Looking back, moving forward: 2022 to 2023

This post is more of a record-keeping exercise than anything else—my first year-end recap blog post.

The year 2022 was a decent one. The year began with preparations for the qualifying exam of my PhD program, which was scheduled in March. The exam typically has two components: a work presentation and a course-based viva. I spent all of January and the first week of February setting several experiments in an attempt to accumulate data for my work presentation. Thereafter, I started writing the report and studying for the course-based viva. I was terrified about the exam. But I made it through, thanks to my family and friends’ fervent prayers and unwavering support. This was a milestone in my PhD journey. In another small step, I gave my first Annual Work Presentation in August.

I wrote 28,375 words in total in 2022. These include academic reports and popular science stories. I started writing popular science stories for the year in February. I wrote a profile of Talk To A Scientist for IndiaBioscience. Later in the year, I wrote another feature for IndiaBioscience covering the work of Rohit Naniwadekar and others on the Narcondam Island and its beautiful hornbill. I set a personal record for the longest piece written so far. The story, published in The Wire Science, was a report of an exciting study on false memories as part of the PSYCHE exhibition by Science Gallery Bengaluru. This is also easily one of the most exciting stories I have covered so far. Another interesting piece of work this year was the interview with Sukant Saran. I also highlighted a couple of important issues for Indian scientists: the revised GST rates for research items and the status of the ‘One Nation, One Subscription’ plan. Although scientists are still reeling under the former, there is some indication of hope for the latter in 2023. Another exciting story for me was my report on a paper describing how colonialism influenced the way plants are distributed across the globe. And I called it a wrap for the year with my final piece on the influence of wind currents on bird and insect migration, Blowin’ in the wind, for the December 2022 issue of Connect. A complete list of the stories I wrote this year and earlier is here.

I am incredibly grateful for all my mentors and editors, without whom none of this would have been possible: Vasudevan Mukunth, Samira Agnihotri, Deepika S, and Karthik Ramaswamy, to name a few. It’s always a blessing to have friends who read your work and give critical comments. Thanks to Upasana for being that second eye.

I also had the good fortune of managing the editorial team at IISc for the 2022 edition of Inventa magazine. It was fun working with an enthusiastic team of writers and editors to publish five popular science stories. In a first, I got interviewed for a podcast this year! I hope to see the story go live sometime in 2023 with my voice in it. I thoroughly enjoyed doing this!

A couple of other interesting events took place in my science communication and journalism path:
(1) I mentored a group of undergraduate and postgraduate students on science writing in neurosciences as part of the Mind Gala mentorship program. This opportunity was a near miss! The e-mail from the organizers offering my selection had landed in my junk mail, and I had missed the deadline to confirm my acceptance. I wrote to the organizers when I saw the mail, and I was later offered the position in place of another mentor who could not make it. It was fun teaching students and helping them write popular science articles.
(2) I became a full member of the Science Journalists Association of India this year. I had applied to be an associate member but was offered full membership. This was heartening.

On the academic front, it was a drought year, at least as far as my publication record goes. I only co-authored a video article published in the Journal of Visualized Experiments. Yet, I was academically engaged in working on different things. I wrote a draft grant and co-wrote two others, although we have yet to get one awarded. I hope that the draft grant will get through when we submit it in 2023. I assisted two faculty members in teaching two courses. One was part of my PhD requirement—a course on Cell Mechanics. Another was an NPTEL course on Drug Delivery: Principles and Engineering. I attended an EMBO lecture course on Microphysiological Systems: Advances and applications in human relevant research. I applied and got recommended by the selection committee for a fellowship. I hope the final word comes through in time in 2023. I registered as a student member of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Experiments took a hit toward the end of 2022, in the last couple of months when the central animal facility was closed. These were frustrating days, but it also provided some time to engage in other interests. These were months of excellent outreach opportunities for me. I got to interact with a bunch of brilliant kids as part of the jury at the 30th KVS National Children’s Science Congress. I was on a panel discussion alongside some leaders in the biotech-based startup ecosystem in India. This was at the launch of the Bangalore chapter of B for Biology, a community of biotech students and enthusiasts. I moderated a panel discussion in association with ACS International, ACS PhD Hour: Thinking Beyond Academia. Another heartening opportunity to engage with the faculty of some engineering colleges in Bangalore came rather serendipitously. It was a faculty development program aimed at discussing topics that are part of a new course curriculum that was designed.

At a personal level, it’s been a year of highs and lows. My sister got married this year, which was a happy event for all of us at home. But between the engagement and the wedding, I lost my grandfather. I always wished he was with me if and when I got my PhD. He was genuinely interested in my education since childhood and always motivated me. Although he did not fully understand what I was up to, he always genuinely asked me how many years I had left in my course. Such genuine encouragement means the world to a first-generation PhD student.

There are many things to look forward to in 2023 as I start the year with hopes and aspirations. I hope to make decent progress on the academic front—publish papers, obtain grants, foster collaborations, etc. It’ll be a great win if I can see how to get to the end of the PhD tunnel. If I get blessed with an opportunity to write for a science media platform/publication outside India in addition to the ones based in India that I will continue to write for, I’ll take that as a bonus.

A walk in a researcher’s shoe

A PhD life is unlike any other. It’s hectic and uncertain in ways that many people can’t relate with. In this piece, Upasana gives a glimpse of the PhD life.


Every morning starts with a typical four-line conversation with a loved one, just in case we forgot to have food. Because skipping a meal is not unusual in grad life – happens pretty much every day. 

One is lucky who lives closest to their place of work. The anxiety is short lived. Be it a walk, a drive, or a bus ride, your mind gets cluttered with thoughts of discussion with your advisor. Will the experiment I set up last night work? Will I get some free food today? These are few of the many recurring thoughts which pop up at the beginning of the day. 

Perspectives on a clueless life. Picture Source: crossleylab.wordpress.com

After being in research for a couple of years, I have realized I have two types of people in my life. Those who understand what PhD life is like and others who don’t. It becomes a lot harder to deal with the people who don’t understand how the life is and requires much patience. It goes the other way around too. 

Many a times we are asked, especially in a country like India, where every next month is a festive season, “Isn’t it off today? Why are you going to lab?” Really? Is there an off? Well, explain that to my ongoing experiment that I have to monitor at five different time points. It might be a sad reality, but there is no concept of dedicated ‘holidays’. Yes, we are physically free at times, but being mentally free to participate in other activities of life is rare. We do take breaks – much needed ones – after a series of failed experiments or a significant piece of work. Unplanned trips are the best ones to cool off the steam.

More often than not people fail to understand that the amount of time and efforts we invest or have to invest in earning a PhD is far greater than any other course of study preceding that. It’s not just another degree that we earn at the end of four years or after successful completion of a project. It is that learning phase of our lives, which determines the course of our academic career. And, tangentially, our personality too. A good PhD is not only doing a good thesis work and publishing papers but also a reflection of how well balanced it was. We tend to get attached to our PhD work and, hence, stressful PhDs often leave a taste of an unfathomable dissatisfaction in our lives. 

The box of thoughts – struggle to think out of the box while uncertainties weigh you down. Picture Source: Unsplash

I am not saying other ‘jobs’ are not stressful, but PhD life is a whole another level of uncertainty. Did I forget to add an important parameter in my experiment? Will I receive my stipend this month? Isn’t that group from Europe working on similar line? Scoop alert! The dynamic nature of research is scary in itself. There is a constant fear of lagging behind if you are not updated on the latest works – especially those of your direct competitors, and tools and techniques to address your research questions. To make it worse, it’s quite disheartening to hear your advisor say, “People have shown this already. Please read the papers!”

So, when the non-PhD folks ask me, “Hey, your PhD will get over in three years, right? What are you planning to do after this? What about settling down? Why do you have to go to lab in the middle of the night?” I have no idea what to say, except for the last one – it’s a timepoint, dear! It’s not even fair to ask these questions sometimes because we have no idea how tomorrow (literally the next day) is going to be. We would let you know when we have the answers. People in our lives need to normalize this uncertainty. We already have plenty of unanswered questions on our plate with timely reminders from our guides that we are not doing enough.

Why do we do what we do, then, given it’s so stressful. Well, that’s a question for another day. But very few of us choose this path because we were driven by a question and an enthusiastic quest to answer it. And these are the kinds of people who are the most resilient ones in the field. It takes a lot of perseverance to survive this, and we do it for the passion towards our work. 

We are often misunderstood by our close ones as being insensitive and selfish. It could be true for some, no doubt, but at the end of the day, I think we just seek comfort and encouragement from our loved ones. Especially on the days we are down with a lot and it’s overwhelming us. 

Academics is tough, or rather, it has been made tough over the years. Toxic lab cultures, mental breakdowns and total disregard for personal interests and hobbies have made it even more difficult to survive it. But we still do, for the greater good. So, motivate us for a better future. Or ask better questions, like Would you like some Ice-cream? I know it sounds silly. But it’s a lot more comforting to us after a tiring day!

Using viruses to kill Tuberculosis bacteria

This article was first published in Research Matters. Read the article, as it appeared on researchmatters.in, here.

Viruses are infamous for the infectious diseases they cause in different organisms — the year 2020 has proved it for us to see. But, a virus that causes an infection in one organism could be harmless in another. The Nipah virus, for example, is harmless in bats but causes a deadly disease in humans. Likewise, there are a group of viruses called bacteriophages that infect and kill bacteria but are harmless in humans. Within this group of viruses are myriad individuals, each one specific to certain bacteria.

In a recent study, researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, have found that a cocktail of bacteriophages could kill Mycobacterium tuberculosis – the bacteria that causes Tuberculosis (TB), and its cousin Mycobacterium smegmatis­. The study was led by Rachit Agarwal, Assistant Professor at the Centre for BioSystems Science and Engineering, IISc, and the findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. It affected 10 million people and killed 1.4 million of them last year. India has the highest burden of TB worldwide, with nearly 4.5 lakh deathsreported in 2018. When M. tuberculosis infects a person, their immune system launches an attack against it. A group of immune cells, called macrophages, engulf the bacteria to form a packet inside the cell containing the bacteria with a slightly acidic environment. Typically, this packet would fuse with another component inside the cell, called the lysosome, which would make the environment more acidic and thereby kill the bacteria.

However, M. tuberculosis and its relatives have a smart way of escaping this process. They not only block this process of creating a more acidic environment, but they also thrive in an acidic environment and in low-oxygen conditions where other cells would die! They switch to a state in which they do not multiply fast, but grow slowly, residing inside these acidic compartments made by the body’s immune system.

Doctors treat tuberculosis with a combination of drugs that includes antibiotics. Over the years, the indiscriminate use of antibiotics has led the bacteria to develop resistance to these drugs, resulting in antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis infection. India also has the highest burden of such infections.

“The main motivation behind our study was the fact that antibiotic-resistance has been on the rise and is predicted to be a major global health crisis soon,” says Yeswanth C Kalapala, the lead author of the study.

In recent years, researchers have explored the use of bacteriophages against tuberculosis bacteria to curb their growth and kill them. The current study is no different. The researchers have studied how bacteriophages work against Mycobacterium in various disease-mimicking environments.

“We found that these bacteriophages were effective against Mycobacterium in various disease-mimicking conditions like acidic environment, low oxygen concentration and nutrient starvation,” says Rachit.

The researchers first studied the effect of single bacteriophage on the growth of Mycobacterium and later used a mixture of them — five different bacteriophages against M. smegmatis, and three against M. tuberculosis — in their lab.

“The bacteria develop some tolerance against individual phages over time, but a cocktail of phages inhibit the growth of the bacteria for a longer time and delay the development of tolerance to phages,” explains Pallavi R Sharma, one of the authors of the study.

The researchers found that the cocktail was effective in acidic environments, low-oxygen and low-nutrition conditions — all of which are present in cells infected with tuberculosis. It was also working against slow-growing bacteria. They then used the cocktail in combination with rifampicin, an antibiotic conventionally used to treat TB, on lab-grown bacteria. They found that the combination had a synergistic effect in reducing the growth when compared to the using either one separately.

As TB cases caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria are on the rise, the authors also looked into the effect of the phage cocktail on an antibiotic-resistant strain of M. smegmatisM. smegmatis generally do not cause a disease, but behave similar to other Mycobacteria. This allows researchers to use this bacteria in laboratory conditions where safety requirements are lesser than those for the use of M. tuberculosis, while giving them an idea of how M. tuberculosis might behave in similar conditions. Besides, M. smegmatis reproduce faster than M. tuberculosis. So, the authors used the antibiotic resistant M. smegmatis as a model to study how other antibiotic resistant Mycobacteria react to phage cocktails.

“We found that the five-phage cocktail was effective in infecting and killing antibiotic-resistant M. smegmatis. We also saw that the phage cocktail complemented rifampicin and eliminated the bacteria that were resistant to it,” says Yeswanth.

Following these interesting observations, the researchers are planning to study the effect of these phage cocktails on Mycobacterium tuberculosis growing inside human cells cultured in the lab and animal models like mice.

“We wish to see how this therapy can be used in animals and later translated to humans to treat TB, particularly in the case of drug-resistant TB,” signs off Rachit.

COVID-19: A day in the life of a healthcare worker

India has seen a steady increase in the number of reported COVID-19 cases in the last two months. While the country languishes under the weight of the pandemic, our healthcare workers are giving their all to the fight against the pandemic. Here is a story of a healthcare worker who treats COVID patients.

4.30 AM.

The alarm rings.

It’s time to wake up, do the domestic chores, get ready, and report to work.

“God, I hope I don’t get exposed [to the virus] today,” she thinks to herself as she gets ready to go to the frontline – to the war, as some would call it. The war that is fought using medical science, complemented with compassion, care, and love.

Susan Thomas is a staff nurse working in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) designated for COVID-19 patients in a private hospital in Bengaluru. Before the pandemic, her duty used to last 8 hours a day, six days a week. But things have been different since the end of March. She has been working for about 12-14 hours a day, five days a week.

On a typical day at work, Susan goes into the COVID ICU after she has put on the personal protective equipment (PPE). There, her predecessor updates her about the status of the patients and hands them over to her care.

“It’s a lot of pressure and it’s physically exhausting,” Susan says. “It’s more than just taking care of patients. There is also the paperwork that must be done. All this extra work takes up a lot of time, but we have to do it for the good of everyone. There is very little time to have food or even to take a break in between.”

She has to protect herself while treating the patient. Even the smallest mistake or negligence can get her infected. It’s quite an ordeal. The PPE makes the routine work also difficult. “I am soaked in sweat for the most part of the day. And things get worse when I have my periods,” Susan says. While on duty, she hums a tune or sings a chorus to keep herself calm and make the patient also feel better.

After the long day at work, all she just wants to do is to get home, take a shower and hit the bed with the hope that her patients get better. Although she tries not to think about her patients when she is going to sleep, it seems impossible sometimes. I tell myself, “Hey, stop thinking about your patient now!”

The ordeal of being in treating patients during a pandemic is not only physically exhausting but is also mentally taxing. Susan combats this challenge by making the best of the days when she is not working. She cooks, listens to music, prays, and catches up on the lost sleep, getting herself ready for another week of fighting the pandemic.

Christian Medical College: Ida Scudder’s legacy to the Vellore community

Dr Ida Sophia Scudder – the founder of Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore – breathed her last sixty years ago on this day. But her life and legacy continue to inspire hundreds of thousands across the world. An American by origin, Dr Ida spent her lifetime uplifting the community in Vellore through her medical practice. Her work is never more relevant than now when we are facing a pandemic. In this article, I have attempted to highlight some of the contributions of Dr Ida Scudder,  and others, which continue through CMC, Vellore. 

It would be hard to believe that the town which once greeted medical officers, who tried to vaccinate people to contain the plague, with sticks and stones would later be the first in the country to be polio-free. The person whose life and legacy was mainly influential in bringing this change was a woman physician by name, Ida S. Scudder. Dr Ida Scudder and the professionals at the medical college she founded – Christian Medical College (CMC) – transformed the community in Vellore to what it is today.

CMC, Vellore, is renowned globally for its many achievements in the field of medicine. One of the major contributions of the medical college, through which the legacy of Aunt Ida continues, is its community service. From Dr Ida Scudder’s efforts in containing the plague outbreaks to Dr Paul W Brand’s accomplishments in rehabilitating lepers and Dr T Jacob John’s leadership in eradicating polio and containing HIV/AIDS, CMC’s services to public health have not only impacted Vellore and India but has also influenced the world.

It all began one night at Tindivanam, Tamil Nadu, when 20-year-old Ida Scudder encountered a life-changing incident. Three men – a Brahmin, an upper-caste Hindu, and a Muslim – approached Ida seeking help for their wives who were in labour. Ida explained that she had no medical training, but her father who was a missionary doctor could help them. But none of them would agree. In Ida’s words, the Brahmin drew himself up and said, “Your father come into my caste home and take care of my wife! She had better die than have anything like that happen.” The Muslim also responded with similar words saying, “She had better die than have a man come into the house.” Ida could not sleep that night. She wrote about this incident later, “Within the very touch of my hand were three young girls dying because there was no woman to help them.” She spent the night in anguish, torn between a great life in America and the need to serve the people in India. Ida had come to Tindivanam only to take her ailing mother back to the USA. Until that night, she wanted to enter Wellesley College and “continue in the happy free life of a young woman in America.”

The next day, Ida sent a servant to check what had happened to the three women only to hear that all of them had died the previous night. She shut herself in the room. After much thought and prayer, Ida told her parents that she wanted to go home and study medicine to come back and help such women in India.

In 1895, Ida entered the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia. It was a time when women were not welcome as qualified surgeons and doctors. Three years later, when Cornell opened its doors for the first time for women students of medicine, Ida transferred there for better opportunities. As Mary Pauline Jeffrey writes in her biographical account of Ida Scudder, some students at Cornell often “did things to make women feel that they were foreign bodies.” Nobody would have imagined then that about 50 years later, Ida would be admitting male students to the Women’s Medical College she founded at Vellore!

On January 1, 1900, Dr Ida Scudder landed in India. She started running a clinic in a 12*8 feet room at her house. Meanwhile, she worked toward realizing the hospital for which she had received a donation of $10,000 while in the USA. In 1902, the 40-bedded Mary Taber Schell Memorial Hospital opened. Her vision was that women should have equal access to quality healthcare as men, regardless of their religious or socio-economic status. In 1909, Dr Ida established a school of nursing and in 1918 she established a medical college for women. The medical college was called Missionary Medical College for Women. In 1945, it was renamed as Christian Medical College and in 1947 CMC opened its doors to male students.

The tiny clinic and the hospital thus grew to be the medical college that would have many firsts to its credit. Dr Ida was deeply connected with the community she lived in – a legacy that the medical college would become renowned for. This was never more relevant to us than now. In 1903, when the plague hit Vellore, as many as 17 people were dying every day. In 1904, the total number of cases in India had reached 1,100,000 before preventive measures showed any sign of success. At that time, along with the municipal commissioner, Dr Ida “sallied forth to grapple with the deadly epidemic. Into the homes of the community in Vellore these two went, enforcing sanitary measures and administering prophylactic inoculations.”

Half a century from then, Dr Paul Brand carried that torch making another mark in the community in Vellore. Realizing his life’s calling at CMC, Dr Paul established the New Life Center at Vellore to rehabilitate lepers and dispel the stigma that prevailed even among medical professionals. Dr Paul also performed the world’s first reconstructive surgery on leprosy patients at CMC, Vellore.

Paul Brand
From Left to Right: Drs Brand, Scudder, Balfour, Chandy. Picture Source: http://www.cmch-vellore.edu

A couple of decades later, Vellore became the first town to eradicate polio. An alumnus of CMC, Dr T. Jacob John led the initiative of making Vellore polio-free and later headed the national efforts in eradicating polio. In his own words in conversation with the journal Current Science, “Globally, Vellore was the centre conducting such basic and problem-solving research on polio from the mid-1960s.” Dr Jacob John headed the virology services at CMC from 1967-1995. During this time, he also played a key role in India’s efforts to contain HIV/AIDS.

Dr Ida Scudder’s legacy continues through the work of CMC. The medical college has produced some of the best doctors, surgeons and scientists in the country, who have been recognized for their work.  Of special note in the context of public health, epidemiology and community medicine are experts like Dr Gagandeep Kang, Dr T. Jacob John, Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil and others.

At this time, when the country is faced with an epidemic, Dr Ida Scudder’s legacy serves as a reminder of what empathy, compassion and boldness can help one achieve. It is her legacy that we need now – of providing quality and compassionate healthcare for all sections of society.


*All the quotations with no explicit mention of the source are from the book: Ida S. Scudder of Vellore (2014). By Mary Pauline Jefferey.







Bengaluru based start-up designs an anti-touch band

Grasp bionics, a Bengaluru-based start-up has devised an anti-touch band. The band stops people from accidentally touching the face.

As of today, there are 37916 active cases of COVID-19 in India and the epidemic has claimed 1886 lives. The increase in the number of cases led the government to declare a nationwide lockdown, which has now been extended for the third time. While these restrictions are in place, scientists and innovators are striving hard to fight the epidemic. With no vaccine or drug currently available, one can only take precautionary measures like physical distancing, restricted movement, hand hygiene and wearing masks.

A study shows that, on average, we touch our face about 23 times in an hour. And we know that a person can get infected with the virus if one touches the face after touching an infected surface. So, as we come out of this lockdown, touching the face can now be riskier than ever.

group photo-01
Team Grasp Bionics. L to R: Nilesh Walke, Vinay V, Arvind Sahu, Varsha, Abhijith R

Grasp Bionics, a Bengaluru based start-up, has devised an interesting solution to this problem. “We observed that however cautious we are, we tend to touch our nose and mouth. When it is intentional, we may do it after washing our hands. But most of the time it is accidental.” Vinay V, Co-founder & Director of Grasp Bionics, said. “We thought that a solution for this could be of huge benefit during the removal of lockdown. That is how we came up with this anti-touch band.”

The band restricts the movement about the elbow thereby the touch on the face. It is made of cloth and costs about 100 rupees apiece. The team is working with local tailors for mass production as it could also be a source of income for the tailors who may not have regular work during the lockdown and phased relaxation.

“We plan to make the band available for purchase in general stores & medical stores,” Vinay said. The team is looking for distributors, who can make their product available to the customers. They are also working on making the design open-source so that people can make DIY anti-touch bands.

Grasp Bionics is a MedTech company that builds bionic devices like prosthetic arms. Their flagship product PURAK is a wearable prosthetic limb that provides better control and sense for those who have lost their arms. The team was a winner of Elevate 2019, a program organized by Department of IT & BT, Government of Karnataka, to identify and fund 100 start-ups with innovative ideas.

Here is a video of how the band works. Place your order for the band here.

Climate change is real, let’s talk about solutions

Global warming and climate change have become an existential threat to humankind. In this article, Nanditha elucidates these ideas and explains how close we are to a global catastrophe if we do not act now. She also describes how India would be one of the worst-hit nations. 

Greta Thunberg’s rise to fame with the movement “School Strike for Climate Change”, which shone a light on the view that humanity is facing an existential threat due to human-made climate change. This reinvigorated the long-standing climate change debate: how much of a threat is it, and what are the best steps forward? Before we delve into debates, let’s take a quick look at what global warming is.

Global warming refers to the phenomenon of the increase in the Earth’s average temperature over a period of time. The Earth’s average temperature, which is 14.6 C, is increasing at a faster rate than usual.

Climate change refers to the more general changes happening to Earth, partly as a result of global warming. These adverse changes include shrinking mountains glaciers, melting ice caps (and rising sea levels), changes in flowering patterns, etc.

Global warming is caused by the “greenhouse effect”. CO2 and other air pollutants (methane, ethane, polychlorocarbons) get trapped in the atmosphere instead of escaping into space. These pollutants retain the heat from sunlight – like in a greenhouse, thereby increasing the global temperatures. There is sufficient data today to suggest that the causes of increased temperature started in the industrialization era, and aligns closely with the increase in demand and use of coal and other fossil fuels to generate electricity. The Climatic Research Unit, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have all reported that the 20 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, except for 1998. The warmest year on record was 2016.

Some of the most adverse effects of global warming may seem far away because they include imagery of melting ice caps, and polar bears losing their habitat in Antarctica. However, the effects are closer to home – it is predicted that South Asia, and particularly India will be one of the worst-hit nations in the world. India has the highest Social Cost of Carbon and thus, with a greater increase in the global temperature, the cumulative damage will increase. These consequences are represented as heatwaves, water shortage (already a threat in many regions of South India), sea-level rise, unpredictable precipitation patterns. Climate change is an intersectional problem. As we lose the power to predict harvest seasons, there will be a significant shift in the growth of important crops like rice. This could result in severe famine across the country and as much as a 9% decline in India’s GDP, due to reduction or stoppage of export. Increased sea levels pose a big threat to those who live in the coastal regions, with a legitimate possibility of destroying entire cities and towns, in a not so distant future. Without any surprise, the poor are the most vulnerable to these threats despite them contributing least to the problem.

With about 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agreeing on the man-made effects of rapid global warming, it is not a debate of whether there is climate change, but a debate on best solutions to go forward. Currently, the highest carbon emitter is China, contributing to 27% of the total CO2 emissions. The USA is a close second (15%), followed by the European Union (9%), and India (7%). But the per capita and total cumulative CO2 emissions are the highest in the USA (16%). Although India has increased coal demands due to rapid development, the per capita contribution has been low. Besides, India is also emerging as a leader in renewable energies. That majority of the new electricity generation capacity added in the past decade has been through renewable sources, offers hope. Despite a few countries’ efforts to strictly follow the Paris Climate Convention’s suggestion, USA has stepped back on provisions to curb greenhouse gases and pulled out of the Paris Accord1. These are extremely alarming and may set in motion a global scale of events that are detrimental to human lives as we know it.

The USA pulls out of the Paris Accord. Picture Source: https://thefederalistpapers.org/political-cartoon/trumps-message-to-the-world-by-pulling-out-of-paris-accords-cartoon


The Indian government has taken ambitious steps toward addressing climate change issues. For example, the usage of non-renewable sources to fuel India’s increasing energy demands is set to decline by 33% in the next ten years. This means that around 33% less non-renewable fuels will be used to generate the same amount of energy. This is just one of the many goals set forward by the country towards an energy-efficient, sustainable future. They look promising, given the previous achievements of the National Mission on Enhancing Energy Efficiency.

Such positive policies have also been adopted across the world. These measures are reassuring, but we have a long way to go. Perhaps Martin Luther King Jr’s words have never been more apt since his original speech, “Beyond Vietnam”: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

1 The Paris Agreement is a landmark environmental accord that was adopted by nearly every nation in 2015 to address climate change and its negative impacts. The deal aims to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels while pursuing means to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees”

Staying home and staying productive

Staying productive while staying home has been a great challenge for me. Perhaps you can relate to this. In my opinion, productivity need not be measured directly in terms of the work we put into our jobs or degree curriculum. It could be anything that helps us realize our purpose and fulfil it – something that helps us develop our existing skills or build a new one, something that helps us become better human beings.

Stay productive
Staying productive. Picture Courtesy: viralsolutions.net

As we step into the last week of the national lockdown, I thought it might be useful to discuss some measures that I am trying to take help me be more productive. Since I was struggling with this myself, I looked up places to find help – spoke to a couple of friends, thought about it myself and read up. Here are some practical tips that I found and am trying to follow.

Know what you want to do

To do list
To-do lists are handy in accomplishing tasks

Like Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” I understood that planning my quarantine days is crucial for my productivity. I also realized that it is important to break this down to smaller tasks. To-do lists come in handy to accomplish small tasks. I have noticed that I have gotten more work done when I have listed down the things I should be doing. But it is one thing to make a to-do list and another thing to fill pages. I have noticed that it is important to have realistic, daily to-do lists. Over-ambitious to-do lists have made some of my days more unproductive than those without a to-do list at all.

Set up a workspace

Set up a workspace

The other day I saw a meme about waking up just minutes before a zoom call. I could totally relate to it. But then I realized that it might just make my day worse. Since a couple of days now, I have tried and worked around a make-shift workspace for me. That helps me get a little serious about the things that I do, at least when I am around there.

Rethink the smartphone

Rethink the smartphone

This is where the struggle is real for me. I am so hooked to my phone that I find myself helplessly landing in social media every few minutes or hours – WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.

As I was pondering over this, I was reminded of Randy Pausch’s advice on Time Management in The Last Lecture. He said, “Time must be explicitly managed, like money. You can always change your plan, but only if you have one. Ask yourself: Are you spending your time on the right things? Develop a good filing system. Rethink the telephone. Delegate. Take time out. Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think.” One part of this advice that has always stood out for me, yet been the most difficult to work upon, is “rethink the telephone.” Perhaps in today’s world, it would be more appropriate to say “rethink the smartphone.”

I have now started listening to songs and podcasts as playback while I work on other things. That doesn’t mean that I don’t watch movies, shows or videos. I often find myself starting with an educational video and ending up in a standup special just minutes from when I started. But I am trying to balance the two, which has been a struggle.

One thing at a time

Multi-tasking doesn’t work for me. Picture Courtesy: upsidelearning.com

I find it difficult to understand people embracing multitasking. It’s not that I haven’t tried it, but every time I  tried I either made a mess of the situation or did a half-hearted job in all the tasks. This is one reason I came to terms with the fact – multitasking is not for me. I now try to prioritize things and do one thing at a time.

Into the lockdown

Me during Quarantine. Picture Source: 9GAG (Facebook)

I remember the first day of this year – a year of new beginnings. I was starting as a graduate student, anxious but excited.

Days rolled on. I was attending lectures, learning from labmates and exploring the campus when news about a viral outbreak in a neighbouring country was doing the rounds. It was one province in China thousands of miles away. “That shouldn’t affect me,” I thought – but boy was I wrong!

Japan, South Korea, Iran, Italy – new COVID-19 cases emerged from more countries at an alarming rate. The epidemic was taking the shape of a pandemic. India had limited local transmission then, was a comforting thought.

Things came to a halt when I received an e-mail that directed us to evacuate the hostel in two days. The institute would be shut for two weeks. After cribbing about the overreactive measure, I came to terms with the fact that I had to pack my bags and leave.

The first week was quite productive. I kept myself busy spreading awareness about COVID-19, writing articles and blog posts. Midway through the second week, the energy dwindled.

Staying indoors was never a problem for me. I remember the time when I was at home applying for jobs after my master’s – I stayed home for 20 days straight. So when the nationwide lockdown was announced, it didn’t seem like a big deal.

With the lockdown extended, it is clear that we are in this for the long haul, but staying productive has been the greatest challenge for me. Some days are better than the rest, thanks to my advisor and labmates. The virtual lab meetings and skill development sessions are real refreshers – it’s always great to learn new things. I also have my courses online, which keep me busy for a few hours in the week. At other times, I am writing something (like this blog post), surfing the internet, reading, chatting, or binging on Netflix.

The psychological price in pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the world, social distancing, lockdown, quarantine and isolation have become the norms of the day. The social animals that human beings are, this new lifestyle seems to be taking a toll on their mental health. In this article, Upasana discusses the importance of studying mental health during a pandemic, the psychological stressors involved, and the need for an appropriate support system.

The lockdown
Staying home Staying safe! Picture Courtesy- https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/this-is-the-psychological-side-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-that-were-ignoring/

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest word on our fingertips besides all the swear words is “quarantine”. A huge chunk of ongoing research is mainly focussed on the transmission and cure of the disease. But the disease currently being untreatable, people have been advised to practice social distancing. A tangential but costly effect of social distancing, either through quarantine or isolation, is seen on the mental well-being of people.

“Quarantine” was first used in Venice, Italy in 1127 in the leprosy outbreak followed by official implementation of the same in the UK in response to the plague. In the context of the recent outbreak of coronavirus, the nationwide lockdown has been implemented in many countries across the world due to its rapid transmission and fatal nature. While it is the most appropriate measure taken by any nation, we often forget to address its psychological impacts. There are very few reports discussing the repercussions of pandemics on mental health after quarantine and isolation were imposed in many countries during SARS, MERS and Ebola and H1N1 outbreaks.

Global evidence on mental health outcomes associated with such measures to prevent the spread of infection suggests that prolonged exposure to psychological stressors exerts disturbance in the mental health of not only common public but also in patients, healthcare workers and informal caregivers, the latter being the most affected. Psychological stressors are elements in our everyday life, physical or social, that challenge our mental balance – being separated from loved ones, financial loss, overthinking, etc. These could be as small as worrying about an exam, but we do have other options like being with a friend or family, taking a walk, etc. which help us in such instances.

The Everyday Stress
Challenges in our daily lives. Picture courtesy- https://www.cairo360.com/article/health-fitness/quick-tips-to-overcome-stress-and-anxiety-triggered-by-coronavirus-%E2%80%8E/

Depending on the mental state of an individual and the length of quarantine or isolation, there are impacts during the quarantine: short-term impacts (a few months post-quarantine) and long-term impacts (2-3 years post-quarantine). Common stressors during quarantine are fear of infection, frustration and boredom, shortage of supplies and inadequate information. No matter how prepared an individual is, with each passing day these anxieties grow. In the longer run, studies have shown that these fears become so overpowering that they could still be evident years later particularly in the healthcare officials directly involved in treatment or care of the infected patients. The constant fear of contagious diseases and the associated risks have led people to avoid public places and transport and ignore other people as such. This does not fare them well and ultimately leads to loss of employment and finances.

It might seem that leading the life of an introvert would be a fair shot here, given the impression of lying alone in a room with coffee and books, but it is not true. A remarkable thing about psychological disturbance is that we fail to realise when it seeps in and gets rooted in us till we finally show any symptoms.

A peaceful mind
Trying to keep the stressors down. Picture Courtesy- https://thriveglobal.com/stories/calmnivores-dilemma-tips-calm-reduce-stress/

Social distancing is currently the most effective way, albeit a little harsh on mental well being, in controlling any pandemic. Nevertheless, there are ways to alleviate the psychological stressors like keeping the quarantine duration as less as possible, although under unavoidable circumstances it has to be extended. Keeping the public informed and providing necessary supplies are required to maintain peace. Special attention and encouragement have to be given to people working in healthcare for their current efforts and also further to reduce the long term impacts post-quarantine. Providing emotional support and compassion towards everyone would help in the struggles associated with the crisis. Digital intervention has paved a better way not only for patients with a history of psychiatric illness but also for the general public. It is currently the best method to reduce boredom and anxiety – thanks to meme-makers and YouTubers!

Overall, there is a compromise on the psychological aspect made by everyone up to some extent during the quarantine. For the best we can do now is to try to keep our minds happy despite the limitations.