Published 19 June 2017 by Ulrike Böhm

“Learn from Your Failures,” Says Monika Patel

Interview with #LiNo17 young scientist Monika Patel

This interview is part of a series of interviews of the “Women in Research” blog that features young female scientists participating in the 67th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, to increase the visibility of women in research (more information for and about women in science by “Women in Research” on Facebook and Twitter). Enjoy the interview with Monika and get inspired.


Photo: Courtesy of Monika Patel
Photo: Courtesy of Monika Patel

Monika Patel, 28, from India is a PhD Student at the University of Delhi, India. Her PhD work is entitled “Base Assisted Chemo- and Regioselective C-N, C-S and C-O Bond Formation with Isotopic Labeling Studies.” Presently, she is working on a project on modifications of existing drug molecules that can decrease dosage levels.


What inspired you to pursue a career in science/chemistry?

I would have to say that my mentor Prof. Akhilesh K. Verma inspired me to pursue a career in chemistry. I met him during my master classes, where he taught us various organic reactions. He played a pivotal role in my career to develop interest in organic chemistry. At some point, whenever I stuck in the reaction mechanisms, he always supported me and explained me in a facile manner. Thereafter, I started appreciating the logical thought process and scientific reasoning principles involved in organic chemistry. There were many examples of chemical processes in day to day life that demonstrated simple chemistry. I found all of these a real connection to real world problems very appealing, which made me choose chemistry as a career.


Who are your role models?

There are two role models in my life: one is my mother and the other is my mentor. My professor Dr. Verma always says “Never Give up”. Both of them give immense strength and courage to face social and academic adversity. They taught me to cross all the huddles of my life and encouraged me to move ahead in my research career.


How did you get to where you are in your career path?

In my family, no one has a research background. My mom is a housewife, my father is a service man and my sister is an MBA. After high school, a guardian of mine suggested me to choose chemistry as my graduation subject and to specialise in organic chemistry for the master.

An important step was to join Prof. Verma’s Lab as a research trainee. At that point, I was not sure whether I would choose a research career. Gradually, I develop interest in searching new avenues in this field.

My mentor Dr. Akhilesh K. Verma is like a father figure to me. What I am today is because of him. No words can express my gratitude for him. Another important mentor is Dr. Hament Rajor. He is my graduation professor who encouraged me to choose the field of research under the supervision of Prof. Verma.

During my school times, I always participated in science projects. The miniature volcanic eruption model was one of my favourite activities. I have enthusiastically participated in various national and international conferences. I have also received a young scientist award from the Indian Chemical Society.

Every new beginning in life brings obstacles along with them. The optimisation of any reaction condition is the major challenge in the field of organic chemistry.


Photo: Courtesy of Monika Patel
Photo: Courtesy of Monika Patel


What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

The coolest project that I have worked on was hydroamination chemistry; it is a very interesting chemistry of nucleophilic addition reactions. We endeavour to develop molecules that play a vital role in many immunological and natural processes. A variety of enamines are found in many natural and synthetic compounds. They carry out interesting physiological and biological activities. The development of methodologies for the synthesis of such molecules and their transformation is a persistent research topic in organic and pharmaceutical chemistry.


What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself/your work?

I felt immense pride when my review entitled “Base-Mediated Hydroamination of Alkynes” was published in “Accounts of Chemical research”.

This is one of the prestigious journals of the American Chemical Society, and publishing an article in this journal was really tough as it requires a strong background and mastery in your research field.

My second moment of pride in my life was when I received a Young Scientist Award from the Indian Chemical Society. My complete research work has been presented in front of several experienced scientist and competing with other young researchers from all over India was an amazing experience.


What is a “day in the life” of Monika like?

I normally get into work between 8:30 and 8:45. First, I check my emails. I spend 40 percent of my day doing bench work and 60 percent at computer. Setting up for simulations, analysing data and reading/writing manuscripts. I have a quick packed lunch and then a group of us go out for a cup of tea at the University café. When I am doing column chromatography, I will work until I get a purified compound in good yields. The day in my life that I liked the most was when I submitted my PhD thesis. It was the happiest and most memorable day of my life. Many congratulations and good blessings were received on that day. The research has not come to an end; however, the four-year austerity has come to an end.


Photo: Courtesy of Monika Patel
Photo: Courtesy of Monika Patel


What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?

After the PhD, I would like to work as a postdoctoral researcher. I also really enjoy sharing my scientific knowledge with other people and spending time tutoring at various institutes. I want to be a successful scientist as well as teacher.


What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?

Besides research, I love to interact or chat with people from different cultures, traveling to new places and eating distinguished food that I haven’t eaten before. Exchange of new ideas and thoughts sparks enthusiasm in me. Traveling to new places freshens my mind, and I try to resolve the problems of life/career etc.


What advice do you have for other women interested in science/chemistry?

One important advice I would like to give to other women is to “Learn from your failures”. Women need to be dedicated, patient and strong enough to face failures. Science and research have no boundaries. The knowledge you have gained is not enough. The crave or greed of gaining knowledge should not end at any stage of life.


In your opinion, what will be the next great breakthrough in science/chemistry?

The next great breakthrough in science will be the introduction of a new subject termed “Biophyschem”, which is the merger of the three subjects Biology, Physics and Chemistry. For any new discovery, all three subjects are equally important.

Another breakthrough discovery will emerge from my new project of modifying existing drug molecules, which will decrease dosage levels in humans.


What should be done to increase the number of female scientists and female professors?

I think high school/graduates/post-graduate teachers and mentors should encourage female students at the initial stage of their career to choose research as their profession. I believe that the educators act as role models for developing interest among the students. Professors that lead a group could have the same amount of positions for male and female candidates. Female scientists and female professors have more commitments towards family and children, so I believe that support from the family and perks from the university/institution as well as balance between male and female candidates will definitely increase the number of female scientist.



Ulrike Böhm

Ulrike Boehm is a physicist and science enthusiast. She works as an optical scientist at ZEISS in Oberkochen, Germany. Previously, she did her Ph.D. studies at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen in the Department of NanoBiophotonics of Nobel Laureate Stefan Hell, followed by research stays in the US at the National Institutes of Health and HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus, developing tools for biomedical research. She is generally passionate about designing and building (optical) instruments to image, probe, and manipulate (biological) structures. Furthermore, she is passionate about science communication and open science and is a huge advocate for women in science.