freedom and passion

Living Your Passion

<img alt="<a href=""><strong>Manpreet Kaur, PhD</strong>
Manpreet Kaur, PhD

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, USA.

The journey of my scientific career started in the alleyways of a small Punjabi village in India. For generations, my family has been primarily involved in farming. Although we never struggled for basic needs, life was not a bed of roses. Amid the daily struggles, it would be a challenge to even think of working in the city, leave alone working in one of the best laboratories in the USA trying to engineer antibodies.

Though from a rural background, my parents-unlike people around- showed a massively liberal mindset. They gave immense importance to education. Likewise, I studied in whatever best options of schooling were available locally. Just to mention, I changed schools five times during the first twelve years of my education. I did my initial training mainly in the Punjabi language.

However, until now, the only conversations I ever had were in Punjabi. I had never uttered a word of English. However, given the rise of globalization, everybody had started realizing that English was the way to go ahead.  Consequently, I tried to join an English medium school and applied for admission to a well-known school around (many celebrities are alumni of that school). But the meeting with the then principal was more of a humiliation. I was straight away rejected because of my prior education in Punjabi medium. I was told it would be impossible for me to cope with the heavy English coursework. I was shattered, but did not lose hope. I kept on looking around, and ultimately I got admission in a decent English medium school around.

Though I was thrilled, I knew the road ahead wasn’t easy. I worked hard- day and night- to finish what I had started. The hard work paid off, and I passed with flying colors. With all the celebrations and happiness around, I felt proud and immensely grateful to my parents. Those smiles on the faces, the spark in their eyes, the laughter is what has stayed with me forever. I was always short of words that could appreciate the amount of support I have got from my family, especially my father. Despite having minimal exposure to the stream I chose, he left no stone unturned to help me in my endeavour. He assured a continuous supply of information from whatever resources he had and arranged contacts of people I could talk to for guidance.

I wanted to get a medical degree afterwards but sadly could not get admission to any medical college. Given the limited resources that my family had, I knew it would be difficult for me to afford the highly expensive medical education. I was even hesitant to apply for many colleges since even the application forms were expensive. All seemed dark; something in me felt lost. However, these are the situations when life brings its own plans, which you only realize years later.

I talked to my parents- who as always were supportive-  and started looking for places where I could study life sciences. I took admission to an undergrad course with a specialization in Biotechnology. But the struggle did not end yet. The connectivity to my college was terrible and I had to change three buses to reach college and then back home.  But with hard work and guidance, I got a first-class degree. I followed it by a Masters from Bangalore University.

It was during my master’s training that I got interested in research. Initially, I thought of going for a Ph.D. abroad but given the lack of exposure, I could not get a position. Eventually, after struggling a lot, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in India.  I started the preparation by studying whatever I could get my hands on. The social media was a significant rescue since I could not afford many of the expensive books. I collected lots of ebooks from Facebook and made a schedule for the next few months. I started studying about ten hours a day and gave multiple mock tests. All the hard work paid well as I cleared the National fellowship Test with an All India Rank-27.

I followed it up by applying for multiple Ph.D. positions and finally got selected at IISER Mohali, Punjab. But my lab was new, and I started the work from scratch. I learned a few things from my boss and mostly from colleagues in other labs. I finished my Ph.D. in 5.5 years. Everybody was elited when I reached back home. I explored my interests and applied for postdoc positions.

I joined the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and am working on engineering antibodies. The work might help me realize the dream to help the ailing people globally. Had I been a medical doctor, I would have been limited by the amount of work I could put in. As I said, life has its own plans which you realize years later.  It’s just that you need to support the plans with perseverance and grit and most importantly, hope.

To learn more about Science news and inspiring stories, Please visit  mScience Magazine at ScieceBlurb

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