Exploring the triple helix of collaboration in education, research, and translation at RYIM Kolkata

Ankita Rathore & Debraj Manna

The fourth Regional Young Investigators’ Meeting (RYIM) 2023 – 2024 took place at Presidency University, Kolkata, from 06 to 08 December 2023. RYIM Kolkata was aimed at nurturing academic exchange aligned perfectly with the theme Education, Research and Translation: The Triple Helix of Collaboration.”

RYIM Kolkata title image
Glimpses from RYIM Kolkata. Collage credits: Ankita Rathore.

The idea of RYIMs was planted during the tenth National Young Investigators’ Meeting (YIM) in 2018 to address the need for more connected local scientific networks in India. Kolkata emerged as one of the initial cities where the concept of Regional Young Investigators’ Meetings (RYIM) was introduced. This led to the inception of the first RYIM Kolkata chapter in 2019.

This fourth RYIM 2023 – 2024 held at Presidency University, Kolkata, is a multi-institutional effort by the dedicated team of organisers: Shubhra Majumder, Chandrama Mukherjee, and Somsubhra Nath from Institute of Health Sciences, Presidency University; Arnab Gupta, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) Kolkata; Shilpak Chatterjee, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB); Nirmalya Sen, Bose Institute; Biswarup Basu, Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute; and Arunima Sengupta, Jadavpur University.

RYIM Kolkata, which took place from 06 to 08 December 2023, focused on the theme Education, Research and Translation: The Triple Helix of Collaboration.’ In this report, we highlight the key takeaways from the various talks and discussions held during the conference.

Pre-conference workshop: Crafting Your Career (CYC)

On the first day of the RYIM Kolkata, as a pre-conference event, Ankita Rathore and Arushi Batra from the IndiaBioscience team conducted a Crafting Your Career (CYC) workshop for master’s and doctoral students. The workshop focused on crucial industry skills like interview etiquette, elevator pitches, and crafting CVs and resumes, all aimed at helping participants stand out in the job market. As a reward for active engagement, three participants were given science books sponsored by Taylor and Francis (T&F) at the end of the workshop.

IndiaBioscience team with the three participants from CYC at RYIM Kolkata. Credits: Ankita Rathore.
IndiaBioscience team with the three participants from CYC at RYIM Kolkata. Credits: Ankita Rathore.

Participants responded positively, enjoying the interactive elements and describing the sessions as both enjoyable and enlightening. When discussing their takeaways from the workshop, one participant mentions,

I understood the importance of cold emailing,” along with the significance of crafting an elevator pitch before a conference and its practical benefits.

Insights by key speakers

During her inaugural address, Anuradha Lohia, Manovikas Kendra, reflecting on the historical journey of IndiaBioscience since its establishment in 2009 at the first YIM, emphasised the pivotal role of history in shaping the future for young investigators and researchers. Lohia underscored the significance of mentorship, advocating for a culture of sharing and collaboration within the Indian scientific community to foster its growth. Following this, Arushi Batra, IndiaBioscience, outlined the various initiatives of IndiaBioscience, inviting engagement from the life science community. Anand Bacchawat, Indian Institute of Science Education & Research (IISER) Mohali, during his plenary talk, shared his research trajectory, starting as an independent Principal Investigator (PI) at IMTECH, Chandigarh.

Soumya Swaminathan, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, and Former Chief Scientist of WHO, delivered the keynote lecture on the second day sharing her career trajectory. She noted the scarcity of medical professionals venturing into research, until encountering the vibrant research lab of MK Bhan, which sparked her deeper interest in research. Swaminathan spoke about the need to acknowledge different life stages for women in job descriptions, referencing WomenLift Health, a program advocating for women in global health leadership. Highlighting the importance of empathy and effective science communication, she says,

We may find it very strange why someone is not taking a vaccine. But having the empathy to first understand why they don’t want to take that and then helping them understand why it [taking a vaccine] is important is crucial.

The YIs and their journeys

Arnab Gupta, IISER Kolkata, highlighted key elements for establishing oneself as a PI: hiring a lab manager, essential ingredients like students, postdocs, funding, and infrastructure, and fostering collaborations. He encouraged researchers not to shy away from discussing their work, as these conversations often spark collaborations. Gupta noted that collaboration thrives on breaking barriers in scientific discourse. Following this, Arindam Mondal, IIT Kharagpur, delivered a talk titled Reentry into fellowship: Science kept me going,’ shedding light on how science played a crucial role in keeping him motivated despite challenges.

On the second day, Arunima Sengupta, Jadavpur University, talked about her journey to become an independent researcher after pursuing her PhD abroad and returning to India. She opened her address, stressing the need for money for every young investigator to start a lab. She says, If you have money, you can automatically build your own lab.” 

The invited talks featured diverse expertise: Sumit Mandal, Presidency University, shared insights from his marine biology journey, focusing on coral population decline and ocean acidification in siridao sandflats. Debojyoti Chakraborty, CSIR-IGIB, discussed the global landscape of CRISPR-based gene editing, highlighting FELUDAs development for diagnostics and projects targeting sickle cell anaemia and eye disorders. Anindita Seal, University of Calcutta, delved into her research on an endophytic nitrogen-fixing yeast during her talk.

Arushi Batra giving a talk about IndiaBioscience. Credits: Ankita Rathore.
Arushi Batra giving a talk about IndiaBioscience. Credits: Ankita Rathore.

Guidance by mentors

In her mentor talk, Beena Pillai, CSIR-IGIB, addressed the significance of mentorship, advocating against basing hiring decisions solely on ranks or impact factors but instead on the quality of work. Reflecting on her experience working with microarrays during her PhD, she highlighted the power of unconventional decisions in yielding exceptional outcomes. Pillai drew attention to the distinction between puzzle solving vs problem-solving,’ emphasising the lessons gleaned from her mentees in navigating challenges with a proactive and comprehensive approach. The next day, Arindam Moitra, NIBMG, Kalyani, took us through his research and engagement across the community. Talking about the path to success’, he said, Nobody can teach you to be a leader, you have to earn it. Do good work. And it will come.”

The special talks featured insights from Sanjay Ghosh, University of Calcutta, emphasising the pivotal role of ethics in academia, drawing from his own experiences to underscore the significance of ethical conduct in research. Additionally, Santosh Chauhan, CSIR-CCMB and ILS Bhubaneswar, highlighted the necessity of balancing basic sciences with translational or clinical research. Chauhan cautioned against pursuing clinical research without a solid foundation laid by basic scientists and stressed that impactful science can emerge from any institute, irrespective of its reputation, emphasising the importance of quality research over institutional prestige.

Key takeaways from the panel discussions

Across the two-day meeting, six panels delved into varied topics. The first panel revolved around collaborative interdisciplinary research and job opportunities in Kolkata, emphasising the importance of expertise-driven collaborations to solve real-world problems. The panellists were Nihar Ranjan, IIT Kharagpur; Ranjan Sen, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS); Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay, Indian Statistical Institute (ISI); Subenoy Chakraborty, Jadavpur University. Discussions highlighted the necessity of breaking silos in research and fostering multidisciplinary approaches, while also focusing on the need for accessible facilities in experimental biology. 

Glimpses of a panel discussion, mentor talk, and round table discussion at RYIM Kolkata. Credits: Ankita Rathore.
Glimpses of a panel discussion, mentor talk, and round table discussion at RYIM Kolkata. Credits: Ankita Rathore.

The second panel on the first day was centred on the implementation of NEP 2020 in academic institutions. The panellists included Bidisha Sinha, IISER Kolkata; Kousik Pramanick, Presidency University; Partha Pratim Ray, Jadavpur University; Rudra Prasad Saha, Adamas University. There were discussions about Technology Innovation Hubs and their role in translational research, incubation for startups, and fellowships. On the second day, four insightful panels unfolded. The first panel featured Rahul Roychoudhury, Saroj Gupta Cancer Centre & Research Institute, Kolkata; Soma Banerjee; IPGMER; Aninda Halder, AIIMS Kalyani; Raghunath Chatterjee, ISI Kolkata; and Kushal Gupta, AIIMS, Kalyani. The panel discussed the collaboration between academia and medicine for future scientific and medical development. 

The next panel discussion included Sayantan Banerjee, AIIMS Kalyani; Dipyaman Ganguly, CSIR-IICB; Farhad Ahmed, AIIMS Kalyani; Aniruddha Basu, AIIMS Kalyani; and Suman Kanungo, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, Kolkata. Banerjee emphasised emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, such as COVID-19 and Nipah; antimicrobial resistance; and neglected tropical diseases as the upcoming health risks. Ganguly delved into the intricacies of Nature vs Nurture’ and, along with Banerjee, spoke about the importance of epigenetic changes. Basu discussed mental health issues and the rising screen time among people while also noting the shift in India’s opioid use from natural to synthetic sources. Ahmed focused on anaemia, emphasising the need to investigate genetic and epigenetic factors instead of mere nutritional supplementation.

In another panel discussion, Birendranath Banerjee, inDNA; Subrata Chattopadhyay, TCG Life Sciences Pvt Ltd; Madhura Lohia, Co-Founder of Organic Mandi; Mahuya Hom Choudhury, West Bengal State Council of Science & Technology; and Ena Ray Banerjee, University of Calcutta, discussed career transitions between industry and academia. The final panel, moderated by Majumder, discussed Developing the triple helix: Game plan to establish centre for excellence for advanced proteomics and metabolomics research’ with panellists: Soumen Manna, SINP, Kolkata; Kaushik Biswas, Bose Institute; Arindam Maitra, NIBMG, Kolkata; Rahul Das, IISER Kolkata; and Biswadip Das, Jadavpur University. The panel covered the accessibility of instrumentation facilities in their institutes, institutional policies, and information dissemination regarding their charges and operability.

Round table discussion among participants at RYIM Kolkata. Credits: Ankita Rathore.
Round table discussion among participants at RYIM Kolkata. Credits: Ankita Rathore.

Round table discussion among participants 

The roundtable discussion delved into multifaceted aspects crucial for researchers, encompassing job opportunities, grant writing, establishing new labs, and effective student mentoring. Participants shared personal journeys toward attaining independent research positions, shedding light on the challenges and pathways. They discussed the complexities of obtaining initial research grants and the significance of networking and platforms in establishing fruitful collaborations. The conversation spanned various experiences, offering insights into navigating the landscape of academia and research, aiming to guide and empower emerging researchers in their pursuits.