Well, I’m pretty sure most of my musings in the immediate future are going to harp around the beginning of the end to my Ph.D. This period has quite surprisingly been a lot more fun than I anticipated. Grad school life is like childhood in a protected household. You feel secure (which you will realise only when you get out!) and time moves s-l-o-w-l-y, before you realise that your peers from high school have long been “employed”, bought a house and celebrating vacations at beaches on the Pacific. Remember, you are still a student. Closing my PhD is my everyday prayer. But the transition to finding that coveted job and finding our way through the ‘real’ world, is quite frankly daunting. We’ve experienced that feeling before. Nothing new, right? Only difference, I’m 10 years older, and my peers from high school have long been “employed”, bought a house and celebrating……..
Big deal. I love my life and will do things at my pace! I have no regrets! Perhaps, the attitude is the key. The attitude I’m talking about -the much clichéd: let go the anxiousness – and take things as they come – mantra. Annoyingly true. Implementing it, of course, is a totally different thing.
I’ve been in Academia, pursuing a doctorate in Molecular Biology & Genetics, for last five years. If you were to ask me for my elevator pitch (via a blog), I’ll say I began studying the biology of how fruit flies metabolise their cholesterol. Why care? Are more fruit flies dying of heart attacks recently? No. Or well, probably no. As biologists, we are often interested in understanding the basic biology of how things work, even of research areas that may never become of applied, therapeutic use one day. Importantly, this kind of basic biology work is what gets into text books and enhances our understanding of simpler life systems and biochemical pathways. Or simply put, this approach led us to understand, say how the amount of sugar in our 2000-odd calorie diet directly influences how insulin is produced in our pancreatic cells to protect our brains from a coma. Am I concerned that fruit flies will drink too much beer and kill themselves? I’m afraid not. But during evolution, a few amazing things happened (in addition to evolution itself, that is!) and animals without a vertebra (spine) or a red blood evolved simultaneously. Even when spaced out across several species in the animal kingdom, one particular sub-species of such insects that can fly and feed off yeast and fruit, evolved our own majestic fruit flies, proud owners of a complex genome that closely match the genome of the current-day humans by over 80%! Fruit flies are thus genetically very superior and can be comparable to humans on nearly every biological aspect. Moreover they only have 4 chromosomes, allowing geneticists to prize the scope of genetic manipulations that can be done with the fruit flies. In my research, I wanted to understand what happens when a cholesterol molecule reaches the cell. A ton of literature and vast clinical trials have been done in humans based on some key findings about cholesterol trafficking in a vertebrate cell. However, some unknowns remain, and I chose to use a living fruit fly cell to unravel those pathways and interacting genes.
Only, the ‘unravelling’ will take you more than six years, several changed projects, a few hundred failed experiments , and lots and lots of fly-pushing! But the reality is, that this is reality. As grad students in science, we will crib about the tribulations of our Ph.Ds. But we all know, that IS the beauty and awe of science. My first attempt at making the simplest of the Indian drink, chai was a total disaster. Today, science allows me to sequence my own genome on my desk.
So, there’s lots to do out there! Whether or not your Ph.D itself was stellar, I earnestly believe that this Ph.D training will help me take off.
Big, big data everywhere, now is not the chance to blink!