Venkatachalam Chokkalingam talks about his life-changing experience at Radboud University and how he has evolved from an engineer to a physicist.
Pursuing a master's degree at Technical University Hamburg, Germany, was a big decision for me and my family. But it turned out to be a fruitful experience learning about the German educational system and culture. My interests in engineering and technology gradually led me into exploring fundamental science. This further motivated me to continue my education in a top-class research environment at Max Planck Institute, Germany, to obtain a PhD. My research work in physics was to understand fundamental fluid dynamics at the microscale called “microfluidics.” During this phase of research, I transformed from being an engineer to a physicist, asking always “Why it works” rather than “how can I apply.” After a successful PhD in Physics, I wanted to explore and invent fluidic systems for biological and medical fields. Though I am not a biologist, the knowledge I have developed with fluidics helps me understand the flow conditions of cells in the human circulatory system. Therefore, I moved to The Netherlands, where I am currently working at Institute for Molecules and Materials in the Radboud University at Nijmegen. Here, I investige the biological aspects of single cells in flow and thereby invent techniques for single cell analysis. Fundamental understanding of human cells in flow is still lacking and when explored quantitatively will lead to various discoveries in the field of biotechnology. I am deeply impressed with the educational system and research environment in The Netherlands, and I would like to share my thoughts on it.
Innovation has permeated every aspect of Dutch life, from floating waterside homes and meticulously planned, cycle-friendly cities to particularly cerebral footballers. In 2012-13, 12 of the Netherlands' 13 research universities finished within the top 200, in the Times Higher Education world university rankings, behind only the U.S. and the U.K., despite being a nation of only 17 million people. A culture of applied practical knowledge is certainly a sturdy basis for this healthy higher education system. Established in 1923, Radboud University has seven faculty members and enrols over 19,000 students in several study programmes. All English-taught Master’s programmes are research-based programmes. The organisation of the master's programme and the personal style of teaching — offering plenty of opportunity to work closely with instructors and fellow students in small seminars — ensures that the university does not become a mere “degree factory”.
The university fosters strong links between education and research, creating a community of learning in which students can become independent thinkers.
Life in Holland
Nijmegen is situated on a range of hills near the river Waal. The surrounding area has hills, woods and polders, creating a varied countryside offering a range of recreational opportunities. You have a good chance of encountering “real Dutch people” here. Everyone can feel at home in Nijmegen in his own way. There are four Indian restaurants in the city of Nijmegen which already explains the considerable number of Indians in the city. Moreover, there are students and researchers from various parts of India at the university who meet regularly and also celebrate Diwali, Pongal, and so on with families and Dutch friends.
The writer is a post-doctoral scientist at Microdroplets Research Group, Institute for Molecules and Materials (IMM), Radboud University, The Netherlands. Email: v.chokkalingam@ science.ru.nl