Beginnings in Bhopal: Reflections from YIM 2024 (Part II)

Ankita Rathore & Sindhu M

This article is the second in a two-part series reporting on the proceedings of the 16thYoung Investigators’ Meeting (YIM 2024), which was held in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, from 11 to 15 March 2024. In the second part of this report, we discuss the takeaways from interactive Ask Us Anything’ panel discussion, ice-breaker session, and the proceedings from the PDF satellite meeting that followed the YIM 2024 from 14 to 15 March 2024.

YIM 2024 Part II title image
Glimpses from YIM 2024. Picture credits: IndiaBioscience.

The Young Investigators’ Meetings (YIMs) provide a platform for facilitating comprehensive deliberations on topics related to the culture and practice of doing science in India. YIM 2024 featured insightful talks, mini-workshops, science exhibits, poster presentations, and networking mixers. In addition, YIM 2024 included an icebreaker session, an interesting panel discussion, and two open interaction sessions, all of which saw enthusiastic engagement from the participants. Here’s a brief overview of highlights from these sessions.

Let’s break the ice!

YIM 2024 featured not only mentor talks, guest lectures, and workshops but also provided ample opportunities for participants to socialise and connect with one another. These sessions facilitated interactions among young investigators (YIs), mentors, and postdoctoral fellows (PDFs).

On the first day, Ankita Rathore, Program Manager-Science Communication at IndiaBioscience, conducted an engaging icebreaker session aimed at fostering connections among participants. The session consisted of three interactive activities: five words, science whispers, and a round-table discussion. In these activities, participants described themselves in five words, collectively built a line-by-line narrative around academic science, and discussed prompts related to the Indian life science community in small groups.

Ice breaker session at YIM 2024, collage by Ankita Rathore. Photo credits: IndiaBioscience
Ice breaker session at YIM 2024, collage by Ankita Rathore. Photo credits: IndiaBioscience

The session highlighted the light side of being a life scientist in India. For instance, participants in the round table discussion on How can we build a positive laboratory culture in India’ suggested practical ideas such as addressing everyone by first name, including the Principal Investigator (PI), promoting open discussions on lab management and manuscript reviews, and recognising that students need to balance their laboratory time with life outside of work.

Ask us anything’ panel discussion

On the second day, held at IISER Bhopal, YIM 2024 featured an Ask Us Anything’ panel discussion with invited mentors. This session offered young investigators (YIs) the opportunity to pose their pressing questions to experienced mentors. The discussion covered various topics relevant to new faculty members, including re-entry fellowships, grant procedures, interdisciplinary research, and collaborative grants. Mentors provided YIs with practical advice for navigating academia, which included suggestions on opening discussions with department chairs and deans to manage multiple responsibilities effectively. Regarding the absorption of re-entry fellows into institutions after completing their tenure, K VijayRaghavan, former Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, added,

Do a deletion test! If the re-entry fellowship were not available, would it be better? Even with their shortcomings, these are good initiatives.

Cultural evening and social mixer at YIM 2024

After two days filled with captivating talks and panel discussions, participants were delighted with a cultural music performance titled Mehfil-e-yim’ presented by the music club of IISER Bhopal. The YIM concluded after three days with a gala dinner, where participants enjoyed dancing to Bollywood tunes and posing for pictures with props bearing slogans like Be the change you want to see in Indian science’ and ‘#YIM2024’.

'Mehfil-e-yim', a cultural program by student music society of IISER Bhopal. Photo credits: IndiaBioscience
Mehfil-e-yim’, a cultural program by student music society of IISER Bhopal. Photo credits: IndiaBioscience

PDF Satellite Meeting

The PDF satellite meeting spanned the final one and a half days of YIM 2024, gathering post-doctoral fellows (PDFs) from over 25 research disciplines and representing 35 research institutes and universities worldwide. The PDFs engaged with 19 institutional representatives (IRs) from various institutes, including IISERs, IITs, research institutions, and private, and state universities. The meeting provided a platform for the 40 PDFs to interact directly with IRs and pitch their scientific ideas to them. Each fellow delivered a 5‑minute lightning talk showcasing their research, while the IRs presented their institutions’ key characteristics, the overview of the hiring processes, and desired candidate profiles.

Group picture taken during PDF satellite meeting. Photo credits: IndiaBioscience
Group picture taken during PDF satellite meeting. Photo credits: IndiaBioscience

The institutional representatives at YIM 2024 were Aprotim Mazumder, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Hyderabad; Balaji P.V., Indian Institute of Technology Bombay; Deepak Sharma, CSIR- Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh; Divya Uma, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru; Gobardhan Das, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Bhopal; Imroze Khan, Ashoka University, Sonepat; K Uma Maheswari, SASTRA Deemed to be University, Thanjavur; Kamlesh Jangid, Agharkar Research Institute, Pune; L S Shashidhara, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru; Maneesha Inamdar, Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine, Bengaluru; Murali Dharan Bashyam, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad; Prasanna Venkatraman, ACTREC — Tata Memorial Centre, Navi Mumbai; Rajesh Singh, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi; Rakesh Mishra, Tata Institute for Genetics and Society, Bengaluru; Sanjeev Galande, Shiv Nadar University, Greater Noida; Sagar Sengupta, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani; Usha Vijayraghavan, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru; Vasudevan Seshadri, National Centre for Cell Science, Pune; and Vinay K. Nandicoori, CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.

The PDF satellite meeting also featured open interactions and networking breaks, providing participants with opportunities to connect, exchange ideas, and establish collaborations with the institutional representatives.

Open discussion with institute representatives at PDF satellite meeting. Photo credits: IndiaBioscience
Open discussion with institute representatives at PDF satellite meeting. Photo credits: IndiaBioscience

Open discussions

The PDF satellite meeting also featured two open discussions between IRs and PDFs, covering topics including start-up funding and faculty fellowships’ and project administration and grant management’ in life sciences in India. The intention behind the breakout sessions was to provide an opportunity for attendees to engage in informal, semi-structured discussions, and some of the key takeaways that emerged from these discussions are outlined below: 

  1. Industry funding in Indian academia: Participants learned about avenues for industry funding, including dedicated offices like the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs at IISc. Suggestions included exploring memoranda of understanding (MoU) templates, alumni networks, corporate social responsibility (CSR) websites of companies, and consultancy opportunities.

  2. Writing research proposals: The panelists advised the participants on tailoring proposals to their expertise, avoiding competition with supervisors, and aligning proposals with institute needs. The session encouraged PDFs for informal visits to potential institutes to understand the research ecosystem in India.

  3. Women representation in committees: The discussions also shed light on the disparity between women representation in life sciences in India (16%) and various committee memberships (30%).

  4. Publishing and journal fees: The PDF participants expressed concerns about covering publication fees for journal manuscripts. Panelists advised requesting fee waivers from journals and considering publication in reputable society journals as alternatives.

  5. Unique challenges of doing science in India: The discussion also addressed serious challenges while doing science in India such as delays in fund disbursement and whether institutes could intervene to cover staff salaries in such cases, as well as transparency in fund distribution in research institutes in India.

  6. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI): Participants noted that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are considered during the hiring of women scientists in India, but minimal efforts are made to foster DEI post-hiring in institutes. A panelist shared an anecdote at a YIM from 10 years ago, where men left the room during a discussion on gender equity, highlighting the progress since then. To this a PDF remarked,

    We applauded the men who stayed in the room back then; we should also applaud the women who landed up in this room today. 

    The PDF satellite meeting concluded with closing remarks from Rashna Bhandari, a Board Member of IndiaBioscience, who provided a summary of YIM 2024 and expressed gratitude to the organisers, attendees, participants and speakers for their participation.