RYIM Pilani: Fostering interdisciplinary research amid the winter in Rajasthan

Rohini Karandikar

The fifth Regional Young Investigators’ Meeting (RYIM) 2023 – 2024 took place at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani, Rajasthan from 18 to 20 January 2024. In spite of the freezing cold and foggy weather, the meeting saw a large number of attendees including mentors, young investigators, and students from all parts of the country. In this article, Rohini Karandikar shares her experience at the RYIM.

RYIM Pilani collage
Credits: Images by Rohini Karandikar, Shwetha C, and Sukriti Gujarati. Collage by Ankita Rathore.

The fifth Regional Young Investigators’ Meeting (RYIM) was organised by Balakumaran Chandrasekar, assistant professor, Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, and co-organised by Rajdeep Chowdhury (BITS Pilani), Sushmita Jha, IIT Jodhpur, and Bhawana Bissa, assistant professor, Central University of Rajasthan. The meeting was based on the theme Life Sciences and Interdisciplinary Research. Shwetha C and I represented IndiaBioscience at the meeting, and also conducted a Crafting Your Career workshop for students on 20 January 2024. 

Interdisciplinary research highlights from RYIM Pilani 

In the plenary talk Rajeev Varshney, Director, Defense Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS), presented an interesting piece of research aimed at improving the lives of soldiers living in extreme weather conditions. There could not have been a more appropriate talk (and ambient temperature!) to start a meeting based on the theme of interdisciplinary research. It was interesting to understand how anatomy, physiology, ergonomics, and adaptation– all play key roles in improving living conditions in extreme environments. In line with this, the talks that followed brought in different perspectives of interdisciplinary research, and particularly highlighted the importance of long-term and sustained collaboration with researchers across a wide-range of disciplines. 

In another talk, Dipankar Nandi, professor, Indian Institute of Science Bengaluru, discussed the development of the mRNA vaccine, a discovery that was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2023. Later, Abhijit Majumder, professor, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay shared his journey from being a student to an independent researcher, and the diverse expertise his lab members bring to the research lab. In another talk, Sushmita Jha, professor, Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur shared her experience as a young investigator who collaborates with clinicians for research on Retro-engineering brain tumours’. 

Abhijit Majumder giving a talk at RYIM Pilani. Credits: Rohini Karandikar.
Abhijit Majumder giving a talk at RYIM Pilani. Credits: Rohini Karandikar.

Poster sessions at RYIM Pilani 

Later in the day, in the poster session, thoughtfully organised in an open space where the sun shone bright, I was asked if I could be one of the judges.I happily agreed and while I enjoyed interacting with students presenting their work, the task of evaluating the posters was a challenge. I was particularly impressed to see the students’ confidence, even while presenting preliminary data from their work. The poster session reminded me of my days as a doctoral student when I had presented posters at various conferences. 

It felt like only yesterday I was there, explaining my poster to my peers”. Time certainly flies.

Networking and informal discussions at RYIM Pilani 

Dinner on the first evening was served on a lawn which was well equipped with fireplaces. Interestingly, the fireplaces became hotspots’ for the meeting participants to interact (a literal fireside chat!). The second day also saw several mentor talks, and discussions that enabled researchers and students to gain insights on charting a research career. 

By the end of day 2, I had started interacting with many students, thanks to several, well-spaced coffee and lunch breaks. At dinner on the second evening, I had the opportunity to engage with a few students, who were eager to know more about my journey from academia to education and science communication, and now science facilitation. They were keen to know about different formats of science communication – writing, visuals, podcasts, etc. It was heartening to see students’ zeal in experimenting with different modes of science communication, especially aimed at the grassroots! 

Sharing my experience once again took me down the memory lane, nearly 10 years ago, when I was navigating a career in science writing. At that time, many scientists donned the hats of a science communicator alongside their day jobs, and most still continue to do so. The requirement of science communicators (including writers, podcasters, illustrators, and translators among many others) is only recently being increasingly realised. 

Overall, the dinner table discussion was sort of an icebreaker for the Crafting Your Career (CYC) workshop scheduled for the next day. 

The CYC workshop by IndiaBioscience 

Students’ interactive approach made the CYC workshop engaging, despite a shivery Saturday morning. The workshop started with the first part on identifying skills, interests and values. We mainly discussed the importance of mapping these to align with the requirements of the career of one’s own choice. We later discussed skill-building and tips on making oneself stand out of the crowd. The part on networking was the most interactive one, where students were engaged in activities and discussion around the topic. 

CYC participants at RYIM Pilani. Credits: RYIM Pilani organisers.
CYC participants at RYIM Pilani. Credits: RYIM Pilani organisers.

We awarded the most interactive participants with Taylor and Francis (T&F) books. It was clear from our discussion that such workshops are much needed, and can be very useful exercises for researchers at different career stages. Feedback from the students and their questions during and after the CYC session were an indication of a successful workshop. Their feedback– both online and offline, brought me the joy no award or citation would match! One of the students mentioned how useful the workshop was to understand the strengths and weaknesses. She added, 

As an introvert who dreads interacting with people, this workshop has given me immense support and confidence to connect with people and peers.