‘Nurture the spirit of enquiry’

A pioneer in India’s biotechnology industry, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw talks about her passion for bio-reasearch, and what makes her tick

Published - August 06, 2017 07:00 pm IST

Ms Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson and MD, Biocon Ltd, at Tiecon 2011, in Chennai on Thursday ( November 24, 2011)
Photo : Bijoy Ghosh
To go with Swetha's report

Ms Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson and MD, Biocon Ltd, at Tiecon 2011, in Chennai on Thursday ( November 24, 2011) Photo : Bijoy Ghosh To go with Swetha's report

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is a pioneer in the biotechnology industry in India. She founded India’s leading biotechnology enterprise, Biocon, and is chairperson and MD of Biocon Ltd. For her exceptional work in research and innovation in biotechnology, she has been declared a leading global thinker time and again. Her expert advice is sought by many government bodies as well as independent organisations in industry, education and healthcare.

But her heart lies in bringing healthcare to all. She does that through Biocon Foundation’s primary healthcare centres, telemedicine initiatives, public health and sanitation initiatives and preventive screenings for oral and cervical cancer. The 1,400-bed Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center in Bengaluru delivers affordable world-class cancer-care services to patients. Unsurprisingly, she is on Forbes’ List of ‘Heroes of Philanthropy’. In conversation with Kiran Mazumdar.

On her fascination for bio-research

I have had an innate inclination towards life sciences since my school days at Bishop Cotton Girls’ School, and used to read a lot about biology. I was fortunate to have had access to a science magazine series called Understanding Science , which laid out science so simply that anyone could understand it. More interestingly, I lived on the campus of United Breweries, where my father was a Master Brewer. I grew up inhaling the aromas of beer-making, which was all about the application of fermentation science.

Life in college

It was while entering college for pre-university at Mount Carmel College in 1968, that I learnt about the importance of meritocracy. When I failed to get through the interview of a reputed medical college, I asked my father to pay the capitation fee that would allow me to get enrolled. He refused on principle saying I must work harder and get into a programme which would admit me on merit. I opted for a B.Sc. (Honours) degree in biology and zoology at Bangalore University in 1970, and was fortunate to have had fascinating professors who taught me to think differently and challenge established knowledge.

How did college life lay the foundation for your work in the bio field?

The experience during my postgraduate in Malting and Brewing, Ballarat College, Melbourne University, Australia, was life changing. For the first time, I had to live on my own in a new country and to my amazement, I was the only woman in a male-dominated career programme. Although it was intimidating, these adversities strengthened my resolve to be successful. I developed a lot of self-esteem, which was lacking when I was in India. I learnt to fend for myself in an industry that was all-male. This boosted my confidence. It set the base for me being able to work and compete with the best in the industry.

Fond memories?

I recall an incident during my postgraduation in Australia. Brewers would point to a specific fermenter and say that for some unexplainable reason, it produced the best beer in the brewery. Having been taught not to accept such myths, I ventured to investigate the phenomenon and found that the welding joints in the conical portion of this star fermenter differed from those of others, thereby creating a unique fermentation base for yeast propagation, which resulted in a well -fermented, full flavoured pint of beer. This formed a part of my thesis which was much appreciated by my professors.

Message to students

Focus on curiosity-driven learning, which nurtures the spirit of enquiry and catalyses the process of innovation. Curiosity allows you to ask questions, do things differently and create new knowledge. Abandon the practice of learning by rote and focus on how to practically apply the knowledge gained from your field of study. It is the time to evolve your thought processes and prepare for the challenges of the real world.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.