It is 6 A.M., Saturday, December 21st as I am settling into my seat on an airplane during the first leg of my return trip from Bangalore International Airport to Heathrow, following an incredible four month Fulbright-Nehru grant entitled “A Scientifically Oriented Cultural Exchange Focused X-ray Crystallography” at the University of Mysore, correlating with a sabbatical semester from Keene State College in New Hampshire.
As I turned on my iPod to the tunes of Whitney Houston’s famous song “I will always love you,” it really began to hit me as to the most extraordinary experience that I just completed. Tears began to flow.
Just yesterday afternoon, I was honored as the chief guest and speaker at the Department of Science and Technology (DST) INSPIRE Internship Program, produced by the Committee for Development of Science in Schools at the University of Mysore. After giving my talk emphasizing the role and future opportunities of women in science and technology both in the U.S. as well as in India, I was honored, to the roar of the audience, with a shawl and gifts. I also participated in their daily lab exercises during the week, giving a session on state-of-the-art techniques in X-ray crystallography, which resulted in the students taking pictures of themselves with me that they could share with their local science teachers and fellow students. How can one ever forget such an exhilarating culmination of events?
During my grant, I became engaged in a world-wind tour of several of the most prestigious graduate science and engineering departments in India as a Fulbright guest of several of my collaborator friends and acquaintances.
My first stop was as a guest of Professor Jai Deo Singh at the Indian Institute of Technology at Delhi (IIT-Delhi), a city of about 15 million inhabitants. A lecture on the basic concepts of modern X-ray crystallography followed by a workshop was extremely well received by these top engineering students, specifically chosen on an academic scholarship to attend one of these few IIT institutions within India. The hands-on interaction between faculty and students during my unique workshop format was powerful and most appreciated by the attendees. The respect, hospitality, friendliness and eagerness to understand these new state-of the-art techniques in X-ray crystallography was a most refreshing and rewarding experience.
My second visit was as a guest of Professor K. K. Bhasin at the Department of Chemistry at Panjab, University, Chandigarh, India, the top-rated academic institution in India. It was another impressive and rewarding experience for me to interact with the top scientists in India in such a friendly, respectful and hospitable manner. During my stay at Panjab University, Professor Bhasin and his graduate students found time to give me a tour of the famous “Rock Garden” in Chandigarh and an escort to the foothills of the Himalaya mountain range for a variety of spectacular views. Again, the accommodations at the University Guest House and friendliness and eagerness of the students and faculty to absorb the updated state-of-the-art information on x-ray crystallography I had presented was just outstanding.
My next stop was at Guru Nanak Dev University, Armritsar, India, a 300 acre gated campus, as a guest of Professor Tarlok S. Lobana. My lecture followed by a workshop was again well received. Students of Professor Lobana and crystallographer Professor Geeta Hundal were extremely eager to continue with further collaborations. Also, during this visit Professor Lobana was gracious enough to escort me to the famous “Golden Temple” spectacle, while his research students later brought me to see the amazing Flag Ceremony on the India-Pakistan border, where every day at sunset, since 1947, thousands of spectators gather at the Wagah Border Crossing to view an unusual diplomatic ceremony.
Following my trip to Armritsar, my next stop was the Indian Institute of Technology at Mumbai (IIT-Mumbai) a 350 acre gated campus on the outskirts of the largest city in India (20 million inhabitants) as the guest of Professor H. B. Singh. Among the brightest and most committed engineering students in all of India, my audience was delighted with the intimate mentoring that was given in a most informal and engaging workshop format that related directly to most of their research areas of interest. These research students also found time to escort me around the city of Mumbai with visits to the largest train station in India (20 tracks), a short tugboat ride around the harbor area of Mumbai near the Gateway to India, a museum visit and a floral park investigation.
The last stop on this trip was at the JIWAJI University, Gwalior, India, a city of about 3 million inhabitants as the guest of Professor Sushil Gupta. He visited Keene State two years ago during his Fulbright Visiting Scholar grant and gave a lecture to the department. His stay at my house for the week was reciprocated when I was invited into his house during my stay in Gwalior. My host, Professor Gupta and two of his faculty colleagues also found time to escort me to a visit of the Agra Fort and Taj Mahal in Agar, a city of about 2 million inhabitants.
Upon my return to Mysore, I continued collaborating with my host, Professor H. S. Yathirajan and his three research students, Manpreet Kaur, Channappa Kavitha and Thammarse Yamuna with whom I spent considerable time providing workshops and mentoring. A central theme that has been consistent during this Fulbright experience has been the role of collaboration in the pursuit of excellence in STEM teaching and research. I have identified the three most important characteristics for a successful collaboration to be communication, respect and trust. With these elements each collaborator brings unique strengths to the group for the most effective results. This type of collaboration has been evident with the Mysore group and with additional collaborators throughout India and has resulted in the publication of over 25 new scientific research papers in peer reviewed journals during my four month Fulbright. And this only happened because of further collaboration with my Keene State colleague, Professor Brian Anderson, who collected data provided by the three research students and sent it back to Mysore for structure solution, refinement, manuscript production and publication shared collectively by all three of these research students.
My daily routine in Mysore generally included a walk from the University Guest House to the Chemistry Department, about a half mile. One-on-one mentoring on cutting edge research techniques eventually gave way to the actual writing of scientific papers for publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals on actual compounds that they had synthesized in their laboratory and that were connected to their own research projects. After 2-3 months, these research students became very proficient in these research skills and actually wrote several of the papers that were subsequently published.
The hospitality, friendliness, and eagerness of the Yathirajan Mysore research students to engage in frontier research involving modern single crystal X-ray crystallography techniques and state-of-the-art software to solve and refine the collected data on pharmaceutically related compounds has been exceptional. They invited me into their own homes and shared their cultural strengths and religious affiliations freely without bias or any expectations. And their personal interactions in helping me to try to understand the unique cultural differences between India and the USA were equally overwhelming. I am indebted to their patience and sincerity in assisting me through my understanding of the many unique cultural differences. I know I have changed significantly in my understanding, knowledge and appreciation of another very different country, culture and society. Yet I am unable to put this change into words other than to say that it has been difficult to reprogram myself back into life back in the USA after having experienced such warmth, respect, appreciation, friendless and hospitality throughout all my travels in India.
It must also be remembered that without the timely and personal assistance of Dr. Sally Southwick, Assistant Director of the Office of Sponsored Projects & Research at Keene State College, in helping to craft my Fulbright application, none of this would have been possible.
Again, I cannot express my deepest thanks to my host Professor H. S. Yathirajan for his thoughtful and dedicated guidance throughout this extraordinary experience. I am thankful to Professor K.S. Rangappa, Vice Chancellor of the University of Mysore who allowed me to become the first Fulbright-Nehru Scholar to be associated with the DOS in Chemistry. I feel that I am luckiest person in the world to have been provided with this opportunity to meet and get to know some of the most amazing individuals that I have ever associated with.