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Lakshmi Ganesan 0:01
You’re listening to IndiaBiospeaks, your one stop resource for science news and careers.
Welcome everyone to our next informational interview on crafting your career in science, where we talk to interesting science professionals about various career trajectories, learning from their professional and personal insights on how they navigated their career path. And today we have Deepti Trivedi with us. She is a technology scientist and she’s in charge of the core fly facility at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, which is a part of the bigger Bangalore Life Science Cluster (BLiSC). This includes the NCBS (National Centre for Biological Sciences), CCAMP, and inSTEM. Today we will chat with her about her long relationship with fruit flies, drosophila as they’re called. This is a favourite research model system for many biologists. This relationship with flies began, I believe from her master’s days at NCBS, Bangalore. So it is full circle. It has continued through her PhD at the University of Cambridge and her postdoc at UCLA. So Deepti, do tell us more about your career journey and the events that led you to your current role here, back at NCBS.
Deepti Trivedi 1:19
Hi, Lakshmi, thank you so much for inviting me. You make it sound very straightforward, but, my career path was not that well planned. In fact, I took to science only because I found art and commerce subjects quite boring. And hence, those weren’t even an option. I did develop a tremendous interest in science. I had absolutely wonderful science teachers in school as well as in college. I applied for integrated PhD program at NCBS, and joined masters program at Professor Obaid Sidiqqui’s lab. It was an interesting time, because I was left on my own for the first time with what I wanted to do, but at the same time given support to be able to achieve it. So I set up an electrophysiology rig to record from specific neurons while in the Sidiqqui’s lab. This was exciting. In retrospect, I realised that I had an inclination and interest in setting up something new. After this, I moved to the University of Cambridge to do a PhD with Dr. Raghu Padinjat to study the molecular biology of photo transduction. Here again, I used drosophila as model system. Towards the end, having spent about seven years working with flies between my Masters and PhD program, I wanted to do something different. So then, I chose a postdoc that would expose me to different model systems and provide necessary experience to transition into industry. Because that’s what I thought I wanted to do at that time. So, I joined Professor David Williams’ lab in UCLA. Here again, I developed a transgenic mouse model, in fact, to study the transport of rhodopsin in photoreceptors, and then develop a live imaging setup to study these mechanisms in vivo in rod photoreceptors. So, throughout this time, I discovered that I liked creating something from scratch and doing something new constantly like collaborating with people or helping people and these are some of the attributes that came together in my present role as a core facility manager of the fly facility in Bangalore life science cluster.
Lakshmi Ganesan 3:52
Deepti, can you explain to us what the roles and responsibilities of a core facility manager are?
Deepti Trivedi 4:00
Well, technically speaking, the work of a facility manager in fact is similar to work in any laboratory. The difference is that it is run mainly using technical staff who generally work around well worked out and defined protocols. New protocols need to be standardised in a way so that it can be reproduced again and again. Everyone needs to get trained in them. That is the technical aspect of it. The other aspect is that the staff in a core facility has to agree to be behind the scene as in most cases, there is no formal acknowledgement to individuals but rather to facility or its manager in fact, say, in publications. As a manager of a core facility, one cannot expect intellectual inputs or independent problem solving capabilities from the staff. Therefore, she will have to keep micro-managerial tabs on their work, actively work alongside the staff, hand holding in developing protocols, routines, and in troubleshooting. Of course, there are always exceptions to this.
A manager also has to get used to the fact that it could be a moving set of people working under him or her, and that these positions tend to be fluid. Training and retraining are part and parcel of the nature of the work. In addition to this, there are financial aspects, where facility manager has to manage and report the financial state, make decisions on user fees and so on.
Besides serving the scientific community, especially our fly facility at NCBS also engages with larger public through its various outreach activities. In collaboration with the communication team here at NCBS, we engage with schools and colleges and make them aware that fruit flies can make an extremely useful model system to study different aspects of biology. In this context, we design different experiments and kits that can be used by any school or college to understand how research is done, and how basic biology can be understood in a fun and simple way. I also use sci-art in my presentation as a means to educate the community.
Lakshmi Ganesan 6:22
That really sounds like a great balance of right and left brain activities all factored into one day job. I would like to know how you keep yourself and your users updated. And how do you adopt or implement the latest and the state of the art technologies in the field?
Deepti Trivedi 6:42
Well, that mostly comes from reading and subscribing to scientific articles. In addition, I’m a part of many informal groups and social platforms that discuss nuances of the field of genome engineering and other new techniques that are used across or in other model organisms. It helps to be continuously interacting with a very responsive user community, collaborate on grants, appraise the community on the nuances. However, what would be the next big project of the facility always has to come from the user. I of course keep recommending new technologies in the field to the users through emails and discussions.
Lakshmi Ganesan 7:30
Deepti, how would you describe a typical workday for you?
Deepti Trivedi 7:35
A typical workday involves meeting with the staff members individually discussing their work, what they need to do, analyse their work, and suggest to them ways to troubleshoot any problems that they’re facing. It usually also includes designing experiments, developing protocols, ordering reagents, reading and keeping myself updated. I write or respond to emails from users to understand their requirements connect them to CCAMP to discuss what each experiment involves. There are also meetings with various users of the facility on campus. I also collaborate with the Principal Investigators (PIs) in writing relevant sections of the grant proposals or method sections on their papers. Of course, a lot of time goes in reading and keeping myself updated.
Lakshmi Ganesan 8:27
Deepti, I know that you have also seamlessly integrated some atypical activities as part of your work. Some of these were your hobbies, like you mentioned before sciart, can you tell us or maybe even describe to us some of some of your work?
Deepti Trivedi 8:43
Most of these art-related activities are still restricted to the category of a hobby. However, I have recently started using them to express some scientific concepts. I’m interested in creative way of data visualisation Let me just explain one of the things that I have recently done, which is based on the concept of homunculus, which is a well known concept where different sensory and motor neurons that are present on our body parts are represented in our brain in a certain way. So, for example, our hands, our lips, our tongue, etc, have much greater density of sensory and motor neurons, as compared to other parts of our body. So in a homunculus, these organs are represented as much more bigger structures.
I have used the same concept with drosophila and what I have made here as a sciart is what I call as sensory drosunculus. So the idea that I have used is the information about the number of sensory neurons innervating different body parts of drosophila. Each organ is drawn to scale by the number of sensory neurons it has. For example, drosophila has a far greater number of sensory neurons in the eyes. So as you see here, eyes are represented as a much bigger organ followed by antennae, which have one sixth of the sensory neurons as compared to eyes. Proboscis is the next, wings for example, have much lesser sensory neurons and only at the upper margin of it. So, looking at this fly one could immediately appreciate that the number of sensory neurons differ in different parts of the body and that’s how they are represented. In addition, I am getting interested in writing popular science articles for which I also like to do illustrations if I get time. One of them should be coming soon in the magazine iWonder,
Lakshmi Ganesan 11:02
Deepti, this is really neat. Listeners. If you haven’t noticed the podcast artwork that we have for this informational interview, is a depiction of the sensory drosunculus that Deepti just described. Please do check it out if you haven’t already. It’s really neat. It’s really cool.
Deepti, I would like to know what’s most appealing to you about what you do?
Deepti Trivedi 11:31
What I like most about this work is the flexibility that this job offers without the academic pressures of mentoring, writing grants or publishing. The lack of pressure also provides me with creative freedom. I have also discovered that I prefer having order and closure rather than open endedness which comes usually with an academy career. A position of service such as core facility management allows me to define tasks and take them to their logical conclusion and derive gratification from it.
Lakshmi Ganesan 12:08
I would like to know just like how users depend on core facilities, which is again a centre which provides service to a clientele, what are your dependencies? Who all do you transact with?
Deepti Trivedi 12:20
Lakshmi, the fly facility runs on a not for profit model. So just like the users depend on the fly facility, we depend on the users. Each service provided by the facility has a user fee associated with it. This user fees directly depends on the number of labs that subscribe to the facility. Hence, to keep the facility running, we constantly and actively seek new users. Besides the intramural users, we also seek national and international collaborations and users. We do these via our interactions with CCAMP, which helps us with our scientific interaction with other institutes. We also actively write grants along with the scientists to develop new methods and to build and update our own capacity. In our work, we as a facility also depend on other core facilities. For example, we are one of the heavier users of the sequencing facility at the cluster.
Lakshmi Ganesan 13:28
Now Deepti, for a student that looks at core facility management as a possible career path, what kind of accomplishments or skills tend to be valued or rewarded? How does one prepare to enter into this field?
Deepti Trivedi 13:45
Besides the core technical expertise and sound foundational knowledge and training, which is an absolute must, one needs to have an attitude of service to be a successful facility manager. One needs to have the ability to address complaints from the user and openness to new ideas is also an asset. People skills are paramount as one needs to be constantly interacting with users, the committee, facility in charge and so on. One also needs to resist the temptation to do their own research or operate as a soloist. It is a community driven operation and a collaborative space which is heavily user driven as I have mentioned earlier. Management skills in general can be an added plus, managing finances, human resources and so on. Although I didn’t take any formal training in management, most of my learning was through trial and error and on the job.
Lakshmi Ganesan 14:53
Thank you, Deepti. Finally, are there any words of career wisdom that you would like to leave our listeners with today from your journey so far?
Deepti Trivedi 15:02
Yeah. Lakshmi, we live in a world where we are constantly talking about passion and interest. When we discuss our career choices. I personally do not subscribe to the concept of a dream job or job for life. For every career, honeymoon does get over in whatever we do. In this context, I rarely plan too much into the future. However, one thing that I keep reminding myself is to keep learning new things and keep doing things that interest me, outside of the work, or within my work, irrespective of whether it could be of any use in the capitalist sort of way. Maybe every year, I would like to invest in learning a new skill that can potentially enrich me and maybe integrate into my work, or at least the way I think about my work. So to sum it, I would say keep reinventing yourself, commit to lifelong learning and add more dimensions to your work.
Maybe every year, I would like to invest in learning a new skill that can potentially enrich me and maybe integrate into my work, or at least the way I think about my work. So to sum it, I would say keep reinventing yourself, commit to lifelong learning and add more dimensions to your work.
Lakshmi Ganesan 16:09
Thank you Deepti for summarising this so well. Those were very practically spoken words of career wisdom.
It really resonates in me how you have balanced these two arms. On one hand, you’re serving the scientific community using your core expertise attained through your graduate training which allows you or even requires you to remain on top of the field itself.
On the other hand, you’ve added some creative dimensions to your work, and found ways to channel them into serving the community at large. This is really well done and I’m sure will serve as an inspirational model for many young graduates out there, as they craft their own careers. Listeners, please find a link to the fly facility at NCBS and its various services in the description section of the podcast. If you liked this episode, do leave us a comment below. To listen to more such inspiring career stories, subscribe to our season on crafting your career in science, only on IndiaBiospeaks.
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