Inspiring Young Researchers : Megha Satpathy
Megha Satpathy, a graduate from the Department of Bio-Medical Engineering bagged a golden opportunity to receive a PhD offer at the prestigious University of Mississippi Medical centre in the United States. Her ever-smiling visage that radiates boundless and infectious energy as well as positivity, is bound to leave one charmed. Team MM got an opportunity to catch up with her, who shared her inspiring story, where she overcame all hurdles with her hard work, patience, persistence and perseverance to achieve the summits of success.
Monday Morning: Walk us through your childhood days, the days that you spent at school before joining NITR?
Megha Satpathy: I was born in Cuttack, Odisha and spent the first 10 years of my childhood with my grandparents. I moved to Rourkela in the year 2007 to live with my parents and my sister. That was the climacteric point of my life when I had to leave behind the apple of my eye, my grandmother. I had joined Delhi Public School here in Rourkela. It took me considerable time to adjust to that nascent Co-ed environment. I was not always among the toppers of our school but was academically sound enough. It was amusing to find my friends label me as a pure nerd! I always tried to strike a fine balance between my academics and extra-curricular activities. I was actively involved in athletics and NCC back then and spent most of the time sketching and writing articles for the school magazines. My academic career took a sharp leap in class 10th when I secured a CGPA 10 in the boards. I was always inclined towards pursuing Engineering in future and so I started my preparation for the same during the 11th and 12th standards.
MM: How did Biomedical Engineering at NITR happen with you? Was it your choice or fate had it in store for you?
MS: During our time, the normalisation process of the JEE-Mains score with the board percentage was introduced, which had supposedly doomed my dreams. Biomedical Engineering was never a choice since I had not opted for Biology at the intermediate level. My board marks were poor, which brought down the normalised score of my JEE-Mains score, and I landed up in Biomedical Engineering at NITR. So yes, you can say, NITR by choice, Biomedical Engineering by fate. I was awfully depressed back then, lest I knew this field had such great opportunities waiting for me.
MM: Most of the students found their first year hectic. How did you master a balance between academics and extra-curricular activities considering your involvement in Leo Club, Design Tab, La Resistance, and a few more?
MS: When I had entered the gates of this prestigious institute, I had made up my mind to put my best foot forward. My grandmother always advises me to go an extra mile and leave no stone unturned in whichever field one pursues, but at the same time, not to forget the passion that defines you. The first year was undeniably hectic and laborious but I firmly believe that if you aspire to do something, can always find out time for it. It does take a lot of effort but at the end of the day, it's worth it. After all, if there is no pain, there is no gain. Delving deep into my academic life at NITR, I became the second topper of my branch that year and the first topper of my branch in the coming year. Leo Club was the first club that I got inducted into, since I had participated in Rhapsody, a flagship event of the Leo club, back during my school days. I consider joining this club as one of the best decisions of my life. I joined Design Tab during my sophomore year since I wanted to hone my sketching skills. I joined La Resistance in my Pre-Final Year driven by the sheer desire to participate in at least one of the stage shows here at NITR, before graduating from the institute! Robotics aligned with my interests but I never specifically joined any club related to it. I had participated in several technical events during Innovision. Joining these clubs not only proved to attach importance and add weight to my resume later on but also provided me with ample amount of experiences of a lifetime that were enriching and indelible.
MM: You won the best project award at National level in ISIC-ISSRD 2017. Can you tell us more about it and put some light on the JNU saga?
MS: My earliest work started in my sophomore year when I, with another fellow classmate pursued the idea of studying the composition of a homeopathic medicine Pulsatilla and characterising its different concentrations available in the market for estimating the presence of different proteins that might be the root of its excellent medicinal effect. Motivated to make significant contributions to mitigate India’s emerging crisis on water pollution by organic matter, we then moved on to draft an independent research proposal in the name of ‘HYACIN' to the National Entrepreneurship Summit, 2016, held at NITR.
Our proposal gathered huge appreciation and we won the first position in the B-plan event as well as in the poster presentation held by NES 2016 with a net scholarship amount of Rs.35000. The experiences I gained during this period subsequently helped me to pursue 3 other independent projects under Prof. S.S.Ray and one product-based project under Prof.B.P.Nayak. One among the 3 projects was to check the effects of different solvents on the fluorescence property of calcium-doped vanadium oxide nanoparticles, which I presented in the second International Conference on Recent Advances in Nano-sciences and Nanotechnology (ICRANN) 2016, organised by the Special Centre for Nano-sciences, JNU, New Delhi. It was a 2-day conference programme and I have had the opportunity to interact with leading scientists from renowned institutions and research organisations. My poster was well appreciated, and to be honest, they were mainly amused because it is a rare sight to see any student present posters in international conferences at the B.Tech level. This was during the initial months of 2016.
In the year 2017, my fellow lab-mates and Prof. S.S.Ray encouraged me to participate in the Engineering Students Innovation Challenge held by the International Society for Scientific Research and Development (ESIC-ISSRD) 2017, and the project I presented was on the Extraction of Carbon Quantum Dots from various reliable sources. The competition was held at three stages: Abstract submission, Extended Abstract Submission and then a Final Presentation. I, along with my team partners: Soumya Pratap Tripathy and Pranjali Mishra won the Best Project Award at National Level for the same.
I also represented the work of my foreign internship in the 6th Asian Biomaterials Congress (ABCM6) held in Thiruvananthapuram, India.
MM: How did your foreign internship come about?
MS: I had made up my mind to delve deep into the line of research from the beginning itself, and for that, I had a plan set to build up a strong background. And, a foreign internship would have added a lot of value to my resume that would further bolster the opportunity to get into a good organisation after my graduation. Hence, I began to take up several projects, worked in labs during holiday sessions as well as during off hours within academic schedules, took part in several conferences and national level competitions and most importantly, tried my best to maintain good grades. I had applied for an internship programme at IIT Gandhinagar during the summer of 2016 and was among the 14 students from all over India who had got selected for the same. But, I decided that working in NITR labs would be better to gain experience at such an initial stage, so I stayed and worked in Prof.S.S.Ray's lab. However, for the winter of 2016, I applied and got selected in a one-month internship programme in the School of Basic Sciences at IIT Bhubaneswar, under the guidance of Prof.Balamurugan Ramadass. There, my work was to develop an intergenerational probiotic approach to the establishment of the healthy microbiome in infants and in women of child-bearing age, using resistant starch provided as High Amylose Maize Starch (HAMS) that improved health outcomes and growth. Within that period, I had applied for a foreign internship programme at National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, which is one of the top-ranked universities of the world. It offered us a Global Engineers Leadership Scholarship which covered the round-trip flight expenses and provided us with free accommodation. A total of 35 students from all over the world had got selected for the programme and I was one among them. From NITR, 3 students were selected, which included me, Manas Ranjan Pattnayak from Mechanical and Pradyumna Kumar from Chemistry. I worked under the guidance of Prof. Chieh-Cheng Huang in the Institute of Biomedical Engineering at NTHU.
MM: How did your foreign internship come about? What was the procedure you followed to apply for the internship?
MS: The application is usually out by November. The detailed step-by-step procedure was mentioned in the institute’s website. While applying, we had to upload our grade sheets, resume, the statement of purpose and letters of recommendation from our recommenders, which are highly determining factors for the selection process. The results come about in various rounds, and I was in the 1st selection itself. From India, about 9 more students from renowned IITs and IISC Bangalore were selected. The final results were announced in the month of February 2017. Soon after our selection, they sent us the required documents that were needed to apply for a visa and that gave funding information. As I had earlier mentioned, it offered us a Global Engineers Leadership Scholarship which covered the round-trip flight expenses and provided us with free accommodation.
MM: Share your internship experience in Taiwan. According to you, what are the major differences between an internship done abroad and in India?
MS: The internship experience at Taiwan was amazing. I worked with Prof. Huang at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, NTHU Taiwan, to assess cell-mediated therapeutic angiogenesis by using 3D cell aggregates for cardiac repair. The labs were well equipped with all the necessary instruments and I got to learn a lot of technical and practical skills. Prof. Huang was a great guide as well and helped me a lot throughout the completion of the project. My lab-mates were very cool and welcoming, and I was amazed by their work ethic and determination. Every particular thing was scheduled, planned, and properly executed. They maintained a perfect work-life balance and showed a lot of interest in knowing about India’s culture and traditions. The institute was huge; it included departments in almost all academic fields and had also other buildings and facilities for recreation. Everything was very systematic and westernised. The only problem we faced was outside the institute where not many people understood English. However, the people of Taiwan can be considered the best in the world. We did roam about a lot of nearby places like Taipei, Hualien, etc., and were amazed by its beautiful surroundings and developed infrastructure.
At that time, I had also backed two other reputed internship programmes, which included the Bio-Engineering Summer Training (BEST) Programme held by IISC Bangalore and the SURGE programme held by IIT Kanpur. However, I chose NTHU, because my plan was to pursue higher studies abroad, and a foreign internship in a reputed institution was more than essential for it. Moreover, exploring the academic culture outside India would help one to learn and remain updated with the academic developments going on in and around the world. I also believe that outside, things are more systematic and principled, and one can easily get one’s work done with proper guidance. I am not at all against the work ethics followed in Indian institutions, but I believe that an outside exposure is a must if one is interested in higher studies.
MM: Throw some light on the prospects of your department. What changes would you like to see in future?
MS: The Department of Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineering mainly deals with the engineering aspects of the medical field. The subjects that are included in our course include basic Medical Science, Basic Clinical Science, Biomechanics, Biomaterials, Nanotechnology, Immunotechnology, Bioinstrumentation, Medical Signal Processing, etc. However, the job sector in India in this field is quite low, especially for freshers. Hence, most people involved in this field either go for higher studies or change their field. Apart from that, prospects in this department are really good and the professors in our department provide us with ample amount of guidance. I am especially thankful to Prof.S.S.Ray and Prof. A.Thirugnanam (my thesis supervisor), for being a constant source of guidance and inspiration.
MM: What are your plans after graduation? Where do you see yourself in the near future?
MS: Currently, I have received a PhD offer at The University of Mississippi Medical Centre in the United States, and will be joining therein the upcoming fall semester. This is a five-year direct PhD programme with full funding and complete coverage of tuition fees. Previously, I had appeared for GRE and TOEFL, drafted my SOP well before and had started with my application processes for MS and PhD programmes in my final year. I had even got placed in Capgemini but opted for higher studies instead. All through my undergraduate years, I have delved into various interdisciplinary fields to seek out my research interest. From a retrospective view, I have found myself compatible to work on any phenomena that demand the use of logic and ignites my curiosity. A few years down the line, I see myself as a scientist or an academician in a reputed university or a research and development organisation.
MM: Before signing off, what message would you like to give to our readers?
MS: There is a concept called ‘Smart Work’, which is a perfect blend of planning and hard work. In these four to five years, time management is a crucial factor that students need to learn. And most importantly, never compromise with your academic grades. Its one of the most important factor for selection irrespective of whichever field one pursues. I strongly believe that my academic excellence awards have a great role to play with everything I have achieved to date. All of us are grown-ups and we need to make more responsible choices. We need to think of what repercussions our actions could have on us and the society. And most importantly, we need to stick to our words. If we make a commitment, we need to make sure that we are able to conclude it in the right way. So whatever responsibility we take up, we need to bring the work to completion and plan accordingly, irrespective of all roadblocks and hindrances.
Team MM wishes Megha the best for her brilliant future ahead!