Subhrajit Barua is a first-year student in the Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Masters Program at ITMO University’s International SCAMT Laboratory (Solution Chemistry of Advanced Materials and Technologies). A graduate of Amity University in Kolkata, India, Subhrajit has interned with US-based Pine Biotech, where he worked on bioinformatics as part of liver cancer research, and plans to focus his work on multi-omics bioinformatics and applications of AI and ML in biomedical research. We caught up with him to talk about his academic journey, life in Russia and being a digital native.

How did you become a student at ITMO University?

I’ve been following ITMO University for the past two years because I wanted to do an internship at SCAMT. I’ve been in touch with the department coordinator and made up my mind that I wanted to come to ITMO for my Master’s. At that point, I started to look into scholarship opportunities and came across Open Doors: Russian Scholarship Project for Master’s students in certain fields, including biology. Winning it was a multi-step process, which included an examination proctored by artificial intelligence. It was quite a new experience for me. My enrollment was finalized this August. Finally my wish came true. 

What has it been like starting your program online?

So far it’s been an exciting journey: we had to do a lot of things online, like selecting our subjects and using ISU. Practical classes are not done right now, so that has been a drawback, but we have to make the best of it. It’s part of being a digital native - doing things online so that the entire world can participate. 

The university has been doing a good job at making sure we feel part of ITMO, part of the family even though we’re miles apart. We’re able to connect through social media and digital platforms even though we haven’t met physically. I’ve also been following the videos by ITMO Buddy System to get a feel for my future life in St. Petersburg. It would be nice to have a one-on-one introduction with them. 

Subhrajit Barua. Photo Courtesy of Subject.
Subhrajit Barua. Photo Courtesy of Subject.

As for our class, we have created a Whatsapp group chat for the students in our class. We have three students from India, one from Tunisia and a student from a Spanish-speaking country. As we spend more time together, we will be able to get to know each other better through digital platforms until we get to meet in person in St. Petersburg.

What are your expectations for when you do come here?

It will probably be winter, and I will be experiencing snow for the first time in my life, so that will be very different. I know many students worry about the language barrier, so I’ve been learning Russian on my own to at least be able to get around. I don’t think food will be a problem. I’m not a very picky eater, and food that is not too spicy is not a problem for me. Also, it will be the first time for me to be living away from home, so that will be a new experience for sure and I’m looking forward to it. 

What are some of your strategies for coping with homesickness?

My family has always been my biggest support system, so a video call - even a short one - to blurt out my feelings will probably be helpful, at least in the beginning. I’m also counting on my friends at ITMO. And once I immerse myself in research, I’m the kind of person who doesn’t think about other things much, so I would feel much less homesick. 

What are some of your future plans? 

Once I’m done with my Master’s, I’d love to apply my knowledge in an institute or a private company possibly in the areas of genomics or astrobiology or space biology. It’s a far-fetched dream but I’d love to work for NASA one day, analyzing meteorite samples or soil samples from Mars and trying to look for signs of life there. After I’ve gained my experience, I’d love to be a teacher. I’d love to spread the knowledge I’ve gained throughout my life and if it helps mankind, that would be my greatest contribution. 

Check out our other interviews with international students at ITMO University. 

This interview was edited for length and clarity.  
 

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