Published 2 November 2023 by Shatarupa Bhattacharya
#LINO23 Alumna Shatarupa Bhattacharya: Enthusiasm and Motivation Matter
Shatarupa Bhattacharya is currently in her 4th year as Senior Research Fellow at the School of Medical Science and Technology, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, India. Her research focuses on the genetic disorder thalassemia as well as on blood-borne infectious diseases such as malaria and toxoplasmosis. Having attended the 72nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, she shared her #LINO23 experiences and reviewed her career as a female scientist from India.
Starting from school life, I questioned the unanswered, my teachers used to get tired answering my questions. Very early in my life, I had decided that I wanted to pursue research, find answers to the unanswered. As I grew up, I found a huge fascination in biology. What intrigued me the most was the first time I saw a microscopic squamous cell. It is still a fresh memory in my mind. How captivating is that? To see a minuscule cell, which apparently is a part of our body! I followed my heart, and further took up biology for graduation and post-graduation. In those five years, I tried to gather some hands-on experience in different aspects of cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, biophysics, neuroscience, genetics, infection biology etc.
Contribution to Society
Finally, I decided to focus on topics which are plaguing the Indian society even today. In my heart, I knew that I wanted to contribute to the society, such that, years down the lane, mankind benefits from it. This led me to focus on thalassemia and parasitic infections due to blood transfusion, which are a huge burden on the Indian sub-continent, with no proper prognosis and further no therapeutic approaches as well.
I believe in science for population, and my long-term goal is to pursue science that benefits mankind; such that if one more virus like COVID-19 spreads, we do not have to wait months before a vaccine is developed. A subtle wish that I want to achieve someday along with my scientific career, is that of being a motivational speaker.
Take Aways from #LINO23
The invitation to the 72nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting was an important milestone for me. Before going for the meeting, I felt extremely overwhelmed since this was my first international academic meeting, and I was supposed to meet the best scientific minds across the globe. As soon as the tentative schedule of the meeting was released online, I jotted down the name of some of the Laureates, like Martin Chalfie, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Harold E. Varmus, Frances H. Arnold, Walter Gilbert, Morten Meldal and John O’Keefe, whom I wanted to interact with. I planned to address some questions to Harold Varmus during the partner event of Genetic Analyses for Prediction and Prevention of Diseases. Since I actively work in the field of genetics and infection biology, for the session on genetics I had already written down questions I wanted to ask, like how genetic information can revolutionise the clinical implications of diseases, and if the availability of genetic information to the common man is a prudent step. The partner event was one of my best takeaways from the meeting, an enriching talk followed by interactions with geneticists from different parts of the world, who had a common question to address, for example: How can genetics answer the unanswered questions of disease biology?
I also had questions to Emmanuelle Charpentier, since my future research needs the application of CRISPR; from designing of guide RNAs to the viability of CAS9 protein, I had a bunch of queries in my mind. Also, for the Mars Science Dinner, I had quite a few interesting topics to address with respect to healthy ageing. My most important learning from the interactions with the Laureates was the “Never Give Up” attitude. I felt it so relatable in the context of all the experiments that do not work out in my research. It is okay if your experiments do not work, what matters in the long run is the enthusiasm and motivation with which you turn up to work even after failure. I also realised the importance of loving the work which one is doing: it is impossible to relentlessly pursue something unless you genuinely believe in that and love to do that.
Teamed up With the Peer Group
Besides the motivation I got from the interactions with the Laureates, my #LINO23 highlight was the connections I made with other researchers. Even before the meeting, I teamed up with researchers from the Lindau community for the Sciathon, working on malarial drug resistance, and it was an extremely enriching experience to brainstorm with fellow mates from the same area.
In Lindau, I encountered more people from my field. I work partly in the field of thalassemia, and Ali Taher is one of the most important scientists in the field of clinical thalassemia. I met one of his students, Rayan Bou-Fakhredin, in Lindau for a wholesome discussion. His lab has a thalassaemic mice model, which to the best of my knowledge is not available in India, yet. Since my lab actively works in the field of thalassemia, I am in the process of contacting him for a potential collaboration to exchange ideas and work out if we can have those mice for our experiments.
I also met Avik Ray, a clinician from Havard, whose work focuses on epidemiology. Conversations with Eino Sojje from Finland were also quite enriching as we exchanged ideas on how interdisciplinary and translational medical research is the need of the hour.
Several months after the meeting, I am in active contact with few of the participants. A couple of days ago, one of the participants, whom I met during the meeting, started as an assistant professor and he texted to share this happy news. Probably this is what the Lindau spirit is, you connect and interact with fellow researchers during those five days only, but the bond that you make stays forever, such that you share happy endeavours as well as heart-breaking failures with them, knowing how easily they will relate to you, since they are on the same boat.
Not Just Another Meeting
A lot of potential participants have started getting in touch with me for advice on the application process and other relevant details. One heartfelt advice to them is: do not treat this application as a yet another academic meeting, rather while writing the application, keep in mind that a Lindau Meeting is a once in a lifetime opportunity to interact with people, about whom you have read in books and papers. Write the application with complete honesty, highlight your academic milestones and endeavours, how they are relevant to your participation in the meeting, and how you can contribute to science with your takeaways from the meeting.
For the participating future Young Scientists, who completed the evaluation process successfully, one advice I would like to give, which in fact I followed as well: Plan your meeting well in hand. Whom do you want to interact with? What questions do you have? In a five-day span, it’s impossible to meet and discuss science with all Laureates, so make the best out of it, by planning well from beforehand. If you plan and manage time well, you will indeed have time saved for meeting scientists who were not even on your list. That just adds to the random conversations with some Laureates who you had not much idea about. But every conversation could make a mark on you, and you will some day ahead in time, look back at those spontaneous discussions in reminiscence and reflect how that meeting changed your perspective towards life.