My tryst with scientific research: Part 2

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Pursuing doctoral research with a Montessori going kid is not a joke! And that too, with the standards set by the university, it was going to be still worse. But I thought it is still worth giving a try. I passed the entrance test and got the offer after going through a formal interview. The objectives set for my doctoral research were quite ambitious more like a small kid trying to reach the moon. I had by now understood that it is not a cakewalk though there is a common misconception that most of the research in India happens by and large only in a few elite institutions. But it is the fact that most of the research in our country is bookish. The outcome finds place in local or paid journals only or in a journal where the editor is known. The stress is more on acquiring the degree than doing something fruitful. This is one of the reasons that the data from the year 2010 shows that India’s share of world’s research output in the field of molecular biology is mere 2.1%.

I started researching on my topic rigorously. After lots of literature review, I decided to touch upon the latest ideas, experimentation and analytical techniques available in the field of microbiology. Even though I was very new to simple analytical techniques such as ANOVA etc., I decided to take up Response Surface Methodology (RSM) and Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) based studies to make my study more complete and comprehensive. The results of optimisation with such techniques were awesome. I communicated the data to good international journals and they agreed to review it. Reviewers had many queries, various changes to suggest, few shortcoming to correct. I went through all of them line by line, step by step and updated my work to match up to the international standards. And that paid off. My work was accepted to be published and it continued. There were journals who rejected my papers even though the acceptance rate of those journals was high and the paper quality was also not up to the mark. But it didn’t stop me from keep trying. And I continued. There was a lesson in the entire process. You do get a soft corner if are associated or known to a journal board. But then I didn’t have any God father or researcher or reviewer in this field so whatever I got, it was purely the reflection of my efforts and the standard of my work.

I gave my attention towards exploring deep inside the world of microbiology. I took the help of techniques like FT-IR, liquid and gas mass spectroscopy, NMR etc. and went into the depth of the cause and the effect. Under the guidance of my able guide, all the data was communicated to various prestigious journals and the same got published after few iterations. I attempted all my research objectives and the time just flew like anything.

In these valuable years, I helped many students mainly the post graduates, who used to come to me with their legitimate queries. For few, I also planned the research work and shared my experience with them. This I did for my own satisfaction as I never found anybody who could help me in my work when I got stuck. I always felt that sharing the knowledge makes it stay longer. An ordinary research gets converted to extraordinary when shared wisely with people of various disciplines around. Unfortunately, this was not the thinking of most of the researchers.

I also got exposure regarding the conferences in the subject area. I attended few of them. I participated in oral as well as poster sessions. The oral session boosted my confidence as every time, the audience had basket full of questions to ask. Few places I presented posters related to my work. I practiced for all these days together and like other curious participants, I too had an eye on the others’ work. Unfortunately, I never got any prize on any of these events despite being in the top five. May be I was not ‘fit’ for the prize. These events brought forward my disappointed character which felt sad whenever I didn’t get the prize or the incompetent won the prize. My colleagues consoled me by educating me of the fact that none of these conferences are unbiased when it comes to conferring the prize.

In the meantime, my guide had notified a post for research associate for her agricultural project she received from DST. Her earlier associate couldn’t do justice to the project, made it messy and left it in the lurch. My guide was also upset. Since I was helping the students and colleagues in that area too, I applied for the post and to my great surprise, the board selected me. Somehow the board was sure (and also my guide) that I will be able to proceed and complete the project. First time in my life I had an experience of earning the money, though the amount was not big as I was neither NET qualified nor a doctorate. I still had scanned and kept all those cheques which help me raise my pocket money.

Unfortunately during this time, my father was diagnosed with brain tumour. I was shocked hearing the news and wanted to fly to meet him but the project was not complete. I over stressed myself, brought the project to a logical end, communicated the data and then headed to see my father. He had become very feeble. Slowly the disease had taken away his voice too. I wanted to stay with him, but my doctoral work and the closure formalities of the project brought me back to Bangalore. Though I was shattered, I tried my best to fulfill all my professional commitments.

Parallely I applied for CSIR Research Associate. I got the call letter for the interview to be help in New Delhi. But in the mean time I got the most disturbing news of my father being passed away. I immediately rushed to Lucknow. I made myself tough and tried my best to console my siblings and my mother who was shocked in disbelief. Every minute was hard on us. But slowly we managed to come out of it. The interview date for RA was nearing. But, how can one attempt to attend the interview in such a grave situation? My next stepping stone in my pursuit towards research sank. However my personal front too was gloomy.

After a while I came back, but winding up my doctoral work looked to be a Himalayan task for me. I lacked concentration. But as they say, ‘time is the best healer’, slowly things started improving and coming on track. I finished my work and communicated all my data to various journals. Then I asked the management for presenting my work in a colloquium which is the common practice and a rule. I practiced for those 96 slides for hours together and delivered my personal best.

Now I had to submit my thesis within a period of one month. Since all the data was arranged as per the objectives and communicated, I didn’t find any problems in arranging it in the form of a thesis. The references were all available. The literature survey was clear. The figures were available, few of which already published. Keeping entire data in the form of folders naming them as objective 1, 2, 3 helped a lot. Then there was a folder for literature survey, a folder for the introduction and a folder for the references. The details of instruments, methods etc. were placed in appendices. The format for the thesis was available. The main test was the plagiarism check. This check was to be done by the university staff and they send the report to all concerned directly. I submitted my draft thesis and as expected, it passed the check n the very first time. The management gave a go ahead for binding and submission of the thesis. All my hard work and experience of this many years was now shrunk and put inside those pages.

The university had then sent the thesis for evaluation. They don’t tell that even to the guides and in general send the thesis to three independent evaluators. The process was supposed to take two to three months. I waited for the results. And then I got the news of my thesis getting all positive remarks and well appreciated by all the evaluators. I felt, my work had paid off. Then immediately the viva was fixed. Same evaluators were invited. I prepared aggressively for the viva and prepared for all minute details from media preparation to analysis, plotting etc.

And finally the viva day arrived. I was bit nervous but then it was do or die situation. I had to defend my thesis in front of internal as well as the external faculty. It started and went on well. The evaluators were satisfied. They told in the packed auditorium that they have learned a lot from my thesis and that they are not aware that private universities are doing such a commendable job. It was a big compliment for me. The evaluators declared that they recommend conferring doctorate on me!

After completion of the viva, when I reached to my guide’s room, I burst into tears. The efforts have paid off but my father was not alive to see that. My guide consoled me and congratulated me for my efforts. I too was relieved. There was a great sense of achievement. I felt like entering into a complex world of researchers. But, the same day I decided that I will take my research activities to new heights.

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