Alekhya Majumdar | #TalkbackTuesday

#TalkbackTuesday number 27 – with Alekhya Majumdar, and we talk about PhD studies, Zurich, and quality of life.

Hi, and welcome to #TalkbackTuesday. This week’s interview is with Mr. Alekhya Majumdar. See his interview below.

Talkback Tuesday is a feature for and about everyday people. It is always inspirational to look into the life of another person, and realize it is just as complex and large and confusing as your own.

1. For the readers, who are you, what do you do, and what is your current side project?

I’m a 2nd year PhD student. I currently work on Osteosarcoma metastasis research, which in simple terms is research on bone cancer. Currently, I have no side project and this is the main focus of my life, for at least the next two years.

2. You currently reside in Switzerland. Tell me more about your life there and how it compares to your life here in India. Where else do you see yourself going in the next 12 or so years?

So I live in Zurich and it’s a huge change from India. I lived in London for about a year and a half as well, so moving to Zurich wasn’t a huge change for me. A gradual progression, let’s say. I can break the question down in two parts – work and social life.

Talking of work, the difference between working in India and in Europe is massive. In India, you are taught to do something but not to think independently. In school, you were given a formula and you just accepted that it is right. You memorize it and apply it in your exams. Here, the biggest change came when I was taught how to think for myself. How to question what I’m doing, and more importantly, how to make sure to plan experiments to conclusively prove your observations and results.

This atmosphere, where I learned to question everything and got access to cutting edge tools, really helped me better myself as a professional researcher.

In terms of social life, I’d say that it’s a bit more difficult to compare. Each has its pros and cons.

The food is much better and cheaper [in India]. Zurich is one of the most expensive cites in the world. In the top 3, definitely, so I had to quickly learn to teach myself to cook so I could survive here. Hanging out with friends is very similar. You’d do most of the same stuff: going out for drinks with friends, chilling in the theatres.

Dance Club | Alekhya Majumdar #TalkbackTuesday
Dancing is apparently popular in Europe. Just a little bit.
I’ve definitely become a better dancer here (Europeans love to go clubbing and dancing). Grilling and barbecues have also become fairly common in my life – something that I wasn’t used to back in India.
I’d say overall I’ve become more independent and spontaneous. I frequently plan impromptu trips. I definitely feel that I’m less restricted than I was when I was at university in India. But I’m not a 100% sure if this is age related or region related.

3. We’ve interviewed a couple of PhD students before. What does it mean to you specifically, and what do you hope to contribute to your field?

So I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Manipal, and during my studies I really felt connected to biology and research in general. We weren’t a big department but a more close-knit group, and I asked my HOD if I could snoop around or work in a research project after hours.

He assigned me to a PhD student so that I could assist him with his work. And ever since then, I liked the work so much that I never thought I’d really [want to] do anything else. I completed my Master’s in the UK and my degree was extremely research oriented. I’ve been working in the lab for so long that I’d never realized I had other options to pursue.

So working in a large project for my PhD was a seamless transition and an important part of both my life and my identity.

In terms of contribution, it’s hard to define how I’d do so. From experience, I’d say that you have to have a smashing PhD thesis to make any large contributions towards the understanding of your field. | Alekhya Majumdar #TalkbackTuesday
PhD students are warriors who face many difficult challenges. (Source in image)

It’s more likely that you don’t do much to further your field. It’s more important to harness skills during your PhD. The analogy I’d use is that in flight school, you’d train a pilot. You wouldn’t expect a trainee pilot to fly a Boeing 747 across the Atlantic. But once he graduates he’s more experienced and better able to work. Same with a PhD.

4. Given your varied experience in education, what would be three pieces of advice you’d give to a young student/aspirant?

  1. Learn to break out of the rules and think for yourself.
  2. Hard work beats talent.
  3. Believe in yourself, because there is nothing you can’t do if you try enough.
  4. (and an extra point) Don’t be afraid of failures, because life can hit you really hard sometimes. How you handle it is what counts.

5. Great. Finally, do you have anything you’d like the audience to check out? It can be a product or business, or it could be anything from a video to words of wisdom.

Ooh, this is a bit on the hard side. Let’s see… I’ll go with words of wisdom.
I’d say that people should read more and learn more about what goes on around them. Be more financially aware. Take care of your body with good exercise and nutrition. Be more disciplined in general. It makes life easier to enjoy.

Thank you for reading Talkback Tuesday! What did you think of the interview? Leave your comments below.

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Next, check out the previous interview from last Tuesday with Marc Rowell by clicking on the image below.

Cover | Marc Rowell #TalkbackTuesday
Click the image to see the interview.