A Humble Soul: Arra Abhinay
Arra Abhinay, a fourth-year student from the department of Life Science recently bagged a coveted research internship at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore. Team MM caught up with him, in a not-so-chilly winter evening to talk about his research and future plans. His simplicity and determination simply won us over.
MM: Tell us about your life before you joined NIT Rourkela. Were you always interested in biological sciences?
AA: I grew up in Jagtial in Telangana. a small town which not many people know about. After the completion of my matriculation in my hometown, I joined Sri Gayatri Junior College, Hyderabad for my Intermediate. Like most of the students, I took JEE coaching from Sri Chaithanya Concept School in the 11th and 12th standards.
“I was never out rightly uninterested in biology, at the same time, I did not have it in my +2 subjects. After I joined NITR, my gradual interest in the subject and its nuances developed.”
MM: Life Science is a fairly new and unconventional branch for NIT-R. What made you opt for it?
AA: As I have already mentioned I did not have any significant interest in Biology and therefore Life Science was never my first choice. I had opted for it in the spot round along with Chemistry primarily because of the reputation NIT-R holds at the national level for its academics.
MM: Coming to your internship, what procedure did you follow for its procurement?
AA: I applied through the Indian Academy of Sciences Summer Research Fellowship Program, which gives you an opportunity to apply for an internship in most of the premier institutes of India in one go. You are required to fill out the application form, provide a write up stating your purpose along with your field of interest as well as a reference letter from a professor. The eligibility criteria are quite average, however, selection rate is very low.
“I had applied for a fellowship in my sophomore year but was not successful. I realized that without any background knowledge in research or lab work, it would difficult to procure any internship.”
In the summer following my sophomore year, I worked under Prof. Monalisa Mishra from the LS department. I was a part of two projects in which we studied fruit flies and was a third author in a publication. Barring aside the authorship, I also included the projects under work experience and that helped me bag the internship.
MM: Could you elucidate about your work specifically?
AA: I worked under Professor (Dr.) Krushnamegh Kunte, who is also known as the 'man of butterflies'. For the various projects, they have a collection of 30,000 varieties of butterflies, and also a large collection of moths, dragonflies, beetles, toads and snakes. I specifically was asked to work on the thermal ecology of Pieris canidia which are endemic in the Himalayas. This butterfly varies in its pigmentation pattern which changes its phenotype with respect to the climate. It’s lighter in summer and has a darker shade in winter. Since it was an MSc. dissertation project trying to prove the same, for the first half of my internship, I tagged along with the various research scholars for capturing and identification of various butterflies present in the campus. I simultaneously read a lot of published paper and reports. Prof. Kunte arrived in the middle of my stay following which the real work started. About 400 species were collected by him in different seasons across the elevation gradient in the western Himalayas. I handled the spectrophotometers and was given the responsibility of recording the values. I did not have previous experience in handling such equipment but the team I worked with taught me very patiently. The work culture and the quality of education at NCBS are so good that even students from the US and abroad pursue internships there.
MM: How were the accommodation, food and travel facilities at NCBS? Tell us about your overall experience there.
AA: The accommodation was provided by the Indian Academy of Sciences and was far away from the campus. It took us an hour to travel from our residence to the workplace, so we used to have lunch at NCBS itself. They did charge us for accommodation, transport as well as food from the stipend itself but then the food was delicious so it didn’t matter much.
MM: What were your working hours at NCBS?
AA: They were no fixed hours of working. The interns came at random hours and worked and left. In fact, some Ph.D. students came in the evening and worked until morning. They were like ‘free birds’. I worked for a total of 56 days. In the earlier days, I used to work from 9 AM to 4 PM, and then later extended it to 6 PM.
MM: You said that you worked from 9 to 6. And adding your travel time, there is little time left for recreation. So, what did you do in your free time?
AA: As I stayed at an academic residence, I had a chance to meet students from different fields such as chemistry, physics, and biology. I used to watch movies generally as we only got Sundays as holidays. However, we did explore the city of Bangalore and even went for a one day trip to Mysore.
MM: What made you opt for a research-based internship over an industrial based one?
“Life Science in itself is a research-based field. I wish to pursue research and become a scientist. Hence, a research-based internship was the obvious choice.”
MM: What field do you wish to specialize in and what are your future plans?
AA: I’ve worked on butterflies as well as fruit flies. For the time being, I am inclined towards butterflies because it is an interesting field and few people opt for the same. And for my Ph.D. I am hopeful of getting into a college abroad. For the time being, I have thought of carrying out research on butterflies in NITR.
MM: For pursuing a Ph.D., do you have any specific college in mind?
AA: Not exactly. But I would prefer a college from abroad to pursue my Ph.D.
MM: According to you, when applying for internships, what should be given more importance- CGPA or work experience?
AA: I think work experience and lab work matter more than CGPA. Because CGPA doesn’t always help you.
MM: What advice would you like to give to your juniors regarding internships?
AA: I saw several people at NCBS, who had completed their B.Sc and took a yearlong break just to figure out what they wanted to do. So, it’s very important for one to know what they really want to do in life.