Sucheta Ghosh, a Khorana Program alumnus (2018), is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research (FMI) in Basel, Switzerland. She completed her schooling in Jamshedpur, followed by a B.Tech from Heritage Institute of Technology, Kolkata, and an M.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi before starting her doctoral program in 2020.
Sucheta was always interested in biology, but when it was time to choose a specialization for her B.Tech, the thought of not studying the subject for the next four years made her extremely uneasy. And that is how, Biotechnology, with its potential to pursue research in biological sciences, became her choice! As time passed, Sucheta found herself deeply fascinated with research, and to get hands-on experience, she spent her summer breaks interning at reputed research institutions in India. These experiences eventually grew into a curiosity about the research environment abroad. So, when a senior from college suggested Sucheta apply for the Khorana program, she knew she had to give this internship application her best shot. Finally, in the summer of 2018, Sucheta was flying halfway across the world to the United States to work in Prof. Guang Willian Wong’s lab at Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
“In these three months, you get to travel to a new continent, work and explore in a completely different scientific setting, make connections, find friends in the process, and discover a new YOU amidst the challenges and explorations on the way!”
The lab welcomed Sucheta with open arms and Prof. Wong encouraged her to probe unexplored scientific territories. During the internship, Sucheta mastered many new laboratory techniques, but most importantly, she learned how to ask the right scientific questions, a skill she eventually found to be valuable as a Ph.D. student. At JHU, she met people from diverse backgrounds and cultures who found a common ground in science. Sucheta also got an opportunity to explore American culture and visit famous sites like the Lincoln Memorial, the Statue of Liberty, and Niagara Falls with her fellow Khorana and Bose scholars. Some of the relationships she formed during the internship are for life!
To this day, Sucheta is in touch with Dr. Wong and his advice and letters of recommendation have been instrumental in navigating the Ph.D. application process and securing her current position. Applying for the Khorana Program also primed her for writing project proposals and statements of purpose (SOP) for these applications. She also got a first-hand experience of how life would be like if she went abroad for higher studies and was better equipped to make informed decisions.
“The Khorana summer internship program has expanded my network and made me think about how I can use my skills, time, and resources to give back to the community. It definitely is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that changes your life for the better.”
After her stints in India and the US, Sucheta was keen to explore a different continent and directed her applications to European universities. However, the application process was not without challenges. There were many rejections before opportunities knocked on her door, and in these challenging times, support from her parents and professors kept her motivated.
Once shortlisted by FMI, Sucheta was invited to Basel for an interview and the institute covered her travel and living expenses. She met and interacted with her future research advisor and lab mates, explored the institute and city, and finally decided to make Basel her home for the next four to five years. Here, her research focuses on understanding how protein-protein interaction networks get perturbed upon the onset of stress like viral infections, neurodegenerative diseases, etc.
“The best part about doing science every day is that you can be creative. The nature of research is not instantly gratifying which is sometimes a put-off but the unmatched excitement of something working and positive results after days of hard work keeps me going.”
The unique opportunity to collaborate with Novartis and the University of Basel attracted Sucheta to FMI. Not only does she get to enjoy the perks of student life, but also the benefits of being a Novartis employee. The experience of pursuing doctoral thesis research in biological sciences can be very similar in different places around the world. But an emphasis on research projects instead of a hefty course load, and a healthier work-life balance in Europe can be an incentive. Having had a multicultural experience spanning three continents, Sucheta now finds herself quickly adapting to changing circumstances. This quality will be valued in any professional setting.
“My advice to students who want to pursue a similar career path would be to remember that the road will be full of bumps and breaks. Trust your abilities and have patience as the process is long but rewarding. Remember, it takes only one opportunity to change your life!”
Sucheta’s advice to anyone who wants to apply for the Khorana program is to “DO IT” and not give it a second thought. She feels that Indian students can certainly benefit from the strong alumni network of previous WINStep Forward Khorana and Bose scholars who have gone on to have successful careers in different fields and different countries around the world. Sucheta is happy to connect with students who want to know more about her journey. You can connect with her on LinkedIn!
Written by: Sneha Das
Edited by: Kadambari Vijay Sai