Interview with Priyanka Dasgupta, the winner of Science Slam India 2017

Priyanka won the Science Slam Crown in 2017 with her outstanding live performance called: Theatre and the Mind: Effect of theatre on creativity and cognition; What goes on? As the 1st prize winner, she was given a round trip to Europe to visit Brussels and a research institute of her choice.

In Europe, she had the opportunity of meeting experts in fields of Science Policy and Communication, visiting the cities of Edinburgh, London, Brighton, Brussels, Antwerp, Geneva, and Vienna. She would like to pursue her research career in Europe, and is currently preparing for an internship at Antwerp Zoo in Belgium.

What motivated you for joining the EURAXESS Science Slam?

Priyanka Dasgupta: Realizing the importance of Science Communication in today's uber fast world, I initially started looking into circles of Science which promoted and exchange of ideas beyond the closed doors of the laboratory. In one such Science Communication workshop I happened to meet a previous contender of the EURAXESS Science Slam. On further queries I found how this was a wonderful platform not only to launch yourself ahead in your research career but one which also ensured that inspiring synergistic exchange of ideas. That was it! I had to apply!

The Science Slam helps to promote young Indian researchers in European research environments. In what ways was the trip to Europe important for your career?

As a scientist from the field of Zoology, and looking to make a transition into Science Policy and Communication, (which as of now, is still a relatively smaller area in India) the Europe trip came as a great boon. I was able to meet the top Science Policy and Communication scientists and experts from the best institutions through Europe (Imperial College London, University of Edinburgh and Sussex to name a few).

This face to face interview that EURAXESS made possible, allowed me to discuss my options better with senior scientists. Apart from mere networking though, the interviews and meetings through Europe gave me a better understanding of the curriculum or the prospects that would be expected from a research career in Europe. I am glad EURAXESS gave me a chance at that.

What were the most important experiences that you draw from your trip to Europe?

Apart from getting to meet such amazing people, experts in their field, this trip also gave me a peek into the kind of working environment that I would come across in Europe. My travel gave me a deeper understanding of the culture, food, lifestyle of the people while at the same time making me realize that people everywhere, at the core, are the same. So one must not be afraid of the new or adjustment issues. Travelling absolutely solo for the first time also was indeed an exciting experience, and amidst my hectic travel schedule, I can't go without a special appreciation for the ease of transport and travel across the cities. One thing this visit made clear to me, is that the world is waiting with open arms (well, as much it can), if only we can dare to walk out into it.

What did you learn about European research environments?

I visited many institutions across Europe in my trip and found the atmosphere quite conducive to ideas and good quality research. Questions are approached with new outlooks and dealt with using the latest tech. The camaraderie amongst professors and students was also worth mentioning. At one of the retreat/conferences I attended while in Edinburgh, the guides, the senior most professors and the students sat outside on the wooden floors together while enjoying a nice meal and a view of the lake (at the retreat) . There was respect of course, but without the fear of approach that many a times comes with the ego of stature. Plus the diversity in the colleges, signified that if you work hard, nationality doesn't matter that much as science is a universal affliction.

EURAXESS made the connection to Europe quite easy for me. In general though, as a student from India, the process for scholarships and admissions (overseas) is quite vague for a newbie and I wish there were more such institutions to make each step of the way clearer.

Will you continue with research with or in Europe?

I have been lucky enough to have got a position at the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp, which is a base for Conservation studies apart from the practical conservation they are doing. I will be assisting with the development and public communication model of 'Zoo Science ' so that the public is more aware, better in connect with the plight of the animals and thus better armed to step up in their conservation. I am happy to start learning and grow further on from there.

What motivates you as a researcher?

Have you ever been stuck on a puzzle? And when you figure it out, because the answer is so intelligent, the solution so elegant you can't help but be amazed. For me, being a researcher is a lifelong playground of such puzzles; of unravelling the mysteries of our world and engineering solutions to contribute to our world and society.

Which research path do you envision for your future career?

Right now, my background as a firm zoologist and my masters specialization in genomics, metagenomics and epigenetics does not deter but strengthen me more to delve into the policy issues concerning the latest Biotechnology, genomics, medicine or energy projects and decisions being made around the world. With this base I am looking forward to policy and innovation studies in order to contribute to a better utilization and promulgation of the scientific knowledge, while maintaining the healthy and necessary dose of Science Communication.

The purpose of the Science Slam is to make one’s own research easily accessible and understandable to a general audience. Your presentation was on ‘theatre and the mind’. How important are science communication skills for a researcher’s career?

You could read a zillion books at home, acquire all that knowledge, might even devise a cure to some cancer by your theoretical genius, but use would all that be if not brought to the public and used as an adjuvant to the growth of our society.

In my talk I showed scientific evidence of how theatre boosts creativity and cognition in many cases. Science must be communicated to the public in an interesting way. Throughout humankind we have been studying; now we do know that the human brain can pick things up faster if they are interesting. So study, or science if communicated well, is not just a good awareness model it is also an incredible educative tool.

Communication is the vestibule that cradles together all of humanity. Communicating science forms the infrastructure that strives to maintain that base and lays the foundation for any future construction.

Could you kindly share some tip to this year’s EURAXESS Science Slam participants?

Remember the way a small science experiment first made your eyes grow wide with wonder. Reinvoke that in yourself and if you can ignite the same delight that comes out of learning something new in the audience, you've done a pretty good job. Who knows, your talk might just inspire the next great discovery!

Thank you Priyanka for this interview!