Rewind Podcast | In Conversation with a Mentor | Season 1

In Conversation with a Mentor (ICM)

Five mentors, their journeys, experiences, and thoughts on mentorship and guidance; What better way than to listen to all of them, at once? We bring you, a rewind podcast episode with hand-picked segments from the five individual episodes featuring stalwarts in life sciences L S Shashidhara, Deepanwita Chattopadhyay, Sanjay Mishra, Bimalendu B Nath, and Manju Bansal together in one episode. 

Don’t forget to check out the individual episodes at https://​indi​a​bio​science​.org/​i​n​d​i​a​b​i​o​s​p​e​a​k​s​/​i​n​-​c​o​n​v​e​r​s​a​t​i​o​n​-​w​i​t​h​-​a​-​m​e​n​t​o​r​/2021

Note to listeners: This recording was done over a zoom meeting call due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has resulted in a slightly diminished audio quality with some mild disturbances in the recording, compared to a studio-quality recording.

[00:00:00] — Intro

You’re listening to IndiaBiospeaks, voices from the life science explorers in India.

[00:00:10] — Indulekha M S

In the first session of In Conversation with a Mentor,” we talked to five mentors from across the life science research community. We were joined by L S Shashidhara from Ashoka university, Deepanwita Chattopadhyay, Chairman & CEO of the IKP Knowledge park, Hyderabad, Sanjay Mishra from DBT India, Bimalendu B Nath, an Emeritus Professor at Savitribai Phule Pune University and Manju Bansal, Professor IISc, Bangalore and the founding director of IBAB, Bangalore. They talked about their journey and experiences and stories that may have shaped them into becoming what they are today.

Choosing a career path is often a challenging decision. Let’s rewind and listen to how some of these mentors chose their career trajectories and the turning points they have had along the journey.

[00:01:01] — L S Shashidhara

In my case, it was almost determined that I would be going to an engineering degree program. I already had admission to an agriculture degree program and where I had already taken the admission. And then the engineering degree offer letter came much later, perhaps two weeks later, not too late. And the fact that I was already in a college and in a very nice campus, beautiful campus, Agricultural University in Dharwad. So that sort of made me like why I should go elsewhere because it’s a beautiful campus. So I just decided to stay back. 

And then, when I started learning genetics: cytogenetics, genetics, and evolution, that sort of changed the rest of my life.

[00:01:52] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay

I think if you talk about a turning point in my life, I would say when I decided to change from hardcore physics because, as I said, my master’s was in pure physics to do biophysics. And so that decision, I think, which was very unusual in way back in 1972, when I got into this because at that time, biotechnology, bioinformatics was unknown. At that time, though, I felt a little bad because my father said, okay, you want to take a career. You may want to be a career person. Do it. He just put me on the train from Hyderabad to Bangalore with no chaperone, nothing. That again gave me confidence. So apart from the confidence for doing research, which came from my interaction with doyens of science like GNR, it was also, I think, the confidence my parents, especially my father, showed in me by letting me travel all alone to, you know, come and be here for an interview at that time when girls were not very, not really encouraged to take up careers. 

[00:03:13] — Indulekha M S

Mentoring is never a cakewalk. It takes experience, introspection, and much more to mentor young minds, and it surely presents with its own challenges. You may not have all the solutions; sometimes, all it takes is the patience to listen.

[00:03:27] — L S Shashidhara

So, let me call myself a facilitator because a mentor, leader, sometimes it’s sort of too big a word. A young faculty, when he or she joins the institute, that’s a time when they have to be really productive, and if they don’t become productive in the first five to ten years, it is actually a loss to the institute, a loss to the nation, a loss to the humanity that such talent is being wasted and not taken and making full utilization of that talent. So in that context, my job has always been trying to facilitate everybody’s research. So as a mentor, obviously, I had to sort of look at aspects of research management of every individual, every faculty. That also includes how to deal with Ph.D. students, how to sort of set up a process in which you can get good Ph.D. students, how to mentor Ph.D. students, and how to set up collaborations, and also dealing with publications, how you write your response to editors when you get some comments from the referees. So obviously, you have to sort of help them at all levels. If you help them in the first five years, I’m sure they will take off.

[00:04:33] — Bimalendu B Nath

Let me share my experience as an educator in biology, you know, I restrict myself to biology. I’ve encountered students who are at the tertiary level of the education system, which includes undergraduate and postgraduate students. And many students opt for biology by default. And not by choice, mostly because they fail to go to other branches due to a relatively higher cutoff, which is demanded for the qualifying marks. So many students, you know, they end up in biology, and they find this biology a boring subject and end up mugging up. So, every year I struggle to give some of these students who had chosen biology by default, not by choice so that you know, they gain a greater appreciation because I alone cannot change the textbooks. And this and also the curricula, if you look at some of these textbooks for biology, at the secondary level of education, I feel helpless because it is only loaded with information, there is nothing to understand. The conceptualization is missing. There is no clue, the student starts self-study without a teacher. So they end up finding these books very monotonous.

[00:05:56] — Indulekha M S

More often in our society, women are discriminated against, be it in job sectors, educational sectors, and so on. Diving into some of the ways by which you can ensure equal representation and some of the policies the government has introduced for the same.

[00:06:11] — Sanjay Mishra

I have worked as the head of the Kiran division for almost two and a half years. During the first few months, I myself studied the extent of the problem, the socio-economic and administrative reasons, and the concept of the leaky pipeline, why the women, we lose a lot of talented women in the process of education and the workforce. Women having a gap of 10 years, let’s say, after MSc or after Ph.D., the current situation of India, as we all know, there is fierce competition, there are less positions, and we have got more talented people. Because there are maybe men or other women who do not have a break in their career, they generally are able to get those positions, whether they are contractual positions, postdocs, or whatever. 

Now, having said that, again, this is the problem, which in my opinion, cannot be solved by government intervention or a DST scheme. Because this requires a change in the mindset of the people. And again, I say that, I’m not saying that give an extra favor to women, what I’m saying is that give them equal playing field, that’s all, that’s all. Give them an equal playing field. That will solve the problem.

[00:07:23] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay

Just give them equal opportunity. If there are biases, inherent biases, take out the inherent biases. I think women are as good as men in all aspects, and there is no reason to discriminate in any way if it is about funding or anything. Really, there is absolutely no reason for thinking that a woman will not do so. I don’t think women are asking for special seats or special positions. What they are asking for is to be given the same opportunity. It’s equity that’s important. But at the same time, people who are not privileged, they need a lot of hand-holding. That is where I think we need to probably help them come up. 

[00:08:12] — Indulekha M S

Mentorship requires precise strategies, and it is always insightful to hear the mentorship philosophies followed by these stalwarts in life sciences.

[00:08:23] — Sanjay Mishra

Whenever I’m looking at a program, I always look from the other side of the table. If the end beneficiary is a Ph.D. student, I’ll recall my days as a Ph.D. student and look if the program is good or bad or are there any gaps? Are there any barriers which I have faced in my personal life? 

So I’m trying to look at the barriers or the problems faced by the audience or end user of my program, and I’ll try to change and reform, modify the program portal.

[00:08:56] — Deepanwita Chattopadhyay

Again, I’m quoting, when I moved from ICICI, I was told: Be ahead of the curve. And if you see that whatever you have done, others are setting it up, you should actually be happy. Because if you have followers, it means that you are successful. And then move ahead, do something else. Do another initiative that’s pathbreaking. And that’s how you’re always a leader, and you have people to follow you. And I think that is my philosophy. Remain ahead of the curve.

[00:09:36] — Indulekha M S

Thank you all for listening. If you liked this rewind segment, check out the individual episodes for more stories from each of them. To listen to the full episodes, check out our channel, IndiaBiospeaks, on Spotify.

[00:09:50] — Outro 

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