Published 4 April 2024 by Kamaljit Moirangthem

Ingredients for a Career in Science

‘Sustainable food for all’ is the topic Kamaljit and his colleagues are focussing on, as Nofima is a leading food, fisheries, and aquaculture research institute. Photo/Credit: Helge Skodvin/Nofima

Kamaljit Moirangthem has been living and researching in seven countries so far. He is settling into his new position as a permanent scientist at Nofima in Bergen, Norway. In this blog post, the #LINO22 Lindau Alumnus shares experiences of his scientific journey and his view on mentoring and mobility.

Do you know that salmon sushi is a successful Japanese-Norwegian collaboration? During lunchtime with my new colleagues, I learnt that about 30 years ago, the Norwegian food industry had the idea of exploring Japan as a new market for Atlantic salmon. Only then did salmon play any role in sushi, as Pacific salmon should not be eaten raw. Besides learning exciting and entertaining facts, meals with the team are the perfect chance to integrate into my new surroundings. This job fits perfectly into my CV – which does not contain a linear path – but aligns with my focus on sustainable food systems, upcycling and responsible management of resources from both seas and land (green and blue bioeconomy).

Early Interest in STEM

Kamaljit Moirangthem
Kamaljit recently started his new position in Norway. Photo/Credit: All profile pictures Lisa Gordeeva/Nofima

Growing up in India, STEM education was (very) promoted. I really loved science in school; later, my father encouraged me to study biotechnology. One of my earlier projects explored introducing new cash crops: essential oil crops such as lemongrass and citronella in my hometown, Manipur, where we grow a lot of rice. The research aimed to increase the rural economy using waste/unutilized lands. We investigated the techno-economic feasibility, such as the grass yield and oil extraction. The concept has grown today, and many SMEs support the region’s National Aroma Mission. This inspiring experience encouraged me to follow application-oriented science.

Having completed my Bachelor’s in Biotechnology Engineering, I moved to the UK for a Master’s in Crop Biochemistry and Entrepreneurship, followed by a PhD in Bioenergy/Biorefinery. After my PhD, I gained experience in several positions in different countries like Denmark and the Netherlands – an important milestone was a Marie Skłodowska Curie and Research Leaders 2025 Fellowship at Teagasc (Ireland) and the University of Helsinki (Finland) on upcycling the by-products of beer making into food. My international scientific journey was not without challenges, but I have been fortunate to have good mentors who volunteered their time to aid in these transitions.

Mentoring and Navigating My Scientific Journey

For me, good mentoring means guiding someone and helping them to find their unique path. Like most researchers, I received excellent mentoring from my PhD supervisor. In addition to research, I was encouraged to develop skills such as grant writing and building collaborations. Unlike most fellowships, I am glad my fellowship required a formal career mentor, an example of Irish ingenuity! I had my first formal career mentoring with Professor Simon McQueen-Mason (University of York, UK) to prepare me for a career beyond the fellowship. Tragically, he passed away in a cycling accident. Mentoring for Young Scientists was a vital focus of the Lindau Meeting in the summer of 2022. From here, Professor Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede (Chalmers University of Technology-CUT, Sweden) introduced me to Professor Yvonne Nygård (VTT, Finland; CUT and Cirkulär, Sweden), who kindly agreed to mentor me. Yvonne had benefited from supportive mentors and appreciated their importance.

As I am new in this field, Margrét Geirsdóttir (Matis, Iceland) kindly agreed to provide informal mentoring to help me understand the Nordic aquatic and marine research career paths. In my new role, Dr Tone Aspevik (Nofima, Norway) is my formal mentor and, along with the fantastic colleagues at Nofima, has been instrumental in my onboarding, integration and professional development plan. The support from my mentors and colleagues will always hold a special place in my journey.

A good mentor is someone you can open up to and carefully listens to your situation and challenges to help you navigate them. A mentor must avoid putting you in their position but explore a mentee’s unique circumstances and potential. As a mentee, you must be prepared for the meetings, respect confidentiality and keep mentors informed about your decisions.

A Worldwide Network and Support

Young Scientist with Laureate Venki Ramakrishnan in Lindau
With Nobel Laureate Venki Ramakrishnan

At Lindau, it was empowering to meet the Nobel Laureates. Going on walks and having lunch in small groups with the Laureates helped me learn about their journey and the ‘Human’ behind the scientist. The two most crucial pieces of advice were: To decide which of your ideas you should concentrate on – imagine yourself in ten years and ask which ideas would still motivate you. And second, do not neglect your social life!

Crowd of Young Scientists during the Bavarian Evening
During the Bavarian Evening

Besides the many conversations with Laureates, meeting brilliant Young Scientists from different fields across the globe was an incredibly enriching experience. Being connected to Lindau Alumni via social networks such as LinkedIn or the Lindau Alumni Network, it’s great to see many of us successfully reaching the next career stages. Thank you, Lindau, for this unique opportunity. I would also like to thank Sabine Dietrich and Jürgen Krampert, my host family, for extending Bavarian hospitality even after the event when I was unfortunately down with COVID-19.

As Young Scientists, we must build a support network of like-minded people to solve global challenges and help circumnavigate mental health issues in science. Your career should also include fond memories of amazing friends, supportive colleagues and pleasant exchanges with people who believe in you. Lindau showcased this very well. Moving between some of the world’s happiest (and warmest – in the heart) countries, my definition of home and family has evolved. In terms of food, these interactions were the ingredients that made me who I am today. I learnt about different life mantras of happiness and resilience: Hygge (Denmark), Koselig (Norway), Sisu and Sauna (Finland) and Craic (Ireland).

Regarding my career path, I moved and chose opportunities where my current skills overlap and to learn complementary skills. I wanted to see many countries but not as a tourist. Science gives me the mobility to realize this. In this regard, fellowships offer more flexibility. Research must remain an attractive career for all.

Blue mussels, rich in protein and capable of self-sustenance in the sea, could be a game-changer for sustainable growth in the Norwegian aquaculture industry. Lerøy has devised a method to separate the meat from the shells. At Nofima, we will transform the meat into high-quality protein feed ingredients using the ATC infrastructure. Then, we will subject it to rigorous analysis at BioLab before conducting further studies on its impact on fish feed. Photo/Credit: Helge Skodvin/Nofima

Sustainable Feed and Food, and Beyond

Norwegian brunost traditional brown cheese block
The Norwegian Brown cheese ‘Brunost’ made using the waste from cheese production (whey) is an example of how Norwegians try to make the best use of their resources. Photo/Credit: OlgaMiltsova/iStockphoto

I am thrilled to be part of Nofima, a research institute partly owned by the Norwegian government. One of the fascinating projects I’m involved in is ‘Mussel Up: Blue mussel protein for aquafeeds’. This innovative initiative, led by the Institute of Marine Research in collaboration with Nofima, Lerøy, NORCE, and the University of Stirling, aims to harness the potential of blue mussels as feed ingredients for salmon.

My colleagues make it easy for me to start my life in Norway. They are open-minded and love to tell me more about their projects and this enigmatic ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’. Hence, there are many outdoor activities I can experience for each season. I look forward to enjoying new local cuisines (low food miles), including some tasty salmon rolls under the mystical northern lights or hiking Mt. Fløyen with a cold ‘Solo’ and a pack of Kvikk Lunsj! What a fantastic way to experience new places through their cuisine and people!

View from the mountains around Bergen, Norway, over the city and the fjord.
Kamaljit has become very fond of Norway and Bergen: “Bergen, a UNESCO World Heritage city, is aptly described as a city with its feet in the sea, head in the skies, and heart in the right place. It also has moniker such as ‘the gateway to the fjords’, boasting colourful wooden architecture surrounded by seven mountains offering magnificent views.” Photo/Credit: dibrova/iStockphoto

Kamaljit Moirangthem

Nominated by the European Commission, Kamaljit Moirangthem attended the 71st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting on Chemistry in 2022. Originally from India, Kamaljit was instilled with the interest in science and engineering by his parents, Dr Ranjana Rajkumari Devi (retired Associate Professor, Botany) and Moirangthem Ibohanbi Singh (retired Civil Engineer). The scientist has worked on sustainable food systems at several research institutions in different countries. In February 2024, he started his position as a permanent scientist at Nofima, a leading research institute in Norway.