The second week of January will remain forever etched in my memory. I had gone out shopping with one of my friends and somehow felt like checking my mails for once. One of them read “I am pleased to inform you that you have been provisionally short-listed for the prestigious Khorana program for Scholars 2019. Congratulations!” Wait! What? Is this really happening? Am I actually getting an opportunity for an internship in the States? It took me a few seconds to come back to my senses and realise what I had just seen. The first thing I could think of is to call my parents and share this blissful moment with them. They got really emotional and congratulated me on my achievement.
Dr Eswar, my former PI and a faculty at our Institute, had introduced me to the Khorana program a year ago. Two of my seniors had been selected the previous year and that kind of boosted my confidence to give it a try. Filling up the application took some effort but the hardest part was waiting for the results. It took some time coming but it was worth the wait. Once the results were out, the next, and the toughest, task was to find a PI for ourselves whose work interests us. Either most of their labs were filled or they were not accepting students. I distinctly remember writing emails to the concerned authorities to know if any supervisor had written back expressing willingness to take me as a project student. And finally that day arrived. Professor Marsha from the Ben May Department of Cancer Research in the University of Chicago had showed interest in my application and was ready to take me as a project student in her lab.
Finally I had got an opportunity to work on breast cancer! It was my first journey to a foreign country. I was obviously nervous but ecstatic as well. Once I reached there, it did not take long to settle. Some of the previous Khorana scholars who were doing their PhD in the University helped me a lot with food, travel and accommodation. It always feels good to meet Indians on foreign soil, doesn’t it? On my first day in the lab my guide introduced me to all the members in the lab and they gave me a warm welcome. I worked on “Using confocal microscopy to characterise EVs.” I remember the first confocal image of a live cell stained with cell membrane dyes. It was beautiful and breathtaking at the same time! We had journal clubs every Friday along with some breakfast (Oh I loved the breakfast!). These discussion sessions helped me shape my presentation skills. After a month and half of labwork (and great fun), I presented my work to all the members of our department. They appreciated my work and gave valuable feedbacks and possible wider applications of my project.
It was time to head back home. My guide had arranged a small breakfast for all of us on my last day in the lab. We had a great conversation over the table and the lab members congratulated me on my work and wished me a bright future. I will always be thankful to them for their immense support and guidance throughout. My PI appreciated my work ethics and wished me to carry on my hard work and stay focussed in life. Oh those days in the lab in front of the hood! I will always miss them! But staying away from my family for such long periods has never been easy for me. When I landed in Chennai, I was so happy to see my father at the airport. I hugged him and thanked him for all his support and blessings (Well, I know that’s never enough!). We headed back to Tirupati and it was time to get back to academics as the semester had already begun.
Life doesn’t provide us with many opportunities. Whatever little of it we get, we should make sure we grab it with both hands. There will be successes, there will be failures. But as R Kipling says, “If you can meet triumph and disaster and treat both these imposters just the same, If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings nor lose the common touch, Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it, And which is more, you’ll be a man my son!”
Lastly, and most importantly, I am really thankful to the Khorana program for providing young minds in India an opportunity to work in some of the topmost research Institutes in the world. I hope this encourages more students to take up Scientific research as a career and contribute to this ever expanding sphere of scientific advancements.