Hello Trinish, could you tell us briefly about your PhD at Institut Curie?
I was a PhD student in UMR 168, from the first batch of Institut Curie’s Cofund International PhD Program, IC-3i. I arrived in 2016 and finished in 2021. I worked in the lab of Pascal Silberzan, Team leader of the Biology-inspired Physics at MesoScales team in the Physical-chemistry Unit.
How did you come to know about this program and how did you apply?
I come from a city called Kolkata in India, where I did my Integrated Bachelors-Masters degree in IISER Kolkata. During my master’s thesis, I worked in the field of non-linear dynamics in biological context, which gave me an idea of how to use the rules of mathematics to make the life of biologists easier.
So, I wrote to Pascal Silberzan, expressing interest in his work and he told me to apply through the IC-3i PhD Program. I applied… and I was selected to attend the 3-day interview session in Paris. It was convenient as the position was already funded.
Did you apply to any other institutes before coming to Institut Curie?
Yes, I did. I was not looking for some particular lab or institute but rather for a specific niche field that is application of topological defects in biological systems. So, after several applications in multiple projects, this was the best fit.
Do you think you managed to work on the ideas you had planned for your PhD?
Yes! In laymans term, my goal was to make 2D things to grow into 3D and understand it from the mechanics point of view. My supervisor gave me access to all the tools to work with, and the framework for my project was my choice.
Well, that sounds good. So, after your PhD at Institut Curie, what happened? Did you head to another field?
So, after my PhD, I started to look for labs who work on complex biological systems (3D models). I wrote to a lot of people who do the topology studies in such models. After a while, I found my current lab at the University of Luxembourg with Anupam Sengupta, in collaboration with multiple groups. Among all the options, this was an exciting project due to the translational nature of it.
Out of curiosity, for other Institut Curie PhD students, how much did it help being a PhD student there for their future positions?
It helps a lot. Being a PhD student at Institut Curie brings a lot of visibility among your peers. But a lot of other factors come into account. A practical tip for filtering labs for a postdoctoral position is to find out first even if they have an open position or not. I wasted time not knowing this when I was sending my applications …
And of course, networking plays an important role.
Regarding your life in Paris, how difficult was it to integrate coming from India?
Although the administrative part is difficult due to French, it is actually faster than in other countries. Also, the health system is very comprehensive, which is a bonus.
You have to learn French of course, because the bus driver or the baker or mailman will not speak to you in English, hence it makes life easier to learn French.
Also, it is easier to make friends if you know a bit of French.
What is your professional goal?
Until now academia worked fine for me and I hope to keep continuing. Given the pandemic situation, I am quite lucky to maintain my career in science. However, In the future, if my luck runs out, I will happily shift to other fields.
Do you have anything to add? Any advice to give to the new PhD students of Institut Curie?
In UMR 168, I worked in the building where Marie Curie worked, so it was a very inspiring place to be.
One of the examples:
You will see that her lab notebook is posted on the walls. You can go to the museum to see more of it. She wrote every small detail from her experiments. So, the first lesson in science from Curie I got is that you should really maintain a detailed lab notebook.
I would add the last quote from my side for the new PhD students “Start figuring it out, you’re a PhD student now.”
Trinish Sarkar was interviewed by Priyanka Sasmal on 06/05/2022