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 are listening to IndiaBiospeaks, voices from the life science community in India.
[00:00:11] — Suchibrata Borah
Hello, this is Suchibrata, and you are listening to IndiaBiospeaks Radio PDF. At radio PDF, we talk to postdoctoral researchers working in India. We’ll talk about their work, the benefits and challenges of working in India, and what they think needs improvement. As we have already brought you the sneak peeks of radio PDF season one, it’s time to meet our first guest of this series.
[00:00:47] — Dhananjay Chaturvedi
I am Dhananjay Chaturvedi. I’m currently a campus fellow hosted in professor K Vijayaraghavan’s lab at NCBS in Bangalore.
[00:01:03] — Suchibrata Borah
Hello Dhananjay. Welcome to IndiaBiospeaks Radio pdf. Let’s start with your research work. You are working on skeletal muscles, so tell us more about it. What is the question you are addressing in your research?
[00:01:17] — Dhananjay Chaturvedi
So I look at skeletal muscles and their repair and maintenance. So skeletal muscles are the muscles that you use to move your limbs and move your body through space and these are the muscles that we rely on for daily activity. Just as a trivial thought experiment, just close your eyes and think about what you’ve done throughout the day. Now picture doing any of that without using any of your muscles. So while that sounds like a very ridiculous sort of question, I think that underlines the fact that skeletal muscles are really important for our quality of life and day-to-day functioning. So, I’m trying to understand how these, how this function occurs inside, you know, living systems, and in my postdoc work in fruit flies, we’ve looked at how the muscles try to repair themselves. So we were the first to show the existence of a stem cell-like population in adult fruit fly muscles. So that was a breakthrough, and we can use this to understand how these cells contribute to muscle repair inside a living organism.
[00:02:28] — Suchibrata Borah
All right, seems fruit flies are your good companions now. That’s said, let us keep them aside for while and I would like you to talk about your Ph.D. tenure and your journey to becoming a postdoc at NCBS.
[00:02:44] — Dhananjay Chaturvedi
My Ph.D. was at UT Southwestern in Dallas, and I was in the lab of Dr. Michael Buszczak. His interest was to look at chromatin biology affecting stem cells and there too, because there is one stem cell population that we know something about, which is germline stem cells in drosophila ovaries. We decided to pursue, look at the function of various modifiers of chromatin. There are so many things that we need to understand about chromatin and chromatin biology. Functioning, not just in stem cells but, you know, every other differentiated cell. So that’s what I had done in my Ph.D. And when I was looking for a postdoc position, Vijay’s lab was doing some really, really interesting things. Also work by Rajesh Gunage, from Vijay’s lab that had recently been published was quite interesting and I wanted to follow that into adulthood. He was looking at earlier time points in development and so I wanted to follow that into adulthood, and when I came back, so with Rajesh, we found some really interesting things. So basically, I was interested, there was an interesting problem in Vijay’s lab. Vijay was kind enough to have me in his lab, and that’s how I got back to India for my postdoc.
[00:04:00] — Suchibrata Borah
So Dhananjay, you did your Ph.D. outside India, and now you are in India working as a postdoc. From your experience, what do you think are the pros of doing research abroad versus in India?
[00:04:16] — Dhananjay Chaturvedi
There’s no denying that the variety of questions being addressed in biology and intermingling with other disciplines in a very large setup exposes you to new findings, ways of thinking, and techniques that may be missing in smaller setups. Now, these smaller setups could be in India; they could be anywhere else in the world, right? And the practicalities of doing an experiment, well, they are easier there and so, apparently even in India, perception is, and there may be some truth to this, that having a postdoc from abroad gives you a selection advantage in the next step in your career. So that may be that, and I think one of the most practical concerns is money. You know, if you end up saving a small fraction in the countries where the exchange rate is great, you end up saving a lot of money for Indian rupees. If you want that, if that’s your goal. I mean, you might just want to settle abroad, in which case, well, you have to weigh your financial decisions in that light. But yes, I will say that is a practical concern. Going outside India and exploring the immense variety of human interaction of just the beauty of our planet is worth it, you know? And within India too, there is so much to explore, and if you get a chance to go abroad and see how different or similar we are as human beings, I think that’s a wonderful experience, and it makes you value at least in my case, makes you value what you have a lot more than you would have unless you had this counterpoint. So, yeah. So I think there are many pros to both places, and you know, I will say this based on the experiences of my friends who have been abroad, when they decided not to continue in academia, they could explore nonacademic career options. So yeah, these are the pros of working abroad and in India.
[00:06:24] — Suchibrata Borah
Those are some practical pointers about doing research in India and abroad. Let us change the topic of discussion a little bit now. What about employment opportunities after postdoc? Also, do postdocs go only for academic or research-based positions, or are there some other non-academic avenues one can explore?
[00:06:49] — Dhananjay Chaturvedi
I think that’s a very important question. The postdoctoral fellows association on campus that I had some part in running has been extensively involved in making postdocs aware of the opportunities in careers outside academia even after your postdoc. In India, we work through our national postdoc symposia. What we’ve found is that if you have the soft skills, the hard skills, and the temperament to fit into either industry or scientific writing or copywriting, legal documents, interpreting, helping lawyers interpret legal documents, working in drug discovery and testing type industries. There’s a lot to do. We had looked at, I had explored this with a lot of my friends, and this is on NCBS’s YouTube channel. We’ve called it Peeking Outside the Bubble. So you are inside the academic bubble, and you’re peeking outside it. So, my friends who decided to step outside after postdoc, they’ve started their own companies, they’re heading research and development programs for established companies in India. Biocon, Syngene, one of them, two of these parent companies. And, one of my friends actually, he’s working for a big international company, and he gets to travel a lot, and he’s basically dealing with their research and development program. So like I’ve said, there are many sectors where the analytical skills that we pick up during Ph.D. are applicable.
[00:08:26] — Suchibrata Borah
This is a great point you have mentioned, Dhananjay. There are many non-academic career paths one can explore after Ph.D. or postdoc based on one’s interests. It’s very encouraging that postdocs like you are taking initiatives to increase awareness of this. Now, what is that one piece of career advice you have for PDFs in India?
[00:08:51] — Dhananjay Chaturvedi
You, as a postdoc, have to find what niche you can fulfill, and you have to convince the organization that you are the right person for the job. This takes some amount of versatility to be able to see where you can fit in, to make the effort to go and convince people in the organization to look into your experience and how you can help and convince them. So, I believe there are opportunities within India, and we have tried to explore them extensively.
[00:09:20] — Suchibrata Borah
Dhananjay, I recall what you said earlier today about making connections, attending meetings with your fellow researchers, and forming acquaintances. If we look to a deeper side of what you said, how would such a postdoctoral community in India help the research culture effectively? What are your thoughts on forming such collectives, and how should they be operated?
[00:09:49] — Dhananjay Chaturvedi
Postdocs within India have to form collectives, at least at the local level to share their concerns with each other because if there’s a problem that I’m having that my other colleagues are having, then you can take that together to the management of the administration to say that if you fix this, we will be able to perform better, do our science better. There’s no doubt there. You need help with caring for children because family is important. So, you cab together request that from the management. Just giving any assistance in daycare for children would be very helpful. So these kinds of questions are important. And so our Postdoctoral Fellows Association tries to help with that. This will be most efficient and serve all postdocs if we first have local collectives of postdocs that coordinate, say, at the national level, once or twice a year. I think there’s no doubt that these postdoc associations will benefit the community. If they have the right vision for basically pushing forth research by serving the people who are doing research.
[00:10:56] — Suchibrata Borah
It’s right to the point. That’s true, unity is strength, and we are glad that there are these PDF associations who are working towards helping PDFs. Thanks for joining us at Radio PDF Dhananjay. It was really informative. I hope this will give some light to students planning to do a postdoc in India.
[00:11:18] — Dhananjay Chaturvedi
Thank you very much for having me on to IndiaBioscience, Suchibrata, and Anand from Scicle podcast. I really, really appreciate it. Thanks a lot.
[00:11:33] — Suchibrata Borah
That was Dhananjay Chaturvedi, a post-doctoral researcher at NCBS, Bangalore. If you like listening to our podcast, subscribe to IndiaBiospeaks on Spotify for instant updates. Until the next episode, it’s me, Suchibrata from IndiaBiospeaks, along with Scicle Podcast productions, waving a bye and wishing you a very good day.
[00:11:59] — Ananthapadmanabhan
This season is produced by Ananthapadmanabhan in collaboration with IndiaBioscience, mixed and edited at Scicle Podcast Productions. Scicle is a podcast company where we create exciting and insightful podcasts on science and society. We also cover policy, paper, and everything that matters to human life. Available on a bunch of streaming platforms. For more, head over to our show notes.
[00:12:30] — Outro
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