Meet Chris John

Chris, a graduate in chemistry, is a final year PhD student at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Thiruvananthapuram working under the supervision of Prof. R. S. Swathi. Her work focuses on  developing the optimal parameters for empirical potentials for nanostructures.

Discovering the researcher within
Of course, there are many good reasons why someone actually pursues a PhD: willingness to improve their credibility and career prospects, to manifest their passion for research, and to drive their intellectual curiosity to discover and learn new things. What has influenced your career choice? Are there any inspirations you can point to?

A quality essential for every PhD aspirant is self-motivation. In my second year of undergraduate studies, I had gone for a summer research project at NCL, Pune and I realized that I was able to keep myself motivated despite not getting the expected results during the initial period. I kept on working with the same interest throughout and was able to successfully complete the project. Although the project was experimental and I moved on to theoretical research for my PhD, it taught me the importance of persistence while pursuing research.

I have heard about the integrated PhD course offered at IISER TVM and got interested in joining the program. Having attended Dr. Swathi’s lectures during course work, I was intrigued to learn more. I then visited her lab and asked for starting a winter project. She suggested to work on a research problem dealing with approximate analytical modeling approaches for nanostructures, and, upon its completion, I had made up my mind to join her lab.

The Big Picture
What challenges are driving your research within that larger question? Why does this study matter?

Computational time and resources at the disposal of theoreticians are rather limited, and in my work, I attempt to cut down both using approximate analytical modeling methodologies. This paves the way for modeling large-scale complex systems similar to real-world structures, which is unachievable through conventional approaches. I enjoy making complex things simpler and I get this fulfillment through my research.




Science in lockdown
Across the globe, COVID-19 has curtailed academic research to great extent with research laboratories shuttered and fieldwork largely suspended. How is it really like to do research amid COVID-19? What are the lessons learned during this period?

Being a theoretical chemist, I always had the option to work remotely. But, the lack of a lab environment had a big impact on my research. Constant discussion with the labmates has always been a part of my research and therefore a sudden loss of this interaction made research more difficult.

Life outside of work
Having a healthy work-life balance is imperative that takes care of the overall wellness of the individual and boosts one’s productivity. Is there such a thing as work-life balance for a research scholar? How do you motivate yourself to keep going?

I keep a set timing for lab hours. A healthy life outside the lab directly correlates to the productivity in the lab. Outside of my research work, I like to read and go for short walks in my campus which is gardenesque. I like to hang out and relax with my friends on weekends. This keeps me charged up to kickstart my work again with a fresh mind on Monday mornings.

Thriving, and not just surviving
Embarking on a PhD is life’s big decision. It may not always be smooth sailing. Sometimes rewarding and sometimes test your patience. How was your experience so far?

PhD has been no cakewalk for me, but there have been moments that made me feel that all the struggles are worth it. I have always been apprehensive of presenting on stage, but I overcame this fear in my second year when I presented my research for a conference and secured one of the best oral presentation awards. It is always fulfilling when the audience comprehends and appreciates the details of our work.

Compiled by
Piyushi Nautiyal,
Science communication and Outreach Manager, India UK ISCC