YIM 2012 - Summary

Riding on the success of the previous 3 editions of the YIM, the 4th YIM was held in Lonavala between Jan 7-11, 2012. The theme for this meeting was applications of Physics and Mathematics in Biology. It also focused on mentorship and strategies for scientific success and featured novel sessions emphasizing the same. A brief summary of the unique sessions are given below:

Invited speaker talks

All the invited speakers were absolutely wonderful to listen to which manifested in the form of a packed auditorium. As one perceives from the list, our invited speakers were of the highest caliber and well respected throughout the world. Apart from communicating their work clearly, they interspersed science with their personal experiences to motivate everyone present to do good science. Topics ranged from basic biology to the use of Physics /Maths in biological research to applied research.

Lalitha Ramakrishnan talked importance of using a model system, about embarking on an hiterto unknown path and succeeding with help from collaborators and mentors. Dr. Ramakrishnan established Zebra Fish as a model to study immunity to tuberculosis. The fish is naturally susceptible to the Mycobacterium marinum, which causes TB and is pathologically very similar to Mycobacterium tuberculosis. She began her work amid much skepticism about the use Zebra Fish to study a human disesase. Over the years, her lab has deciphered key answers to various questions related to establishment of infection and progression of tuberculosis, thereby demonsting ably the power of the biological models used for research.
Adam Cohen passionately spoke about his work on using bacterial rhodopsins as indicators for changes in membrane voltage. Being a chemist and a physicist himself, his work served as an example as to how physical sciences can contribute tools to monitor cell dynamics.

Apart from her contribution towards understanding depression within the ambit of post-natal maternal care, Vidita Vaidya also is an example of a scientist who built the entire infrastructure needed to do her experiments from scratch. She talked not only about establishing a successful and productive research environment in India but also about her experiences of building and developing – animal facilities within TIFR, the trials and tribulations and finally sweet success.

Milind Watve gave an inspiring talk on integrating undergraduate teaching and research. He showed the big picture of science – free flow of ideas (katta sessions), taking on risky projects, the positives of involving undergraduates in research and not limiting oneself to a particular area of research.

Nobel laureates Mike Bishop and Venki Ramakrishnan gave an account of their personal histories alongside the work which eventually won them the Nobel Prize. Mike Bishop spoke about his journey from a small town in Pennsylvania to Harvard Medical School where he discovered the joy of research. Against the advice of his instructors and Dean, he decided to do research instead of clinical rounds in his final year of Medical school. When he took up the position as an assistant professor at UCSF, it was an unknown school. Mike Bishop and Harold Varmus used Rous sarcoma, a novel and unheard of model to understand the underpinnings of cancer. Through out his career, Mike followed his instinct or as he says “Follow your Nose”. David Baltimore, got ahead of him and discovered the Reverse Transcriptase, but he and Varmus, worked out the functioning of proto-oncogenes which finally led to a joint Nobel price for both Mike Bishop and Harold Varmus in 1989. His talk was an inspiration to follow what you believe in, communicate clearly, collaborate (even with a postdoc) and outreach to make everybody understand why one’s work is important. Venki talked about his trials and tribulations through PhD, PostDoc and initial years as an independent researcher. His talk similar to Mike’s was an inspiration to follow your instinct believe in your work and continue to find the ways and means to achieve while all else around you fails.... In them, many found a role model.

Meeting with the directors and administrators
Institutions were clubbed and PDFs moved from one to another spending fixed time at each table. This session was preceded by Directors talks where each institution, positions open, infrastructure etc were showcased to give an idea as to what was on offer. PDFs were able to obtain insights into how a particular department functions, what kind of colleague ship researchers share, how facilities are shared etc. This one-to-one interaction with institution heads people the chance to ask questions not normally voiced at say a panel discussion.

There were some tables that were more popular than others. Overall, this session was very informative not just from an information point but also figuring out the requisites for applying to institutes in India. Also, it was a great networking opportunity and discuss science. Many PDFs made contact for the first time with institutes and fixed interview talks there.

Dr. M.K. Bhan, Secretary Department of Biotechnology, painted an optimistic picture of the thriving world of science in India. While acknowledging that problems do exist, he concentrated on the solutions put forth by the DBT - new research Institutions (creation of research positions), creation of various granting schemes, changes in policy and administration to enable quicker processing of grants. Dr. Bhan was challenged by many struggling with the paperwork and bureaucracy within DBT - however as the Secretary rightly pointed out changes have begun to happen and hopefully they will continue in the path of more accessibility and transparency.

Presence of Dr. Kohi from the DST who manages the J.C.Bose fellowship as well representation from Wellcome DBT was helpful for all those who had various queries related either to their specific grants or the process of applying for one

Breakout sessions
Breakout sessions on “How to write a grant” and “Publication strategy” were well received by the participants. Several PDFs and YIs gave candid accounts of their personal experiences. The panelists included grant managers, senior PIs, Head of Departments and Nobel Laureates. They not only provided tips on how to go about writing grants but also information on the kind of grants available for young and prospective PIs. The panelists discussed cover letters, importance of good writing language, supporting material, preliminary data, covering all aspects of a successful grant application. Since some of them are on editorial boards of journals and function as grant reviewers, they gave an inside peek into what happens behind the scenes, what reviewers or editors look for and which are of utmost importance in preparation of a manuscript or submission of a grant.

There seemed to be a mixed bag of opinions - some positive and some negative. The positive reaction was due to with the availability of money for varied types of projects including risky ones while the negative opinions were due to the time lag between the submission of application and time of receiving the money. While there were some who portrayed a not so grim picture of doing science in India, others voiced out their apprehensions of the system.

We got to know during the grant logistics session that the majority of participants had used IBS to get information on grants as obvious information about eligibility criteria, deadlines along with links to host websites is organized in one place, reiterating the importance of IBS as a valuable information portal.

YI - PDF session

The meeting provided ample opportunity for the PDFs to talk with YIs. The PDFs met some great, inspiring YIs during the meeting who helped understand the ground reality of performing research in Indian institutes. It was also interesting to note the optimism among the YI’s in tackling issues that still plague science research in India.

Overall impact of YIM
Since many of the PDFs have lived outside of India for a long time and pretty much cut-out of the Indian research scenario, as one participant put it “YIM-2012 provided me the much needed crash course of information about opportunities available to me as a researcher and in the academia.” The meeting provided a much needed platform for Indian scientists to network and instilled in optimism amongst the PDFs about the prospect of doing life-sciences research in India. 



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