Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Away from home: One journey, three destinations




Away from home: One journey, three destinations

We are back with another interesting entry in our  ‘Away from home‘ blog series featuring promising young Indian postdocs working in foreign labs. The postdocs featured in the series recount their experience of working in foreign lands, the triumphs and challenges, the cultural differences and what they miss about India. They also offer useful tips for other Indian postdocs headed abroad. Join their online conversation using the #postdochat hashtag. 
Our ‘Away from home’ interactive map now features 40 bright Indian postdocs from around the world. Please feel free to suggest names of postdocs from countries and disciplines we haven’t covered yet.
Today we have our very first entry from France – Siddanagouda S Biradar – who works as a postdoctoral scientist at Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique. A PhD. from the State Key Laboratory of Crop Stress Biology in Arid Areas, Yangling, China, Biradar narrates his research journey in plant genetics through his enriching experiences in India, China and France.

 S S Biradar at INRA, France

Of whys and hows

I entered the science field by chance and not by choice. I was born and brought up in a small village called Padekanur in Karnataka, India. Because of our poor economic background, my parents struggled very hard to give quality education to all of their three children.
Since childhood, I was curious about everything – ‘Why’ and ‘How’ were my favourite questions. I joined M. Sc (plant biotechnology) at Institute of Agri-Biotechnology (IABT) in Dharwad, Karnataka where I learnt most of the basic molecular biology techniques.
For my PhD (molecular biology) I chose the State Key Laboratory of Crop Stress Biology in Arid Areas, NWSUAF, Yangling, one of the top agriculture universities of China. I worked on genome-wide analysis of WRKY transcription factors in wheat and barley. I was also actively involved in some other projects at the lab such as miRNA identification and validation in barley and wheat, SSR marker development and characterization for wheat and Crofton weed, BAC library construction and physical mapping of wheat 7DL chromosome. Our lab was a part of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC).
Currently, I am working as a post-doctoral scientist (CEFIPRA funded project) at Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), France which is one of the most reputed organizations for plants genetics and genomics research in Europe. It provides the basis for development of key molecular biology skills and to learn modern techniques with well-equipped labs, excellent guidance by senior researchers and complete freedom to explore new ideas. More importantly, we have a favourable research environment. My research focus is on improving shelf life in Cucurbits, making plants gynoecious which helps in hybrid seed production.

Namaste – Nĭ hăo – Bonjour

It was a smooth transition to France since I was in China for 4 years for PhD. Though weather was similar, there were a lot of cultural differences. France has large number of high profile international level universities/institutes and it is one of the best places for young researchers to start their career – the work culture is highly competitive. Unlike Indians and Chinese, the French enjoy their weekends to the fullest. Hard work, time management, discipline and work-life balance are things to be learnt from such an environment.

Don’t remain under-exposed

For Indian graduates looking for post-doc positions in France, my suggestion is try, try and try until you get a good opportunity. I know it is very hard to find a postdoc position abroad, especially for graduates from small universities in India like me, because of lack of exposure to modern techniques, lack of publications in high-profile journals and lack of guidance which makes us less competitive at international level.
Try to find a good lab which suits your research area, contact the professor, and tell him/her about your scientific skills. Don’t forget that past is always a stepping stone, not a milestone. So try and try again to get into a good lab. The postdoc experience definitely decides your future. No matter how many labs, scientists, research groups you try, get some postdoc experience. Always do your best. What you plant now, you will harvest later. In the end, it’s only the hard work, not chance or choice, that decide your destiny.

India calling

I miss many things about India. As I am herbivorous, food is a big problem. It’s hard to find pure vegetarian restaurants outside India. Of course, I miss my family and Indian friends.
Even though science has no boundaries, I want to come back and work in India soon. I want to utilize my experience, exposure and knowledge to improve the lives of the farming community in India. Unfortunately, there is not much value for young researchers like us in the Indian job market (specifically in plant biotechnology) because of which many graduates hesitate to come back and work in India. Let’s hope that India will create good working environment for plant biotechnology researchers in the near future.