Month: December 2015

Meet a Bioinformatics student who met “30 Nobel Laureates”

 

  1. The Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting with Prof. Walter Gilbert who developed the DNA Sequencing methods
  2. Camel ride at the Canary islands
  3. Reindeer Safari in Lapland
  4. My Master’s Graduation ceremony

Let me first start with my childhood. I was born in Madurai and brought up everywhere. As my father was a bank employee, he used to get transferred every 2-3 years and we had been relocating with him. I studied in many different schools all over Tamil Nadu, which indeed gave me an opportunity to mix up with people from diverse backgrounds. Thanks to my mother, wherever I studied, she encouraged me to participate in all the competitions, which helped me to boost up my confidence.

When I was in my 10th class, we had a discussion about “Which group to choose and where to study?” Well, the direct questions were, if I should become a doctor or an engineer. I actually liked both computer science and Biology. Since we have a doctor (uncle) and 3 pharmacists (grandfather, uncle and aunt) in our family, everyone motivated me to choose biology. After endless discussions, I decided to study biology. So, my fate was decided then and everyone was looking forward to seeing me as a doctor. I was putting my utmost efforts to become a doctor. Unfortunately, my board exam marks were not as good, as I expected. Well, I secured 97.5, but the cut-off that was needed to get a MBBS seat under the government quota was 98.5 back then. Many of my relatives told me to get into some engineering college. Just because, I didn’t get a medical seat, I didn’t want to choose some random course and be happy with my life. My father always says, “Never do something that you don’t like”. I was very stubborn in my decision.

I took a break, stayed home for 1 year and wrote all possible medical entrance tests both at the state and All India level. I also used this time efficiently to interact with as many doctors and engineers as possible. One thing I figured out from their conversations was “They decided to become an engineer or a doctor, just because their parents wanted them to do so or their friends and relatives motivated them or they didn’t know what to do and chose to become an engineer”. After hearing their stories, I decided that I don’t want to be one among the crowd and I should do something different. At that point, I was happy that I didn’t get a medical seat and I didn’t choose some random engineering course that I was not interested in. Just to warn you that this is not the overall statistics. It is my perspective based on the few conversations; I have had with the engineers and doctors. I explored all possible career options with the help of resources that were available online and in newspapers. One morning, when I was having coffee with my father, he told me that he came across a course called “Bioinformatics – Solving problems in Biology with the help of computers”. I got so excited, as I wanted to study both biology and computer science. When I looked into career options for this course, I didn’t find many job opportunities in India. Since I liked the course curriculum, I opted for doing B.Tech Bioinformatics in SASTRA University. This is how I ended up in Bioinformatics.

When you have a passion for something, you will definitely excel in what you are doing. I was very happy during my B.Tech and kept my eyes open looking for opportunities. I went to many conferences, visited industries, attended many research trainings and worked as a summer research fellow.  I enjoyed all these experiences and wanted to be a Master in Bioinformatics.  I was in a dilemma with the questions popping up in my mind, “Where to do Masters? How to promote my career further ?”

When I was doing my 3rd year B. Tech, I got a chance to attend a Career Abroad program conducted by Mr.Sivakumar and Ms.Savitri in SASTRA. That was a life changing experience and I got to know about the Masters’ programs in many different universities across the globe. I was so excited and started preparing for GRE. In the mean time, I got placed in an IT company. I didn’t want to take up the job because I wanted to do masters. But then, the financial situation was not so favorable to start masters immediately after my Bachelor’s degree. Even my parents advised me to take up the job to gain some experience. To be frank, they were afraid to send me abroad initially. After all this drama, I started working with the intention that I will quit after 2 years. Though I took up the job, I used to think every single day that I should study Bioinformatics and shouldn’t work as a software engineer. I couldn’t handle this after 1 year. I made a bold decision to quit my job and apply for Masters.

Though my initial plan was to do my masters in US, I got to know from my friends that there are many exciting opportunities for Bioinformaticians in Europe. So, I sent my applications mainly to the universities in Scandinavia and Switzerland.  I had to wait for 6 months to get the decision from the universities.  I had no clues what to do during these 6 months and approached Shiva sir about getting a position in Trichy Plus. He immediately agreed and I started working there. I would say that this was one of the best experiences in my life. I really enjoyed interacting with students and helping them with their career growth. In fact, this job made me realize that communication skills are my strongest assets. Thanks to Siva sir and Savitri mam for being the mastermind behind the success of many students from Trichy. I feel so great to be a part of TRICHY PLUS.

Finally, after waiting for 6 months I got the admission letters from all the Universities, I applied. I chose University of Helsinki over other Universities because the Masters program is really flexible in Finland i.e you are free to do any course you like during your Masters, including the ones from other departments. Moreover, the quality of education is really good in Finland and it is free. Having all this in mind, I took the major step forward to accept my admission and moved to Finland.

Finland is very different from India, both climate-wise and culture-wise. I was shocked in the beginning. But then within a year, I got adapted to everything with the help of my friends.  Gradually, things turned out good and I got an opportunity to do my Masters thesis in a Pharma company, where I worked on developing new computational methods to assist the design of selective drugs for cancer targets. Overall, I was very happy with my research experience and wanted to continue further.

With the support of my research supervisors, I started a PhD in Computational Drug Discovery at the University of Helsinki in 2012. Even though I have been to many conferences during my PhD, attending the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting, where I got an opportunity to meet “30 Nobel Laureates” in the field of Medicine and Physiology was a life changing experience. The mind-blowing speeches by the great legends changed the way I think and do research. This was indeed the happiest and the best moment in my life. Though my PhD journey has been quite successful so far, I faced many challenges.  The moment I think that my research is contributing to improve the strategies used in drug design, all these problems disappear like passing clouds.  As a PhD student, I think it’s just the beginning. I am looking forward for much more challenges and opportunities.

In addition to doing research, I have been traveling quite a lot for the past 5 years.  Every trip has been a memorable one, because of the interesting personalities I met during these trips. You learn only by experiencing things and meeting people. Whenever you get a chance to travel, utilize it.

Something that I learnt during these years, “Always pursue your passion. Success will follow you”. Whenever you are confused about making a decision, take a short break, devote some time for yourself and do what you think is right. Sometimes, it is good to satisfy others. But it’s your life. You need to decide, what is good and what is bad for you.

You can contact Vigneshwari at vignesh.bioinfo@gmail.com
https://fi.linkedin.com/in/vigneshwari-subramanian-10931749

Advertisements

Ulysses returns – story of the Marine Engineer, Mr.Jagadhees

“To be who you are and to become what you are capable of becoming – that is the ultimate aim of life”.

I was born on the 2nd August 1989 in Dalmiapuram. It is a self-sustained township near Trichy,well known for the cement plant -Dalmia cements. My father works there as a fitter. He is my frame of reference for discipline and character-building.

“All that I am or hope to be, I owe it to my angel mother” quipped Abraham Lincoln. The statement is absolutely true in my life. My mom is my guardian angel. She is the one who taught me through her wisdom, the right principles of life.

Ever since my childhood, I wanted to be great in everything I do and I was allergic to being average. I did well in academics and sports. I took part actively in all extra-curricular activities like drawing, writing and singing and left no stone unturned. I had the mindset that ‘if someone has to be the best at something, why can’t that someone be me’.

I cherish my positions as ‘School pupil leader’ and ‘President of literary Association’ as some of my biggest honours that I’m thankful for even today. As I passed out of high school, the management honoured me with the title “THE STAR OF HONOUR”, which is the highest title given to the best student of the batch.
   I passed out of higher secondary school with first mark in Biology group. My School is the place which identified my latent abilities and gave me the confidence that I could achieve anything I put my mind to.

Graduation time came and most of my batch mates chose various branches of engineering, a few took to medical studies and others chose accounts and banking. In my home town, there had never been a person who had pursued Marine Engineering before me. I wanted to be that first person to walk boldly into the unknown. I heard that it is a laborious profession being one of the most dangerous and challenging.
I never wanted a career that involved sedentary work like sitting in front of a PC all day long. Indolence is death to me. I was so interested to understand how machines work, their mechanisms and troubleshooting. I was an introvert spending most of my time with books and inspiring ideas, more than people. With all these puzzle-pieces falling in place, it struck like a chord that Marine Engineering was tailor made for me.

Being born in a middle class family, if I pursued a Marine engineering degree, my father would face huge financial constraints. Yet my father was so supportive. I still remember the day of my college interview, when dad put his arm around my shoulder and said “if this is what you aspire to be, go ahead. Don’t worry about anything else; you are going to be great”.

I finished my graduation with flying colours and distinction in many subjects, got selected in campus and joined a company called Wallem Ship Management in 2011 as a Junior Engineer.
Going around the world was my dream and the first foreign soil was Germany. I sailed 9 months in the Atlantic on a bulk carrier.

We marine engineers, have exams conducted by Merchandile Marine Department, Directorate general of Shipping & Govt.of India, which issues us the C.O.C – the certificate of competency based on our operational and management requirements at sea.
After one long year of struggle, I cracked one of the toughest exams in India and became fourth engineer in my company. If you ask any Merchant Navy officer, he will tell you horrible stories of clearing those heart-crushing oral and written exams.
I have been sailing since then and currently I am working inboard a Norwegian car carrier ship – NOCC Pamplona.

Life at sea is completely different and is very difficult for a land-lubber to comprehend. But for a big-time loner like me, looking at the Sea and the sky every morning is a heavenly experience.
I have been to many countries like Columbia, Venezuela, Brazil, United States, England, France, Denmark, Morocco, Lithuania, Singapore, Algeria,  Turkey, China, Japan, Korea…the list is too big.

Being a marine engineer gives me enormous pride because I am one of the five technical heads working onboard colossal ships that plough through the oceans of the world. My work circumscribes great responsibilities and being accountable for the smallest operational changes. Miss one plug, the size of your thumb nail, and your ship can sink to hit the Sea bed in a few hours. That is one of the reasons why It can go like “for the want of a shoe nail, a battle was lost” and why seafarers are highly paid with all the luxuries and allowances. . Shipboard operations are very critical and it takes a skilled engineer to handle crises, make decisions quickly and run these mega structures in a safe, seaworthy and economical manner.

“Don’t just read about great men of history, seek what they sought”.- those lines keep reverberating in my mind every day.

I am an ardent reader and I love reading motivational books and biographies of great men. I believe that time is the most precious asset in life and I hate wasting time. Our life is short and learning all the skills. I possibly can is my tagline. I have been exercising since 2008 and physical fitness is of paramount importance to me. The body is a temple and clean habits keep it clean. The gym is my church and that’s where I go everyday to get blessed. I forge my mind more than the body when I work out.
I play cricket , basketball ,table tennis and many other games even on the ship. Pencil drawing and water-coloring are my favorite pastimes.

My greatest dreams are to become a Chief Engineer in my field and a great motivational speaker. To set the snowball rolling, on my 26th birthday I joined a club called Trichy Toastmasters. Little did I know then, that this club would transform me into an extrovert and my beloved club members encouraged me to start my journey in public speaking.

I want to explore the range of possibilities of my mind and body. I didn’t know that I could dance well until my first year of college. I didn’t know I could excel in public speaking until few months back. I didn’t know I could play a guitar until last month. We are powerful beyond measure. The secret is to open our eyes quickly and know that as a fact.

Throughout my journey I have faced a lot of critics and people who didn’t believe in my dreams. Right from school days I had peers who would try to belittle me. I learnt in a later stage of life that it is necessary that when you have an uncommon desire to become great and walk away from average, you will have negative talkers around you but the secret is to silence them with your achievements.
I strive and thrive on challenges no matter how big and approach life with a different game-plan.
Journal writing is also a favorite pastime because I believe that if your life is worth thinking about it is worth writing about. Discipline gives you strength. Hard work and single minded focus are my biggest maxims.
Today when I face my audience I tell myself “I am not an entertainer, I change lives”. I tell youngsters “everyone must fall in love but not necessarily with a man or a woman, but with a dream, a vision.”
This is a world of possibilities. Everything is possible .Any dream, however big, is possible. Trust me……

Contact Jagadhees at jagadheesthirumoorthy@gmail.com

A patriotic Biotechnologist – story of Manimekalai

IMG_20150415_121608

 

It was a lazy afternoon; I was in my ‘Protein Purification’ class handled by Dr. Sashidhar, my department HOD and also my mentor. As any other normal teenager,  I too had no interest in the M.Sc (Integrated) Biomedical course which I was pursuing, rather my heart was set on journalism. Out of the blue, I heard him say “I’d make sure that at the end of the 5th year everyone will have your eyes set in the science field”. Inside my heart I dared that he could never. Known for his perseverance, eventually he made me fall in love with my subject.

Born in the horse year (July 24, 1990), along with loyalty, warm-heart, straightforwardness, came my lack of persistence trait. Even though I loved my subject, I was hesitant to choose that as a career. The dormant year following my graduation, two people influenced my life.

One came in the form of a book – ‘The Wings of Fire – Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’ which had a great impact and reinforced the thought, Science and Technology are the backbone of a country’s development. “Do you know your inner potential? Do you believe in that? Is your life in your hand? If you can make decisions in your life without others influence, your life will be great” – these were his words in the book (A rough translation from the Tamil version). These words stirred my heart and after all the chaotic confusions I decided my life. I am a diehard patriotic and with a degree in science it made me re-consider my career path and here I am – a Research Scholar in the field of Biotechnology.

The other person is my Godfather – Mr.Shivakumar of TRICHY PLUS. He taught me a lot about life and still continues to do so. I learnt ‘whatever the human mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve’ from him. That is the  mantra of my life. I owe him not just the success in my life but also my happiness.

With a close knit family of 5, my mom, Rani, and dad, Subramaniyan, always wanted the three of us – me, my brother (Tamiliniyan) and my sister (Kalaivani) to have only two things – Education & humility. Anything other than these two about life was taught by my Godfather.

Being in a science field, there are a lot of challenges in terms of time and perseverance. But then what else in life is an easy pick. Dr.Sashidhar always says that working in science is like meditation. You need not be a nerd to be a scientist, which I blindly believe in till now. I am still in the learning process but two things that I can say are science can be chosen as a career as it not only holds a promising result but also it is the need of the hour. Love for science is what makes me going and I am thankful to my mentor to have made his words true.

I’ve just started my journey and there are miles to go before I sleep. I might stumble, stagger or swag but I still choose to continue my journey, for this path is my choice.

Contact Manimekalai at : smani_2407@yahoo.in

 

 

 

Ajay Balan – Motors his way to “General Motors”

I was born in Virudhunagar (a district near Madurai). My family is pretty much a lower middle class family. My Appa works in the textile industry and my Amma teaches chemistry at a government high school.  I have a younger sister, who like in every home is the smarter kid among us.  Even early in my school days, our family suffered from Appa’s huge financial loss in his business.  My Amma and Appa had to struggle a lot to give us both good education and at the same time tackle with such a huge financial loss. Now when I look back, I should say they did balance things pretty well, which is still amazing.  I did most of my schooling at RSK School in BHEL, Trichy.  Initially it was pretty hard for me to cope with the entirely English speaking convent environment. Thanks to all my teachers who supported me through-out that phase.  I slowly started getting better at subjects and that boosted my confidence greatly. I used to be very competitive. I will do as much as I can to do a little better than my competition.  Sometimes I did better but most of the times I failed to do so. But I don’t regret the losing part as the part that I did better showed me what I am good at.

I was always fascinated by cars. I wished we had a car at our house, but we never had that luxury.That little excitement slowly grew into a curiosity to know how they worked. In my high school, I used to like Maths and Physics a lot. I liked solving problems. I never got bored of it. I give all the credit to my excellent teachers, especially Physics and Maths teacher. Interesting teachers can naturally cultivate that interest in you, which is what happened to me.  I always liked to be unique. I wouldn’t want to do what everyone else is doing. When all my friends wanted to join some school in Rasipuram to score high marks in their 12thstd, I wanted to do something unique and aspire better. I knew I was never going to get such high marks or cut off marks in 12thstd to enter into Anna University. That was not my cup of tea. So I wanted to try getting into IITs/NITs to be unique from my friends.  Since I grew up in Trichy, I was aware of how special NIT Trichy is.  I joined a school in Chennai which had dedicated coaching for IIT-JEE (for IITs) and AIEEE (NIT).   It was a difficult journey for me because the Maths and physics that I experienced towards IIT JEE and AIEEE were at another level than to what I was exposed to, as a matriculation student. I understood that students from CBSE could do better as they had good problem solving practice from their schooling. Then I started studying the CBSE books (10thstd, 11thstd, 12thstd).  Those are some of the best books that anyone in 11thstd and 12thstd can have as a reference. I used to write many state level exams to analyze where I stand among all other students.  I was able to clear AIEEE to enter into NIT Trichy.

Four years at NIT Trichy is solely responsible for who I am today. More than the college, the standard of the students who study with you really matters. If ten of your friends do something, then you automatically try to do that.  I started learning so many things – during my school days I had stage fear, but after NIT Trichy I was able to handle workshops with more than 500 people. I picked up on how to solve the Rubik’s cube just because my friends were solving it and attended lots of world level competition. I gained knowledge about robotics because of my friends. I learnt to build a car on my own due to the fact that there was a good platform in NIT Trichy to be able to study and explore new things. There are many similar activities. Just like them, coming to the US to do a Masters also became a reality. Earlier it was just a distant dream.

TRICHY PLUS especially Savitri Mam, Siva Sir & Co, were elemental in maneuvering me in the right path. I understood that in GRE, the Verbal part wasn’t my strong aspect, but by the various techniques like the ‘Flash Cards’, ‘Story based teaching’ etc., learning vocabulary was a breeze. I enjoyed the classroom environment there, which wasn’t like any other coaching centers. Students were more involved in discussions which were vital in building the vocabulary. Then under the guidance of TRICHY PLUS trainer Ms.Owenita, I later got the opportunity to teach Maths (part time) for the students preparing for Clerical & PO Bank exams, which was a notable experience in my life. That boosted my confidence multi fold.  TRICHY PLUS along with Sharath Consultancy Chennai guided me right from my GRE preparation all the way to the VISA interview. Without all these support I am quite certain that the process would had been much more strenuous.

My amma and appa are very proud that I am the first person in the family to go abroad for studies. I am not sure how much that meant to me, but I was glad to see my family was proud of it.

Following my passion, I did a Masters in Automotive Engineering from the Clemson University, USA. I enjoyed the courses very much. It was highly challenging to adapt to the new environment here in the US, but here there are lot of Indians. So one never feels being away from home really . The technical expertise of the professors here and the facilities to learn (for example the labs, testing facilities etc) are incomparably good. Currently I am working in the General Motors as a Project Engineer. I am working in the development team of the model year 2018 Chevrolet Cruze diesel car.  I enjoy my job every second ! All in all it is a great experience so far. More important than anything else, I was able to achieve my dream that I had for 15 years to buy a car. I currently own a 2005 Honda S2000 which I race it on the local race tracks as a hobby.

Working as – Project Engineer, Fuel Systems Control & Calibration, General Motors North America

Education – Masters in Automotive Engineering – Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research, USA

Bachelor of Technology in Production Engineering  – National Institute of Technology, Trichy, India

contact Ajay at ajaybalan.m@gmail.com