An introduction to Dr. Gitanjali Yadav, co-investigator of Tigr2ess Flagship Project 2b , ‘Enhancing Photosynthesis’.
Text and Photography by Toby Smith
Push south from Delhi’s packed centre where the density of concrete subsides and the bustling streets begin to calm. An already verdant city yields further to mature trees and open spaces. Down a leafy side-road, opposite Sanjay Van park and surrounded by farmland, lies India’s National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR) and the laboratory of Dr. Gitanjali Yadav.
Gita, graduated with Honors in Botany, from the University of Delhi before a post graduate degree in Biomedical Science from the same university. After obtaining a Ph.D. in Computational Biology, from the National Institute of Immunology (NII), Gita joined the NIPGR as a Staff Scientist. Here Gita set up a Linux based research laboratory for plant genomics and is now a lecturer at the University of Cambridge Plant Sciences department. After a warm round of introductions and chai, Gita is rushed away to a meeting leaving me with her capable team, insights into their workplace and the highly competitive career ladder of Indian researchers.
Amish Kumar is from the Maharajganj district of Uttar Pradesh and, typical of many peers in NIPGR, has travelled 100s of kilometers to live and work in Delhi. Like many in the Plant Sciences field, Amish took inspiration from his farming family. Amish and his colleagues volunteer how Dr. Yadav runs a calm, friendly lab where individual ideas and innovation are encouraged. There are opportunities to explore parallel projects with researchers in the same field and the limit is your own ambition and time.
Dr. Ravi Kiran Purama from Andhra Pradesh is already engaged with peer reviewing academic papers and contributing to several national scientific societies. Ravi reflects on how all five Ph.D. students in the lab are between 22 and 24 years of age, from diverse backgrounds and states, yet all battled in parallel and made it here through a highly competitive national system for Ph.D. entrance.
Sanjeet Mahtha takes a break from studying a 3D structural model to explain how after completing their 12th standard (Upper 6th Form) students must pass the highly competitive IIT (Indian Institutes of Technology) standard tests. The IIT is regarded as one of the toughest examinations in the world with less than 1% of the 1 million plus applicants of 2017 passing. Following this most selective process students enter a classic ‘3+2’ tier Undergraduate and MSc system in their chosen fields before applying and interviewing for advertised Ph.D. positions.
Dr. Renu Kumari happily gives me a tour of the adjoining physical laboratory, however the main focus of Gita’s unit is Computational Biology. Here at a fleet of humming iMacs I find Citu Gulia navigating complex genomic datasets and running visualisations on their protein interconnections.
Citu’s career path reflects the same narrative and challenges that Gita pursued in her own career. Both women acknowledge the significant barrier of gender inequality that stubbornly persists across India – particularly in rural areas – but are immensely grateful to their families for support. Through Tigr2ess Citu will soon be joining Dr. Howard Griffith’s team in Cambridge. The stone spires and cold East Anglian winds of November will be a far cry from Badli her remote ancestral village in Haryana state. Gita returns to the room and nudges her protégé Citu – ‘Best get yourself a passport, Madam!”
Gita is frank about the challenges faced by young female scientists and the intense competition to reach international opportunities and collaborations. All of her world class students are engaged and motivated by the stubborn poverty of India’s rural poor and the subsistence farmers facing the duality of climate change and growing populations.
On this sobering note we finalise the logistics for a field trip to neighbouring Haryana seeking early insights into millet farming where we hope to observe its potential and vital role as a crop in the heart of many Tigr2ess projects.