Interview with Dr. Anil Chandra
Dr. Anil Chandra
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Institute of Nanotechnology, Lecce, Italy
Q1. Please share your educational and professional journey with us?
I did my engineering in Biotechnology from IMS Engineering college in 2010 and then qualified GATE and an entrance test to join M. Tech Biotechnology course at IIT Guwahati. At IIT my inclination towards research increased further while working on the final year research project under Prof. R Swaminathan. Thus, even after getting placed in a good company, I chose to continue my research and joined National chemical laboratory (CSIR) in 2012 as PhD scholar with UGC NET JRF fellowship.
After 2 years of research work, our lab moved to IIT Delhi where I conducted the remaining part of my PhD research. In 2018 I completed my PhD and joined the Institute of Nanotechnology in ITALY to work on an ambitious project on personalized medicine for cancer, funded by European research council.
Q2. What did attract you towards Biotechnology and Nanotechnology?
From school time while studying biology, I was fascinated by the complexity of the human body and the variety of organisms that exist around us. The perfect orchestration of different components like molecules, cells and organs intrigued me. Thus, I decided to venture into the field of Biotechnology after school. In engineering, I learnt about other streams of engineering sciences like mechanical engineering, electrical, electronics, in addition to the main course that consisted of core biotechnology based subjects.
This gave me an exposure towards the connectivity that exists between different streams of science and subconsciously I was getting prepared to venture into research. In M. Tech Biotechnology course at IIT Guwahati, I learnt for the first time about Nanotechnology as part of the elective coursework and liked it very much due to the problems that could be solved using nanotechnology based approach.
Nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary science that requires an understanding of different subjects and how they connect, thus my experience of engineering helped me understand the subject in a better way and think further in this direction. In my research work at IITG, I was working with fluorescent quantum dots and its effect on the activity of enzymes if they are linked together.
It was a small project of only 1 year but I learned a lot about actual research and the temperament that is needed to move. Failures in experiments were very discouraging sometimes, but I learned a lot from it and became more resilient for my future work which was yet to come and more challenging. For the PhD I was sure that my research must involve nanotec based approach, therefore I planned my PhD thesis problem and methodology accordingly.
Q3. What kind of hurdles did you face in your research journey?
The biggest hurdle that I faced was a continuous pressure to publish articles, it is a necessary evil in today’s research world. As a master student, it is not a prerequisite but as a PhD scholar, one must publish several high impact articles to get a good postdoc and to look for teaching positions. Although many a times number of publications and impact factor do not reflect the true beauty and usefulness of the research being done, however it is very common in the scientific community to compare each other’s reputation based on it.
In my opinion the pressure to publish was like a distraction and made me a little restless all the time. Another common problem that I faced was a feeling of continuous stress during PhD. Research work during PhD may not go smooth all the times and sometimes brings a lot of stress, when things don’t go in right direction. I felt that the pressure to perform is too much in India compared to other countries.
A positive pressure and constructive criticism from mentors may do good to motivate and challenge a research scholar, while a negative pressure can ruin their efficiency. Role of the supervisor is very crucial in these situations to make sure that proper guidance is provided with healthy mindset. Other than these issues I think, if a person is motivated to do science, then he or she will always find a way to move forward as I did.
Q4. How do you handle stress in this fast and competitive life?
It’s difficult, but I always think about what I want to do and what are my priorities in life. That keeps me aligned in difficult situations and help me make a difficult decision. Doing meditation helps in relaxation and being focused. I must say that despite everything stress creeps in very often and remains for a significant time, but it is part of life.
Doing something for your hobbies and keeping away from work for some time helps me to reset my mind. And sometimes we need to look back and see how much we have travelled already, that reminds you about your true potential and strengths and pulls you out of stress.
Q5. Where do you want to see yourself after 10 years in career?
Most likely, I will be teaching university students and guiding them in their research. Parallelly I will be hopefully managing a startup to innovate and develop biomedical devices.
Q6. What was your Thesis topic in Ph.D? Please share some brief about it?
My thesis topic was ‘Cell Microenvironment pH sensing in 3D’. The work was to assess the immediate pH surrounding a cell or group of cells using fluorescence based nanosensors. The goal was achieved by using fluorescent pH-sensitive carbon dots. The developed platform for sensing pH was used to assess the growth of cancer tumoroid generated in hydrogels and to assess antimicrobial susceptibility of disease-causing bacterial strains.
A fluorescence based tumour growth assessment is very good for automated in vitro anticancer drug testing platforms, while a faster antimicrobial susceptibility testing can save lives by finding best suitable antibiotic combination in less time.
Q7. Which one thing do you want to change in yourself and why?
I want to be more focused on a few ideas rather than working on too many things at the same time. As a researcher, we are constantly thinking to improve something or to try something new. This is good for innovation, but many a time it does not allow you to focus properly on each problem. As an individual researcher, it may sound as a limitation, but as a supervisor, it could be a great asset, as one can guide many people so more ideas is good for that role.
Q8. What are your research interests?
Development of lab on chip-based platforms that can simulate diseases and help in testing new drugs. Besides, I like working on fluorescence based nanosensors and 3D cell culture platforms.
Q9. Which one skill do you like most about yourself?
I think I am a very good observer, a sharp one. When I see something, I try to see the mechanism behind it. It helps me understand a situation or a problem very well that eventually allows me to do something about it.