To start with, I never expected that I would be selected as a Khorana Scholar. I still remember the notification that popped up during a class saying that I have been provisionally shortlisted for the prestigious ‘Khorana Program for Scholars 2019’. I was overwhelmed. Since it was a provisional shortlisting, I was not sure if I would be able to make it to the laboratory of my dreams. It was not a comfortable journey until the arrival in the US. I remember managing all the communication with my host mentor, preparing for visa interviews, completing all kinds of formalities between my final examinations, and what not? But all that hard work paid off.
I was fortunate enough to be able to travel with a few Khorana and SN Bose scholars from New Delhi to Chicago with a layover at Frankfurt. It was an enjoyable experience to have met such amazing friends. After arrival at Chicago, Illinois, we were welcomed at the Chicago Gateway Hostel by Dr. Eric Horn, Ms. Pushpa Iyer. The next day, all the scholars visited the beautiful campus of the University of Chicago (UChicago). It was my pleasure to meet Dr. Aseem Ansari (Director of Khorana and SN Bose programs), Mr. Sudhakar Dalela (Indian Consul General to Chicago), Dr. Bobby Kasthuri (renowned neuroscientist), Dr. Marsha Rosner (student of Dr. Har Gobind Khorana), and other distinguished intellectuals at the Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery, UChicago. Later, we were taken on a bus tour around the city of Chicago, where we got a glimpse of the present and the history of the city.
After Chicago, I took off to Atlanta, Georgia, to join the Aneja Lab under Dr. Ritu Aneja at Georgia State University (GSU). I was stunned by the amount of systematic organization and facilities in the lab and within the department. The best thing about the facilities in GSU, that they were accessible 24/7, allowing me to work independently as per my convenience. At GSU, I studied the effect of drug-mediated metabolic stress on the lipid droplet abundance, one of the most significant emerging hallmarks of cancer. I was fortunate to have been mentored by Chakri and Shriya. They taught me about lab techniques and discipline very patiently, and made me feel at home, away from home. From Shriya and Chakri, I learned how to troubleshoot and solve basic problems that we usually encounter while working in a laboratory. They always encouraged me to think like a researcher, which was reflected in the endless revisions of my project report. The Aneja lab was diverse with people coming from various races and nationalities. This was demonstrated in the lab meetings, where we discussed a plethora of solutions to multiple problems in cancer biology. Here, I also understood that research is more collaborative than competitive. The Aneja lab was beyond just lab work. Lab retreats were equally fun and productive. Projects and future tasks were discussed while cooking and eating tasty food. Dr. Aneja taught me how to make ‘round chapatis’ and her special paneer masala. My experience at GSU really shaped me to think more clearly about my future in research.
The United States is the most diverse country on earth with an amalgamation of people from all colors, races, and nationalities living together in harmony. I learned about cultures and cuisines of various countries, like USA, Indonesia, Nepal, China, Germany, Brazil, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Spain, Thailand, and Japan. My favorites are Chicago pizza, Korean gopchang, Nepali momos, Mexican quesadillas, and Chinese boba tea. I learned to be independent during my stay. I used to cook my food, do my dishes and clothes, clean my house, take care of my monthly expenses, etc. My stay in the states changed my personality completely.
During my three months stay in the states, I visited other cities including Boston, Cambridge, New Haven, New York City and New Port, with other Khorana and SN Bose Fellows. I also got an opportunity to visit labs at Harvard University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. My first visit to the United States was super productive in terms of laboratory and cultural experiences. I would like to express my gratitude towards WSF, IUSSTF, and DBT (Government of India) for shortlisting me as a Khorana Scholar. I am thankful to Dr. Aneja for accepting me to her prestigious laboratory, Chakri and Shriya for being fabulous mentors. I thank Dr. Shobhna Kapoor, visiting professor from IIT Bombay, and my lab mates, Manav, Komal, Shristi, Pavan, Riri, Raven, and Lihan for their consistent support in the laboratory. I thank Ahnaf, Sujal, Aniket, Vriti, Cheshta, Akshina, Roshan, Iqra, Srinath, Lea, Anisa, Giorgia, Seda, Katja, Shaina, and Saahil for all the fun memories outside the lab. I want to thank Hari, Dr. Dhawan, Dr. Basu, Dr. Sinha, Dr. Bhatnagar, Dr. Yatender, my lab mates at NSUT, IISER Pune and NIMR, former Khorana and Bose Scholars, and my friends for their critical guidance during the application procedure. Most importantly, I would like to thank my parents and my sister for always believing in me and being with me during my ups and downs.
I thank y’all (in the southern accent)!!