“Art of Managing Research, Exams & Deadlines” – Subhabrata

Bonjour a tous!!!

My name is Subhabrata Dutta. I recently graduated as a master’s student from the Department of Chemistry, IIT Bombay. I recently got awarded with a master’s degree in the virtual convocation along with the prestigious Institute Silver Medal and several memorial awards for securing the highest CPI. While these awards come and go, I’m here to talk about my experience and learnings along my journey at IITB. 

Talking about the past, I have done my schooling entirely from Kendriya Vidyalaya No-2, Kalaikunda (12 long years). I have pursued my B.Sc. in chemistry from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. I work as a subject matter expert (Chemistry) which helped me to cover my expenses for foreign applications. 

I was offered a doctoral position both in University of Texas A&M and Austin. Later on I applied to Prof. Dr. Frank Glorius in Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster and got an offer from there as well. I was about to join Frank’s group in September but the pandemic changed the whole scenario and deferred it to Jan 2021.

Research Learnings @ Insti

Research for me was something I never craved for in the initial days of my bachelors. It was my B.Sc. project which piqued my curiosity towards research. I was given a project based on the physical and mathematical aspects of DNA structure. By the end of it, I was able to imagine the whole structure and bonds in my mind.

Here at IIT Bombay, I was fortunate enough to get a place in a lab carrying world-class research and a friendly atmosphere. I chose to work with Prof. Debabrata Maiti and worked for almost a year prior to lockdown. 

‘Make hay while the sun shines’ is a perfect idiom to describe our lab and of course Prof. Maiti. One thing that I learned is to make the best use of time, and following that thought I continued to work with him till date. 

Be it heavy rains or scorching sun, I was always ready with my cycle to go to the lab. I was new to the lab, the methods and the apparatus. It had a good time in learning whatever came in my way and with the best labmates, it seemed like a cake walk. 

However, I did face many challenges as they say ‘ A start is always accompanied by hurdles’. I had to run a few columns for hours, worked late night, continuous work with a single lunch break and even worked on Sundays on a few occasions.

Many people ask me why do you work so much? I used to say ‘I love it when my powerpoint slide is full of structures and results. It gives me immense satisfaction. While doing tedious columns, I used to calm myself by saying that if I complete this isolation by today, I will have another structure in my paper and will expand the scope. 

Managing research with coursework 

To be honest, I used to engage myself in practicing GRE, TOEFL and used to do the same while running columns and while attending classes (I don’t encourage this). I remember asking my friend to carry an extra pen and paper for the classes because I rarely used to carry anything for class.  Starting the day with going to lab at 9:00am, attending classes, coming back to lab again, going for lunch, again lab, and finally coming back for dinner was itself a daunting task (if required I used to stay till late night). 3rd semester was the toughest as many things were hovering in my mind including GRE, TOEFL, subject GRE, lab work, thesis writing, course work, GATE, Ph.D. applications, tracking them, expenses of those applications, etc. But at the end, I nailed most of them. This is where I realized that it’s my fight, I have to find my sword and fight alone. 

With so much going around, I managed to secure AIR 15 in CSIR-NET June 2019  and AIR 38 in GATE 2020 as well

Apart from these, the most important thing is to enjoy and spend time with your friends. And I think I kept them happy with all the parties and buzz 😀 

Deep into research

The sad part about my research life is that it came late and of course the person to be blamed is me. I almost wasted my 3 years of graduation sitting at home and doing nothing other than studying for competitive exams. I regret and I feel I could have engaged myself in some research work. This little thing did cost me a lot in my masters as well as in my Ph.D. application. Better late than never, it arrived, and arrived in the most beautiful way. 

I started as early as I could. I spend almost my whole summer working on an on-going project in the lab which later resulted in a publication (beautiful isn’t it?). 

Then I moved onto my second research project which focused on the asymmetric synthesis via C-H activation strategy. This project actually developed me as a researcher and nourished my skills. I learned how to use HPLC, Glove box, and decode NMR to some extent. But, as we were on the verge of finishing, the Coronavirus outbreak put a complete full stop to it. 

As I said, time waits for none and that’s why I decided to work from home and start writing reviews on related topics which I’m working on. This gave me an opportunity to learn about drafting a manuscript along with the entire process of publication. 

Tips for applying to various univs 

I guess you all have heard from many of your seniors and well as in youtube about the same. First and foremost, be honest with what you are presenting to the universities. Always work on your strengths. I believe it’s not a decision made overnight, so you need to know where your strong points are. Is it the GRE, the SOP, your marks or your research experience? 

Don’t be lazy like me and work hard in your bachelor’s period. Please go for research internships, apply for scholarships and try to get a publication in those 3 years if possible (be it a review or a research article, it always gives an edge). This is the best you can do in your bachelor days. Talking about the masters, here you can have seminars on a regular basis and this gives you an opportunity to have a word with eminent researchers. Have a decent academic scorecard, good amount of research work, have a decent TOEFL score and start working on developing ideas in your field of interest as this will decorate your SOP. 

Few major tips for applying to universities:

  1. Before paying the hefty application fees, make sure there are at least 3-4 active professors of your interest in that university. Better would be to have a word with them prior to application. 
  2. Make sure you have the list of universities in your mind to be mentioned while opting for GRE because most of them are waiving off this requirement in the current scenario. 
  3. Control your crave and decide very sensibly about the choice of university
  4. Make sure you are done with all the formalities a month before the deadline so that your scores can reach in time and professors get enough time to write a recommendation letter for you. Keep tracking them. 
  5. If you are applying directly to professors in the same university (via mail), wait for a few days for a reply and if you don’t get one then only move for the next one to avoid clashes.
  6. Finally, be courteous enough to reply back saying ‘Thank you’ if you are not offered a position. 

Mantras of success (*terms and condition apply)

For the juniors, I want to say a few things. Don’t lose hope in this tough time and involve yourself in something so that it leaves no space for your mind to hover around something obnoxious. Believe me, that ‘something’ can later be a part of your CV too. Polish your skills which you had left for some reasons, fight our own battle alone as it would give you a reason to be proud of, never ask for help unless you give it your 100% and learn to manage multiple things simultaneously.

With my MSc Fam

Mental illness is something very serious these days. Don’t let your mind tell you that it’s over and you cannot do it. Always look for opportunities. Don’t run for merits and awards, it will come your way. And if in case it doesn’t, make sure you have enough under your belt to be proud of. 

Have your basics clear and learn to accept failures. 

Never let your ego come in between if you ever succeed in any stage, remember who’s doors were open when you were fighting all alone, give them a treat. 

Always act like a buffer solution, dissolve the bitter and the sweet, without changing much which you can always cherish later on!

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