How did you find out about ITMO?
Along with some of my friends, I was looking for universities in Germany, Czech Republic, and Russia for my higher education. One of my friends suggested that I should take a look at ITMO and their Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Master’s program. I was fascinated by the syllabus of this program and the specialization tracks that it offered. I was particularly interested in tissue engineering. I got invitations from three universities but I chose ITMO over all of them because of its world-class laboratory.
What did you study for your Bachelor’s degree?
During my Bachelor’s, I studied biotechnology. The Indian education system is pretty different from the Russian one. In India, I studied a lot of subjects which included chemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, and the like. But they were only theoretical. On the contrary, in Russia, the universities focus a lot on the practical experience of students. What I really like about SCAMT (the ITMO-based research institute that houses the Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Master’s program – Ed.) is the fact that they allow me to do my own research. Every student at SCAMT is allowed to define their own research project. That is the best thing which I think is unparalleled and unique.
What are your research interests and what are you currently working on?
I love tissue engineering. Currently, I am a part of the 3D Printing of Functional Nanomaterials lab where I am working on a certain functional biomaterial derived from spider silk. In the beginning, it was really scary for me to work with so many spiders as I am not someone who gets along well with insects. Also, I have to feed them live crickets which is a very nasty thing to do. It gave me nightmares! But now after spending several months with them, I have finally befriended them. They are like my pets now! They recognize me and obey me. There are 41 spiders in my lab and all of them belong to the tarantula species, which includes the largest spiders in the world. Some of them are venomous but their venom doesn’t kill human beings, so I am safe! It is quite interesting to work with them.
Recently, you attended the Food Biotech Conference organized by ITMO University. What was your experience like?
I love participating in conferences and when I came across the Food Biotech conference organized by ITMO’s School of Biotechnology and Cryogenic Systems, I was really interested to take part in it. Food technology is a field of science that fascinates me and I was pretty excited to listen to all the keynote speakers discussing their research projects. I ended up presenting two posters that dealt with spider silk fibroin and advanced polysaccharides dendrimers. I had a very enlightening experience and I hope I can be a part of many more such conferences.
Let's talk about your life here in St. Petersburg. Have you made any new friends?
Yes, definitely! Not only have I made friends from Russia but also from other countries like Eritrea, Kazakhstan, China, and Egypt. They are all great people, super helpful and caring. St. Petersburg has really gifted me with some great friends for life.
What places did you visit in St. Petersburg during the summer vacation?
Due to the ongoing pandemic, I arrived in St. Petersburg pretty late. So I was already missing out on many things. However, I did visit numerous places like Peterhof and Rumbolovo Park, as well as attend some concerts and theatres. My favorite was the Summer Garden. I really appreciate its decor and grandeur.
Have you picked up any Russian? Which Russian word or phrase do you use the most?
I have learned some Russian thanks to the foreign language classes at ITMO. However, I am still not very comfortable with it. The phrase I use the most is, “Я не знаю русский язык!” (I don’t speak Russian). Most of the times, I manage my conversation with the words, “да” and “нет” (yes, no) and “я понимаю” or “я не понимаю” (I understand, I don’t understand). That’s all the Russian that I have learned so far! But I am practicing the language regularly with my Russian friends.
Do you miss your family and friends in India?
Yes, sometimes. But usually, I am very busy with my classes. So I hardly get the time to think about them. Nevertheless, I am always in touch with my parents. Thanks to apps like WhatsApp and Facebook, I am able to video call and chat with my loved ones on a daily basis.
Is there any particular dish from home that you miss the most?
Yes, there is! Not one but a lot of them. I am a foodie. I miss almost all the dishes that are staples in the Indian diet like dal-chawal and roti-sabji. I do miss the food cooked by my mom. It is absolutely unique. Russian food is good and healthy but I miss that spicy flavor.
Do you cook for yourself? Is there any Russian dish that you have cooked recently?
I cook my own food every day. I am a vegetarian and it is difficult to find vegetarian food in Russia which is spicy. So, I prepare it on my own. Not a grand platter but a very basic and spicy one. Talking about Russian dishes, I did try to make блины (Russian pancakes or bliny) and каша (Russian porridge or kasha), but I don’t know if I did justice to them! Каша is similar to Indian porridge so I do enjoy it a lot.
What would you like to say to the students newly admitted at ITMO?
My advice would be to not buy winter clothes from their home countries because those clothes will not suffice. It is always a good idea to come here and shop for winter garments. If you are lucky you may also get some good discounts. If you are a foodie and love spices like me, it is always advisable to bring some spices from home. Also, don’t forget to bring some medicine, especially for the flu, because the season is changing here and you might catch a cold.
Interview by Subhrajit Barua