Voice from Norway!

Interviews of researchers involved in STEM can help one learn and know more about various aspects of research life. This can help one sculpt his/her scientific journey. So, here in this interesting interview, we have Anupam Gogoi, an Indian student pursuing his PhD from the Norwegian University of Life sciences (NMBU). In this engaging talk, Anupam gives us a glimpse of his experience as a researcher working on Agricultural Sciences in the beautiful Scandinavian country of Norway. 

What was the impetus for you to choose a career in STEM?

My career in Science (Molecular Biology) is driven by the passion and happiness that I receive by working in the laboratory. I enjoy putting my ideas together and implementing them to contribute something beneficial to society.

Can you briefly explain your current area of research “Molecular plant pathology” and how did you zero in on it?

My PhD work is focused on plant resistance to oomycetes ( Phytophthora). My lab is particularly interested in translational research with a special emphasis on horticultural crops. Most of the wild relatives of the modern-day cultivars carry useful resistance against several plant pathogens. Our idea is to identify such resistance conferring genes in wild progenitors and translate the information to edible crops. Our research also focuses on plant-pathogen interactions, mainly on aspects like how pathogens evolve and manipulate host resistance by secreting effector proteins.

Could you tell us how you searched and applied for positions abroad? While everyone in the herd chose universities in USA or Canada as their PhD destinations, what made you pick the Norwegian Institute of Life Sciences?

 Most of the open positions for PhD are advertised in different websites such as TAIRJOBS, JOBVECTOR etc. The webpages of many universities also roll out the vacancies in their various departments. So these are also potential places to keep an eye on.

It is well known that USA, UK, and many other developed nations house some of the best universities in the world. I specifically chose NMBU based on my area of interest and the QS world ranking based on my subject area. One must look at the subject-wise or department-wise rankings while shortlisting the universities and must not decide merely from the overall ranking of the university. It is also important to choose the right university which gives you an expertise in your field of interest. NMBU offers world-class infrastructure for research and it holds the 13th QS ranking globally in the Agricultural Sciences domain.

People say Norway is a beautiful Scandinavian country. Can you provide us with a brief peep into Norway?

Norway’s beauty lies in the untouched mountains, terrains, fjord and its well-educated inhabitants. With a population of roughly 5 million, the education and health care systems are one of the best in the world. Norway provides free education and health care (with minimum expenditure per year) to all its residents. Good salaries for PhD studies and paid vacations make Norway one of the best educational hubs in the world. 

How do you think your PhD journey so far has influenced you as a person both inside and outside the lab?

Slowly and steadily, I am becoming a hard-headed independent researcher. Being a young researcher, it is obvious that optimistic sense drives your passion for science. So, I am trying to be more balanced now with an optimistic outlook.

Can you tell us some positive and negative aspects (if any) of pursuing a PhD?

Pursuing a PhD will make you excellent in your field of research and boosts your confidence levels. It also helps you gain a sense of intellectual independence to start your own laboratory. It is also beneficial for people who would like to serve the public and private sector. During the PhD term, you might face several downfalls and hurdles. These could be due to your own errors or from your supervisor’s side. The former is under your control and you can rectify it to some extent. So choosing the right supervisor is critical and it also involves a bit of luck.    

Can you recall one euphoric moment and one dark moment in your scientific journey till now?

 One such moment was when I successfully obtained my first transgenic lines positive for a target gene introduction in tobacco. I was elated. My supervisor praised me saying, “Hard work pays off.” That’s the best compliment I have received so far.

On the other hand, I have experienced several downfalls and frustrations as well. But I don’t see them as dark moments. These are things that one must sail through to achieve something great.

Research involves many trials and tribulations. You have probably encountered times when getting the desired results were tiresome. How do you deal with the frustration that often accompanies long-term research?

A plant bears fruits when you constantly nourish it with nutrients and water. Such is the case with scientific research. Meditation, acceptance of failure and troubleshooting are like nutrients and water and  I practice them most often.

Did you experience cultural shock as a student migrating into a new country? Do you have any tips for students to tackle cultural shock while migrating to study in foreign countries?

You might experience cultural shock when moving from India to Europe. That is quite normal. I learned how to initiate conversations with people from different backgrounds. Never hesitate to communicate with others even if your language and accent vary. Be yourself and the world will listen to you.

You have done your bachelors and masters in Agricultural biotechnology from India. India has a large number of reputed labs. Despite this fact, why did you choose to pursue your PhD abroad? Do you think aiming for a PhD abroad gives us a better foundation in research than one within our country?

India, without a doubt has good labs for research in biotechnology. Pursuing a part of your mainstream studies abroad offers a whole lot of experiences and provides exposure to new environment and people. I strongly recommend that people should travel as much they can to widen their horizon. 

You have experienced the research system in India and abroad. So, what are some factors which embellish the research ecosystem abroad?

Good question! Here are a few differences that I have seen during my time in India and Europe. Please note that these differences are not absolute, and it varies among people and labs.

Young researchers in India have limited practical knowledge but good theoretical knowledge when they start their lab journey. Whereas, European students have a great practical exposure right from their undergraduate studies. While there are many scholarship programs and examinations in India, they solely test one’s theoretical knowledge. This limits the possibility for innovation and originality that are often associated with practical experiences. These are some marked differences I have witnessed so far.

What is your opinion on pursuing a master’s and then going for a PhD?

I believe that pursuing a master’s degree and then going for a PhD is better than directly going for a PhD after the Bachelor’s program. This can however be changed if ample research curriculum is included in Bachelor programmes.

Are you engaged in Science communication activities?

Scientific communication is essential for exchanging research ideas, which can result in fruitful scientific discussions and possible collaborations. I am a member of the Molecular plant microbe interaction (MPMI) committee, Next generation scientist foundation (NGSF), Doctoral society at NMBU (SoDoc) and many other science communication frameworks across the globe.

Finally, any words of advice you would like to give to your younger self aiming to start a journey in scientific research?

I would say, follow your passion, find what you are good at and enjoy doing and shape your path based on that. 

What is the average salary in INR for students pursuing a PhD in Norway?

The average salary for a PhD employee in Norway ranges from 2-2.5 lacs rupees per month

How much of it can be saved after taking care of the basic expenses?

It depends on the individual’s expenditure. The living cost for most people range from 1.2-1.5 lacs per month.

How much money should newly admitted students carry to start their life in Norway?

It is recommended to carry a minimum of the basic one-month salary while flying for the first time, excluding flight expenses.

(Note: the expenses are only for one person.)  

Can you name some good Universities/Institutes to start a PhD in life sciences in Norway?

The University of Oslo (UiO) is a good university for pursuing Life Sciences. For plant and animal sciences, The Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) is a better place to study.

We have now come to the end of this interview. You can follow Anupam at :

https://www.linkedin.com/in/anupam-gogoi-23348397/

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