Saturday, 25 August 2018

From Gods Own Country To The Holy Land

Born in Kasaragod and brought up in Tulunadu, I have shifted 5 different schools before finally settling in a residential school in my 8th grade. I made new friends every alternate year and met old ones twice in my academic journey. Putting everything together, I changed schools 10 times before my 8th grade! It was fun. This long journey, made me inquisitive, kinesthetic, pragmatic and mercurous. It has had its own negative impact in my developmental years psychologically. When my teen peers had a closely-knit web of friends, I was always not a part of the pack, rather most of the times a lone wolf. My friends were from my parent’s generation and my role models were my teachers! Thankfully, amidst all my hardships, almighty was kind to gift me with the best. 
Science teachers were magicians some times. They had immense power of generating fire by just using sunlight, water and a transparent watch glass. They could paint rainbows on the dusted walls of our school building using the same water, watch glass and a mirror! For a 6th grade kid, that was sufficient to make a career choice, a “Scientist”. Later, when science split into three, a “Physicist” and when mathematics snooped into the walls of physics, a “Material scientist” (I still do a lot of mathematics but more closely at observable levels). The motivation towards pursuing Science at nanometric scale and engineering materials, devising experiments and techniques to optimize processes and metrology at nanoscale date back to the very idea of a science teacher being a magician.
Soon after my postgraduation in Physics from National Institute of Technology Karnataka (NITK), formerly known as KREC, I had a stint in teaching. Later I was absorbed back at NITK as Facility Technologist (FT) for its Electron Microscopes (EM) in the department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering (MME). Working as an FT, I could closely understand the work of scientists, I could communicate to some of the great minds in the field and I soon realized, the magic wand is a PhD. Pursuing my research interests in India looked harder than I thought. Exceptionally high competition, extremely low opportunities and funds, exuberantly low exposure to the Industry and growing concern about professional ethics and exponentially increasing reports of corruption made me look abroad. The meadows were greener on the other side.
Soon, I started shortlisting universities, and laboratories whose research interests were similar to mine. The criteria of shortlisting were simple - full scholarship, working in nanotechnology, well experienced principal investigator, high level of exposure to industry and good work life balance. Trust me, Israel for 2 years, was not in my list!
I was looking for opportunities in Europe, Australia and Canada, unlike my friends, who were already in the United States, Singapore, South Korea etc. By then I was married, I had shifted to Bangalore resigning my job at NITK, foreseeing an opportunity at the Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc). However, IISc did not materialize due to reduced research grants following the Union budget of 2014. I joined an R&D wing of a private organization in Bangalore and continued my applications in full swing. On an average I would spend 4 hours a day, consistently, searching for research opportunities abroad, applying to 5 places a day for 10 months. It was immensely frustrating. Many times, I would be in 2nd position after clearing a few rounds of skype interview and the person who came first would accept the position. During December 2016, I came across an online article on India -Israel research scholarship. I was aware of a lot of contributions from Israel and the Jewish community to science and technology, I thus thought I should look for opportunities in Israel, ‘more, out of frustration!’ 
After a series of applications and interviews, I was shortlisted for ‘President’s Research Grant’ a prestigious scholarship issued for the creamy researchers, to start my research (magician’s job to earn a magic wand) at the Institute for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA) of Bar-Ilan University in its Molecular Photonics Laboratory, under the guidance of Dr. Yaakov R. Tischler to work on Nanometrology. A perfect combination customized for my interests, worth all my frustration.   
I have been working here for an year now. Dr. Tischler is an extremely intelligent and kind professor I have ever met in my life. He has never made me feel frustrated at my work or at the subject. However, the path to reach him was frustrating, 3 long years after my post-graduation and almost 2 decades after I subscribed to introduce myself new magicians every year teaching a magical subject.
Similar is the story with my wife, Smt. Sharadhi, who is also a research scholar with Presidents Research Grant at the Intelligent Agent Interaction and Modelling Laboratory under the guidance of Prof. Sarit Kraus, a pioneer scientist in Artificial Intelligence.

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