Hello Pankaj, thanks for joining me today. Please tell us something about yourself. 

Hello Subhrajit, thanks for inviting me to this interview. I am an Indian, from the state of Haryana, located in Northern India. I am a second-year Master’s student in foodtech. This is my second Master’s degree, as I had previously completed one in India, too. 

That’s very interesting. Could you please elaborate on that more?

Sure. In high school, I was a science student studying subjects like biology, chemistry, and physics. I completed my first Bachelor's in biochemistry, followed by a Master's in biochemistry from Kurukshetra University in India. Then I did my second Bachelor's in educational sciences and a postgraduate diploma in floriculture and botanical sciences. I had also started a PhD, but I quit it to come to Russia.

Why did you pursue so many degrees?

It's simple. I wanted to get all the experience I could in various fields.

That’s fascinating! What made you interested in Russia? 

I watched your YouTube channel a lot. It inspired me the most to come here and study at ITMO. Thanks to your videos, I got to know about scholarships in Russia that I hadn’t known about before. I also watched videos by another student in Russia called Ayub.

Do you regret not finishing your PhD?

Not really, because I have already applied for a PhD once again through the Open Doors scholarship along with the Russian government scholarship; I won both of them and I secured the first rank in Open Doors in biological sciences. I also won in three other tracks, namely, clinical sciences, educational sciences, and environmental sciences. 

Wow, congratulations. Which one will you choose? 

I selected biotechnology as the track for my PhD. I want to continue the work I started doing during my Master’s at ITMO under the same supervisor, Dr. Denis Baranenko.

You have definitely gathered a lot of experience in the education sector. What differences do you notice between the education systems of India and Russia? 

The educational system of India is more rigid, not allowing a lot of academic freedom. Students in India have a tight schedule that they have to adhere to and pass a series of exams at the end. But here we have a more flexible schedule and freedom to choose the courses we like. Along with my Master’s program, I studied many extra courses and did a project for six months as an engineer at a biotech lab. 

Could you tell us more about this project and how you got this opportunity? 

This opportunity was presented to me by my supervisor, Dr. Denis Baranenko. The project investigated food materials with bioactive substances that can prevent non-infectious diseases. My focus was on the cold adaptation of bacteria, specifically Lactobacillus rhamnosus.

Pankaj at a biotech lab at ITMO. Photo courtesy of the subject

Pankaj at a biotech lab at ITMO. Photo courtesy of the subject

Amazing. You are about to graduate soon. What have been the highlights of your time at ITMO? 

Studying at ITMO has been a very good experience. I got to know many professors, professionals, and experts. Last semester, I visited some pharmaceutical companies, like Solopharm, where I witnessed clinical trials being performed. I also took part in several conferences, such as the 31st International Scientific Conference for Undergraduate and Graduate Students and Young Scientists – Lomonosov and the ITMO Scientific and Educational Methodological Conference. I gained a lot of experience by participating in such events. I gathered many recommendations and experience letters from these events. That's why I think I got the first rank in Open Doors!

Cool. Now let’s talk about student life. Did you enjoy being an international student in St. Petersburg? 

St. Petersburg was my dream city. I wanted to live here for a long time. That's why I selected it for my studies. But when I came here, even though I had learned some basic Russian words, it was difficult for me to adapt for a few days. But my friends here helped me a lot. For instance, they helped me with the medical examination procedures, as the people conducting it don't speak English. However, life at the university has been very convenient. Everyone knows English here and that made things easier. 

Have you had any bad experiences here? 

Yes, I was a victim of racism once. This incident happened when I was hanging out on Kotlin Island. I was with my African friends and some people made a few bad comments about us. Generally, most Russians are civilized, polite, and helpful people. But such experiences are unfortunate!

My apologies. Did that sour your experience?

To some extent it did. But I was able to recover soon. In the first semester, I was a bit depressed. I felt lonely and homesick. People here are not as friendly as Indians. But soon I got used to this environment. I also made new friends and things improved thereafter.

Talking about adaptation, how did you get used to the cold weather?

The weather in St. Petersburg is definitely a lot different from that of India, but interestingly, I was always slightly inclined towards cold weather. Therefore, I was able to quickly adapt to Russian weather and in fact, I had a lot of fun in the winter!

And what about food?

I am a vegetarian and finding good vegetarian food is a bit challenging. Russian food lacks spices and variety when it comes to vegetarian dishes. So, mostly I cook my own food in my dormitory. However, sometimes I do visit a few Indian restaurants. My favorite one is Ganesha where I order dosa – my favorite dish.

Oh, a South Indian dish – interesting! Which dorm are you staying in? 

I'm staying in dorm No. 4 on Belorusskaya St. 6. It's clean, well maintained and recently renovated. We have a nature park nearby which looks lush green in the summer. It's a good place to live. Yeah, it's a bit far, but I prefer living a little further away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Great. Have you been to other cities in Russia? 

Yes, I've been to Moscow. Red Square is my favorite place in the capital city. After graduation, I want to travel to other cities such as Murmansk and Yekaterinburg

What are your plans for the summer break?

I want to work here in St. Petersburg and earn some money. I have been hunting for a few jobs already. So, that’s my plan for the summer.

Good luck with your new adventures! Finally, any advice for future ITMO students? 

My advice would be to learn basic Russian before coming to Russia. Without language skills, it's difficult to communicate and find jobs here. Regarding academics, take your practical classes seriously. Every experiment you do is important. Neglecting them might cause problems for you.