the event, as judged by participant feedback. One of the more popular talks outside of this category was on the growing career opportunities outside academia, by S Ramaswamy, inStem and C-CAMP. Of the interactions after his talk, Ramaswamy said, “The meeting was interesting, and useful to attract the best minds in the UK to come work in India. The questions were focused, and the assumption that those in UK are better aware of the Indian scenario than in other countries is not true. The interest of the attendees to work in non public funded research and industry was surprisingly high.”

Other feedback from the attendees included requesting a longer meeting (more than one day), a larger meeting with more speakers, and better advertisement of the event. Overall, the feedback called for more such meetings in the UK, as stated by Kedar Natarajan, a postdoctoral fellow at EMBL-EBI Cambridge, ”YIM Cambridge 2015 was highly useful, informative and it would be good to have more YIMUK meetings in future.”