Columns @IndiaBioscience

YIM 2015: Meet the organizers

Harini Barath

Every year, a few young scientists from Institutes across the country team up with IndiaBioScience to organize the Young Investigators’ Meeting. They devote a large part of their time and energy over ten months to make the Meeting a success. Three members of this year’s YIM Organizing Committee share their thoughts on early research careers and the YIM.

Manzoor A Shah is a Senior Assistant Professor in the Department of Botany, Kashmir University. His main research interests span molecular ecology and invasion biology, with special emphasis on plant-microbe interactions across biogeographic scales. Fayaz Malik, a Scientist at CSIR-Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine, Jammu, studies cancer biology. He is interested in understanding the process of tumor invasion and metastasis and is also involved in the discovery of novel therapeutic agents from natural resources. Sreelaja Nair, a Reader at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, studies zebrafish development, particularly in the early stages of embryonic patterning.

“My journey so far has been a mix of disquiet and ecstasy,” said Shah, when asked about his experiences as a young scientist embarking on a research career. He said that identifying a promising area of research in these competitive times and then coming to terms with its nuts and bolts proved most challenging. Timely opportunities and networking helped him overcome many challenges over the last 10 years, he added. Five years into his career, Malik feels that the major hurdles in the progress of his work are the unavailability of some key instruments and the prolonged administrative processes. He has kept the momentum going by sharing resources with his colleagues and availing funds from different sources. “The ups and downs have helped me to learn and evolve as a researcher and I believe they have helped me to carve a niche for myself”, said Malik. For Nair, building infrastructure that adequately supported her research was the greatest challenge. She joined TIFR in 2012, and is still in the process of building her fish facility.

A participant of YIM 2014 held at Hyderabad, Malik said, “The meeting helped me to find answers to several of my career related queries as well as solutions to the circumstantial hurdles hindering the pace of my progress that had been troublesome for long.” Malik stated that he also benefitted from networking with other young faculty and found the interactions with funding agency representatives particularly useful. Shah, a participant of YIM 2011 echoed Malik’s sentiments about the productive and invigorating interactions with mentors, peers and funding agency representatives. “[It] was highly exciting to be part of a meeting of such a different format in India,” said Shah. “The quite informal but impressive way the world renowned scientists interact with participants taught me, besides science, the basic values of simplicity and humility,” he added. Nair, who attended YIM 2014 said she enjoyed networking the most. “It is a great chance to get to know the crowd,” she said.

When asked what advice they have for participants looking to make the most out of their time at YIM 2015, Nair felt that talking to people is key. “You learn a lot about their science and about how the scientific community in India functions. A lot of new science gets presented, ideas are shared and it is exciting to talk about the emerging work from the lab for YIs”, she enthused. Malik suggested that doing some homework would be a good idea for PDFs looking to start a career in India. “Gathering some information beforehand about the preferred institutes can be useful during discussions with institute representatives at the meeting.” Shah believes that participants will benefit most if they understand the format and basic objectives of the Meeting well. “I would urge them to go through the details of the meeting and come to attend it with a sharp focus on their priority areas. They can utilize the rather versatile meeting format to have intense interaction with mentors of their choice to get maximum of their presence in the meeting,” he said.

“In view of the eco-climatic distinction of the region in comparison to most other parts of the country and characteristically different traditional settings and cultural heritage, the YIM in Kashmir promises to be an altogether different experience,” said Shah, commenting on the choice of venue. “When people talk about science in India, everyone usually thinks of Bangalore, Mumbai or Pune. Kashmir has some very old and good Institutes. Holding the YIM in Srinagar will bring attention to people doing science in Kashmir,” opined Nair. “Science related activities and growth in Kashmir have not progressed rapidly enough despite producing qualified manpower,” rued Malik. “YIM2015 is definitely going to have an impact on the scientific spirit of the local researchers and will pave the way for holding more national and international scientific events in Kashmir in future,” he concluded