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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Completing 1 year in IICB....

Today exactly one year back I landed in Kolkata. I will be completing one year in IICB in a week now. Amidst all fear, speculations, we took a rather bold decision to come back to India. My position was not permanent, it still isn't. We both left our comfortable jobs, beautiful home, green card to work for the country. Now after a year on when I look back, I don't think it was bad at all... It has taught us a lot of things, but at the same time I am lucky to have my students, my lab and a very loving environment here.

I will share some of my experiences here:

What I learnt the hard way:

1. Dont accept objects you did not intend to order or never open a pack:

Some of our lab purchases has been excellent, some were OK and some were awful. Among the awful stuff I bought was a set of 3 non-performing UPS from Business Center ( I dont know where this name came from). First thing is I was coaxed into buying 2 printers that I never asked for. Then these UPS that never ever worked and the lady that sold us promised us that she will not ask for money for a year. In between we processed all the bills, but our lousy purchase department lost one of the bills from Business center and it could not be paid. Finally I had to pay it off from my contingency.

2. When processing bills, if you give a file to someone keep a copy or keep an evidence of it.

Here in IICB, when the bills are processed, it passes through a string of processes. I still dont understand why it has to be that way. For me purchase should be straight forward. You choose the company that sells a particular product, then procure it and send the bill to account section for final payment. But here, it goes to division A (I am not sure about their role here), then they sit on it (If they did not loose the file) for sometime before passing on to x, y, z division before it finally makes an entry into finance. Be cautioned, at any stage your file may be lost. If it is lost, not only your bill will be unpaid, but also you have to make an arrangement to pay it somehow, since the money goes away every march if unspent. Now the most logical solution to that will be to have a device to record that you have really handed over your file to someone. So, keep a scanned copy of your doc, make the people sign on a paper that they took the doc and so on.

3. Follow up:

Here nothing happens without following up. You may tell one thing one time, but the other person does not take it seriously till you tell it N number of times. That is true in every aspect of life here. So follow up on each and everything. Buy a tape recorder if necessary and play it multiple number of times.

4. Have infinite memory:

Since you have to follow up on each and everything, you need to have infinite amount of memory. If you already did not have it, buy an external hard drive t:)

Now I want to tell something nice about what we have achieved in a years time.

1. We released a product - a successor of VMD: Before I joined IICB, I contacted the director and the head about availability of Oracle, since VMD ran on oracle. Although there were several copies of Oracle license floating around, I could not get hold of any. Then came the idea of launching the whole thing in Mysql. VMD has a very complicated schema and it uses Oracle's materialized view concept heavily. So, I had to think carefully about how to emulate this feature in Mysql and which tables/views to retain so that the front end remains unchanged. Finally we achieved this, and our successor to VMD named as is available in a new platform. We are building tools and wrappers around it to get rid of other dependencies so that it can be portable. Thanks to my MTech. student Akash Gupta for the efforts.

2. We sequenced 2 economically important BGA genomes! 5 more in pipeline and one probiotic bacteria also in the pipeline!

3. Standardizing assembly efforts of the BGAs that have a mixed read length [Thanks to Neha's tireless work  on this].

4. Collaborating with cancer genomics group on cancer marker finding and cancer exome sequencing projects [Again thanks to Neha, Sanjib, Pijush for this].

Apart from all these, I have already written 8 grant proposals. One is funded with me on 0 budget, one got a nod, one from CSIR (although I have received nothing from it yet), 2 got rejected, one is under subjury, two more ready to be sent, one more under preparation.

I got good money from my Ramalingaswamy contingency so I could hire 2 people, and generous start up fund from director for all the proposed work.

I thank my entire crew for our lab achievements. I thank Lubna for helping set up the lab from scratch. I thank Madhu, Arpita and Deeksha for taking care of purchase of chemicals/equipments. Deeksha for standardizing DNA extraction protocol, Madhu for taking care of cultures and looking after lab cleanliness. Arpita for working on Inventory database system, Subhadeep for taking care of newer culture facility.

Our lab now has 3 Linux servers; access to India's superfast computer; access to HPC cluster in IICB; 10 PCs(including 2 laptops); one computational lab room and one wet lab room; laminar flow; incubator shaker; centrifuge; balance; pH meter; -20C; refrigerator; digital microscope; gel electrophoresis unit. We use nanodrop, geldoc, ultrcentrifuge, maldi, sequencer and many more equipments from the core facility, so we are more or less and fully functional group with tons of enthusiasm to execute world class research.