At Indianomics, I am continually evolving the content I write and try to promote ideas in a fresh bottle. Bottle jibe is to emphasize that we often forget that world around us have a stimulus, playing its role in silence, while we are aloof of it. Presenting to you all, the Indianomics Showcase.
In this series, I will be publishing articles to bring out people from cold, and showcase them. First up is Vincent Vineeth Leo, my school friend, who is now a Research Fellow at the University of Mizoram. Vincent has always been jovial and fun to be with, unlike the typical nerd profiles in our minds of people who end up being a scientist and a researcher.
Vincent, how are you doing? It’s been a long time since we caught up! You still look exactly same as back in the school days, how?
I am doing well, thanks! It’s been a while aye! Regarding appearance, I suppose credit goes ‘Surya Namaskar’ that I am practicing every day for many years. And the rest it’s a mind thing. Like someone, once said that “There is an inner child in everyone”; I just keep feeding the child in me with little moments of happiness.
During School times, what is your best memory of me?
Hemal: One of my best memories of you was accidentally finding your home. We were selling the fictitious Blue Bird Cricket Club’s Christmas lucky draw coupons that we were selling for Rs. 2 each! That was a scam – my other local friends and I were looking to fund our ‘Ararat’ (mela) outing. We were allowed into your house only because I was there. The way we all friends were received and treated (Christmas cake too), I cannot forget! I found myself feeling guilty of having scammed your mother for Rs. 2! (we did give out gifts to winners in a lucky draw eventually).
Vincent: I am surprised that you remember that! I do not, honestly! 😀
The first thing that comes to my mind is that we were all the same sized people; small! Mostly adjudicated to the front benches. That’s how I related to you. Maybe those days I felt like the front benchers had a gang of themselves (we did!). And of course, you were like a celebrity Gujarati boy in our group, so unknowingly; you were a celebrity among my other Malayalee buddies!
There is an inner child in everyone. I just keep feeding the child in me with little moments of happiness.
– Vincent Vineeth Leo
Wow, I did not know I was one! How did a lad from Kerala end up in Mizoram?
It’s a long story, but in short, there is a Scottish connection to it. Me and my current guide Dr. Bhim Pratap Singh (Assistant Professor at Mizoram University) both spend a few academic years in Scotland. Though in different universities and never met in Scotland, just the fact we got to experience science in an international level, brought us together I guess.
I am traveler since my higher secondary education, pursuing my research in a secluded and exotic location seemed perfect. But I must say this, that the Mizoram University did show a well-equipped DBT state Biotech Hub in their profile. From a research point of view, that was the final nail in the coffin.
What are you doing these days?
Somehow science bug has crept into my life over the years, and I ended up in the research field. I am a biochemistry person at my heart, studied biotechnology, working on microbiology. I am now considering plant biomass conversion to alternative energy. That’s how complicated my world is.
Please share a slice of life from Mizoram. It sure is on my list of places to explore, someday soon!
Mizoram or as I call it ‘Mizo’ land, is very much a secluded place, in comparison to the other crowded cities and states in India. Majority of it is protected forest area, lush green, and hardly any plain areas. It’s all hilly in here. The place does have many positives, including fantastic clean air and unpredictable weather. You might get to experience all climates in one day as well sometimes!
Transportation is still a huge letdown, given the lack of functional road connectivity and absence of trains. I have embraced the place like my second home. The part of the country brings calmness to my mind and has helped me concentrate more on science than any other. And they also have a Mizo traditional festival called the “Chap Char Kut”; where they remember their history and traditions and is an event I love to take part. You must pay a visit someday!
I will! Did you get a culture shock? Share a few examples!
Nothing in particular. I have traveled places. Hence I am used to the little racial discriminations we brown people get anywhere we go. Nothing derogatory ever happened to me, to be honest. Like any other state, people here are very proud of their language, and they do practice Mizo more than Hindi or English, which at times can deem a little difficult to communicate.
If you are looking for a shock, it has to be the food.
If you are looking for a shock, it has to be the food. For a South Indian, I am used to getting a variety of spicy food delicacies from breakfast to dinner. Folks here are satisfied with the rice, dal, aalu and some boiled meat or veggies. Now that still frustrates me to the core. But some sacrifices are always needed for the greater good.
But I appreciate the fact that this is one of the safest states in our country for women. The idea of women experiencing equal rights as that of a man is of fascination and awe to see here. For, e.g., where women can feel safe and free, even if you’re in your knickers in the middle of night roaming within your neighborhood.
What prompted you to be a researcher and a scientist?
Three people, their work, and words inevitably had influenced me in taking up research.
I started noticing science in action in our everyday life thanks to Miss Teresa, Botany Head at Leo XIII High School in my hometown Alleppey. Her words continue to come in handy for me even today. Observation of our environment, with slight attention to detail, is the way to unraveling most of our natures secrets.
Be observant. Work like Ants. And Innovate!
My guide from SAMS in Scotland, Dr. Toni Guiterrez, the tough Aussie, and a hardworking person. His advice of learning from Ants’ work ethics still holds the fort for me in research. “Ants never stop working. Research is like that; you can never afford to stop working” he said.
And then, Dr. V. P. Potty, my mentor during my first research project at CEPCI, Kollam in Kerala. Dr. Potty instills the idea of innovation against pursuing known technology into his pupils, and I am lucky to be one.
For all my three years of efforts and in collaboration with the institute we successfully managed to innovate four such technologies, which are now pending patent approval.
In a layman’s language what a Microbial Biotechnology is?
The science of studying micro-organisms like bacteria, cultured (breed) in a specific way to help solve real-life problems, using sophisticated instruments.
Microbes, Biological Sciences, and Technology go hand in hand.
My area of focus is on converting resources into useable alternative energy by utilizing the non-edible plants (wild grasses) using natural feeders (stimulants) like bacteria. It is a vast area pending exploration, and I am in my baby steps!
Right now, I am working on an interesting concept, called “BioTraps.” Due to confidentiality reasons, I cannot talk a lot more in detail. However, suffice to say that I use a small sterile container, which has specific media, to attract certain microbes for this project. The working concept is born out of real observation of nature of forests in Mizoram.
So far, the results are overwhelming. This project has bagged a few accolades in recent times. And I hope more than all these, that this concept might find great usage in future for such similar studies pursued globally.
You told me that you had published your work, can you share it so interested people can do further reading?
I have been lucky to have worked on some fantastic collaborative subjects that have yielded positive results. Naturally, these have progressed into research papers. Unlike you guys, our social media network is Research Gate, and my published work is available on Loop.
Some of my other publications are:
A Novel Triculture System (CC3) for Simultaneous Enzyme Production and Hydrolysis of Common Grasses through Submerged Fermentation
“Evaluation of gastrointestinal bacterial population for the production of holocellulose enzymes for biomass deconstruction.
What are your life goals in this field of study?
“Innovate, innovate, innovate and innovate” try to innovate as much as one can with this small lifetime we got. From a science point of view, that’s the best word I can articulate to anyone who is interested in the subject.
In a broader perspective, try and work on something that’s useful to humanity. But personally, I want to see me be a professional Research and Development scientist in one of the Bio-industries.
In a broader perspective, try and work on something that’s useful to humanity.
Why an industry?
I want my work to be useful at ground zero. As a researcher and scientist, I have mind and Industry has resources. Together, we can create an actionable product.
What is the secret of your success? Are you a Yoga Master?
I won’t call myself a yoga master at all. I still have lots of asanas to learn. But I am a consistent yoga practitioner. I have to thank Shri Shri Ravi Shankar’s one week course of Art of Living that changed my concept of fitness and living.
I follow Christianity, and a lot of people have questioned my yoga practices with religious taste. I have somehow withstood the storm.
Contrary to the myth, yoga is hardly a religious matter. Its an Indian tradition, which somehow lost its importance during the ages of British rule. I follow Christianity, and a lot of people have questioned my yoga practices with religious taste. I have somehow withstood the storm.
But my success as a whole goes to my ever supporting family (dad, mom, bro, cousins, aunts, uncles) without whom none of these would have been possible. Both my parents have been loyal government servants, and now social workers, lead by example and influence my behavior.
And finally, want to thank the almighty God. For a Catholic person to be doing hardcore science is always a tough one.
Can you tell my fellow readers and me how and why to choose a career in research?
Let me answer that question in two parts, just like you asked aye! 🙂
How to choose a research career:
- Choose your field of interest solely based on your interest and ability to understand simple concepts.
- Keep an open mind, because a learning mind can only be generated from your curiosity to understand difficult concepts.
- Take competitive tests like NET, GATE, etc., which can earn you a national fellowship. Remember, not all is lost if you do not clear through such exams!
- From my experience, learning from the book is not enough! Get your practical skills worked out. Without which none of this work will be possible.
Why choose research:
- That’s very simple, maybe I could explain it with an analogy. A vibrant and robust surrounding is always improving and well equipped, unlike a stagnant one.
- Fun fact: Even after centuries of human existence, we have been only able to study less than 5% of total microbes in the world. Then imagine how much more we have still to explore, discover and innovate.
- So that’s where the role of a researcher comes into existence. She or He is the one who has to take up the mantle of understanding the secrets of nature and transform it into a usable form for the benefit of humanity and our earth as such.
One of the common questions is that scientists and researchers do not earn money. What is your response to that statement?
For a current Ph.D. scholar, finance is always a precarious position in our country, to be honest. Even with a fellowship, we do see people having difficulties, mainly due to the dismemberment of the allotted funds. It does not feel right to be treated as a second-class citizen. But the thought that all the sacrifices might yield a sweet reward at the end could be the reason why many try to pursue it.
But not all is gloomy in the academic research. Through government funding from agencies like DBT, DST, UGC, ICAR, ICMR, etc. they continue to support. Without such the usage of sophisticated instrumentation would be a distant dream. So those initiatives are undoubtedly the big help a researcher gets.
For those in Government organizations and certain reputed pharma companies, the pay is quite rewarding surely. But the research field is yet to get a professional touch in our country. It doesn’t have the attractive packages most professional courses provide.
Surely its high time the ministry of HRD could re-think its strategy for such budding science fellows. Otherwise, they will lose out the young brains that we possess and end up creating non-resident Indians.
That was such a delightful insight! What are your personal life goals for the future?
As far as life goals go, I am ready to transform into a professional R&D role. I cannot move away from Academics 100%, however. I am happy to share the learnings with you and your audience.
Thank for taking the sciency time-out for this interview!
Thanks to you for exposing me to the world of blogging. Keep doing what you love, enjoy your rides on your Himalayan bike and wish you and your family happiness!