Columns Stories from Scientists

Stories from the community: When your Collaborator becomes your Mentor

Savneet Kaur

In the second article as part of community voices for international grants and fellowships, Savneet talks about the impact of an international collaboration early on during her independent research career and how it turned out to be an invaluable mentoring experience too.

Savneet i GAP
Savneet i GAP 

My first successful international grant application as a Principal Investigator was the ICMR-BMBF Indo-German Cooperation in Health Research funded in 2015 in the field of liver diseases. The project was written in collaboration with Thomas Weiss, Professor, at the University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany. During this time, I was holding a faculty position in the School of Biotechnology, Gautam Buddha University, Noida, and struggling to build my new lab and career with hardly any peer support or colleagues working in a similar area. The apathetic and mundane microenvironment in the University was very different from my doctoral and postdoctoral days where scientific mentoring and support by colleagues and seniors kept me going and motivated.

I happened to interact with Weiss for the first time at an International Indo-German Workshop on Liver Regeneration in the Institute of Liver and Biliary Science, New Delhi in 2013. He was a person with clarity of thoughts and goals. When the BMBF Indo-German Cooperation in Health Research call was advertised by ICMR, I wrote to him to put forward a joint application in our common area of interest to which he readily agreed. Our individual tasks were clearly defined in the project and after the project was sanctioned, we regularly exchanged emails, had to and fro visits between India and Germany to discuss everything from contradicting data, failed experiments, successful results etc. We had lengthy but logical arguments many-a-times on existing concepts, results, and protocols. Since both my doctoral and postdoctoral training were in India, I was pretty naïve to how international researchers think and function. Moreover, Weiss, being much senior to me, initially I was always hesitant to put forward my viewpoints with confidence. But I learned to do this in due course of time and Weiss valued and cared for my perspectives, no matter how different they were from his own opinions. I learned so much from these back and forth discussions with him that this whole three-year project proved an extremely enriching experience for me. It instilled in me the confidence and modesty of not only how to handle scientific criticisms but also how to sensibly submit my altercations and discordances in a collaboration. I discovered that a very crucial element of any alliance is to put aside your ego and respect and pay heed to each other’s viewpoints. Today, when I retrospect, more than collaboration, this Indo-German grant was an excellent mentoring experience for me, especially when I needed it most. Whereas my mentors and teachers helped me to develop my research capabilities and analytics skills, it was Weiss who knowingly or unknowingly accompanied me on the path of being an independent and assertive investigator during my early career days. We produced three publications from this project and even today both of us hold a special place in each other’s life. 

Written By