When deciding on a career, it is important to analyse your skills and see if you really have it in you.

Tanushree was excited when the internship came through. It was an opportunity to work in a true blue lab, unlike her boring college lab. There were not enough instruments in the college lab and they often ran out of chemicals and reagents. Besides, it was dusty, gloomy and poorly maintained. The corporate lab she visited for her internship was different. It was well maintained and well equipped. But that was just the first impression. Three days into the internship, Tanushree had lost interest. She was not doing any of the interesting things she had thought she would do. All the experiments that she and her team participated in were ‘long gestation ones’ and all they had to do was observe, record the changes and sometimes participate in a minor step in the procedure.

Tanushree suffered the disappointment of not being able to see the completion of a process she was part of. What was worse, it made her re-think her entire strategy for life. Her passion for the subject and her general inclination to read and analyse had made Tanushree zero in on research as a career option. Corporate jobs did not excite her, notwithstanding the better pay packages. But towards the end of her second year in college, and just one internship exposure under her belt, she began to wonder whether she was cut out for research.

“At the entry level, I would be a part of a long process that is orchestrated by someone else,” she told her mother. “And it might be years before one sees the result of one’s research. And I do not know whether I have the patience for it.”

Lacking foresight

Most students who opt for research often do not know what to expect. Some do it because they are afraid of the pace, aggression and competitiveness of the corporate world. For them the lab seems to be a refuge from the maddening world. Others who turn to research have a yen for the subject and dream of making it big in the world of knowledge-creation.

But few of them understand what it takes to be in it. Like any other field of activity, research requires a certain skill and attitude. More than anything else, it calls for patience and perseverance and, as Tanushree found out recognising and accepting the fact that one is part of a long process whose beginning and end one may not even see.

To be successful in an academic career, one needs the vision and courage of a pioneer, the uncompromising clinical objectivity of a detached outsider, the passion, energy and drive of an entrepreneur, the merciless rigour of the renunciate, and the resilience and endurance of a marathon runner. “After years of pursuing an idea, meticulous study and analysis, you might just have to accept that your hypothesis was wrong. That requires extraordinary open-mindedness,” says Ramani, who is contemplating a career in bio-based research.

Unwavering honesty and integrity of character are the other pre-requisites. “Not to pinch others’ ideas, not to cook up study results are important at the advanced level,” says Ramani. “But even at the undergraduate level, integrity is important for those who want to pursue research. Copy-pasting abstracts, not acknowledging sources from which you borrow text — how many undergraduates can touch their hearts and say they have not done these?”

“I thought a career in research would mean a more peaceful, laidback life, but this is quite scary,” confesses Janita. In fact, India might just be the right spring board for those looking to dive headlong into research. After years of neglect, the last decade has seen the establishment of several institutions of academic excellence. Research funding has picked up, and the corporate is stepping in.

Research could be a realistic way to go for our students. All that students need to do is develop the core skills and attitudes. There is no short cut to success and the road is long and difficult. But for those who are ready to chart their own paths, work hard and wait patiently, the reward in the end is sweet. And for those who develop this attitude young, the reward is as much in the journey as in the destination.

Email: sumathi.sudhakar @gmail.com