This article is the second in a two-part series reporting on the proceedings of the 15th Young Investigators’ Meeting, which was held in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar, Gujarat, from 13 to 17 February, 2023. The meeting was attended by nearly eighty young researchers and post-doctoral fellows, in addition to several mentors, science professionals, funding agencies (national and international) and institutional representatives.
The Young Investigators’ Meetings (YIMs) serve as an ideal platform to facilitate comprehensive deliberations on topics related to the culture and practice of doing science in India. YIM 2023 had it all — insightful talks, seminars, and poster presentations. In addition to these, there were four exhilarating panel discussions and two interactive breakout sessions, each of which saw enthusiastic engagement by the YIM attendees. Here’s a brief overview of some highlights from these sessions.
Panel Discussion 1: Sustainable solutions for Indian ecosystem
Moderator: Bhuvan Pathak, Ahmedabad University
Panellists: Hema Somanathan, IISER Thiruvananthapuram; Krishnaveni Mishra, University of Hyderabad; Roop Mallik, IIT Bombay; Tamal Das, TIFR Hyderabad
The panellists discussed various challenges and solutions related to sustainability in the Indian ecosystem. Malik shared that access to information has become easier and that discussions have extended worldwide with the help of Zoom. Mishra noted that awareness has increased due to Twitter, and the amount of data required to write a paper has also increased. Somanathan discussed the challenges of fieldwork and emphasised the importance of recognising early on whether a student wants to do fieldwork or not. Das emphasised the importance of staying up to date with new technologies and new skills. Malik suggested involving relatively senior students and PDFs in writing grants. The panel discussed the age limit for grants in India and suggested that young PIs should have more opportunities to apply.
Panel Discussion 2: Building a diverse funding portfolio
Moderator: Sharmistha Majumdar, IIT Gandhinagar
Panellists: Guntram Bauer, HFSP; LS Shashidhara, NCBS; Madhvi Joshi, Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre; Vandana Gambhir, IISER Pune
The panel discussion focused on building a diverse funding portfolio, with a particular emphasis on the sources of government and non-government funding in India. Bauer and Joshi discussed the importance of young PIs exploring diverse funding sources and provided insights into the different types of grants available, including those offered by state governments, philanthropic organisations, and international funders. Shashidhara highlighted the need for grant managers in institutes to stay updated about funding opportunities and for researchers to align themselves with the mandates of funding agencies. Gambhir emphasised the need to be proactive and collaborative in seeking funding opportunities, and the discussion concluded with tips on managing funds after receiving grants.
Panel Discussion 3: Engaging with public health challenges
Moderator: Rashna Bhandari, CDFD
Panellists: Anirban Banerjee, IIT Bombay; Kapil Maithal, Zydus Lifesciences; Karishma Kaushik, SPPU; Rakesh Mishra, TIGS
The panel discussion discussed various aspects of public health, including the public health research in different settings, such as basic research institutes, universities, responsibilities of institutes in promoting public awareness, and collaborating with public health industries. Banerjee raised the concern regarding the need of trained personnel for data analysis from bioinformatics. Kaushik expressed the need of creating public awareness through strong tie-ups between research labs and companies, and making scientific data and material available to all. Maithal talked about the importance of meticulousness in experimental protocols, transparency, and the need for bio-banks in India. The conversation touched upon the role of ecologists in public health and the link between behaviour and translation at the industry level. The panel emphasised the need for everyone working in biology to contribute to the public sector to improve general public health.
Panel Discussion 4: Science and society
Moderator: Aditya Parekh, IndiaBioscience
Panellists: Carsten Janke, Institut Curie; Sarah Iqbal, FAST India& SaS; Smita Jain, Cactus Communications; Suhel Quader, NCF
The panel discussion focused on the importance of scientists communicating their work to the public and the challenges and benefits of doing so. Quader emphasised the need to connect with audiences and said that it is similar to solving a science problem by identifying the problem and finding ways to reach out to the audience. Janke noted that many people in science assume that the public understands what they are talking about which is not true. Expressing the need for institutional contributions and the importance of policy changes for the growth of the science communication domain in India, Jain said, “we are still not there yet”. Iqbal spoke about institutionalising science communication and acknowledged the identity issues faced by science communicators. The discussion highlighted the need for more efforts to increase public engagement in science and the need for policy changes to recognise and promote the value of science communication.
Many people in science assume that the public understands what they are talking about which is not true.
The intention behind the breakout sessions was to provide an opportunity for attendees to engage in informal, semi-structured discussions and brainstorming sessions about issues of interest. The participants were segregated into four groups, comprising a diverse mix of young investigators (YIs), postdoctoral fellows (PDFs), mentors, organisers, and special invitees. Each group was assigned a specific set of topics to discuss and develop actionable suggestions on.
Two breakout sessions were held during the meeting, focused on‘Setting and maintaining boundaries’ and ‘Building your identity’ as a young researcher. Some of the key takeaways that emerged from these discussions are outlined below:
Drawing boundaries: One common challenge was setting boundaries between colleagues, especially when working collaboratively on a project, particularly if that colleague is also a friend. Participants discussed work-life balance, particularly when living on campus and emphasised that it should not be expected for individuals to work late nights or be available at all times.
Committee work: Committee work was also discussed as an area where setting boundaries was difficult, particularly when there were few female faculty members on campus and a lack of power to choose at this career stage.
Challenges as a YI: The challenges of setting up a new lab as a young PI were highlighted and it was suggested that it is preferable to first establish the lab before focusing on collaborations and networking. Participants agreed that constantly changing institutes as a young PI is not advisable. They noted that the administration needed to change to better support YIs and reviewing metrics need to be revisited.
Communication channels: Participants noted that communication channels, which had been blurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, needed to be re-established with clearer boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance. For instance, many found WhatsApp groups to be intrusive, and Slack and scheduled texts were suggested as alternatives. Furthermore, online meetings with colleagues in different time zones were also found to be challenging.
Carving your identity: Figuring out a unique research question or niche at a global level is crucial in establishing one’s identity as a researcher. This can help in setting the direction for the lab and attracting potential collaborators and students.
Social media: Using social media as a tool for collaboration has become increasingly popular in science. While those who do not use social media are not necessarily at a disadvantage in terms of forming a research identity, social media can be a helpful tool for building a network, increasing visibility for one’s work, and potentially attracting students.
PDF Satellite Meeting
Over the course of the last one and a half days, the PDF Satellite Meeting was held. The institutional representatives in attendance at PDF Satellite Meeting encompassed a diverse range of affiliations, including IISERs, IITs, research institutions, private universities, and state universities. The meeting provided an opportunity for the forty post-doctoral fellows attending the conference to directly engage with institutional representatives and pitch their scientific ideas to them. Each post-doctoral fellow was given the opportunity to present their research in a 5‑minute lightning talk, followed by a poster session. In turn, the institute representatives gave a presentation highlighting the key characteristics of their institutions, as well as an overview of the hiring process and the candidate profile they were seeking. Additionally, the satellite meeting included a moderated open discussion between institute representatives and post-doctoral fellows, where several issues were raised. These included the age limits on hiring, venturing into new interdisciplinary research fields, the need for collaborations, mentorship during the hiring process, and the necessity for more transparent evaluation procedures and hiring.
A PDF asked the panel of institutional representatives about the common mistakes that young investigators make when starting a lab. The room erupted in laughter, but the responses provided some valuable insights for budding scientists. Ullas S Kolthur, TIFR Hyderabad advised the researchers returning to India and said, “Get over the reverse culture shock as soon as possible”. Mitali Mukherjee, IIT Jodhpur and Usha Vijayaraghavan, IISc Bengaluru both stressed the importance of developing a tough skin when it comes to criticism. Starting a lab is a daunting task, but with the right mindset and approach, it can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
Do not join the rat race.
In the concluding remarks of YIM 2023, Rashna Bhandari provided a summary of the event and expressed gratitude to the organisers, attendees, and speakers. The vote of thanks was delivered by Shantala Hari Dass on behalf of IndiaBioscience and the event organisers.