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Arunima Murgai, 26 years, works as a doctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Genetics in the vibrant city of Berlin. She focuses on developmental biology and genetics, and says “I can proudly say that I am a female scientist”. Before this, she pursued a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Delhi in Microbiology and followed it up with a Master’s in Medical and Molecular Biosciences from Newcastle University, U.K.
Can you tell us about your background? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
Since my early days in school, Biology for me was passion rather than just a taught subject at school. I was fascinated by the human body and how perfectly the body machine works and functions. Back in the early years of school I was instilled to think that loving biology equals becoming a doctor, which I later realized was untrue. I grew up watching the medical TV drama series “Grey’s Anatomy”, for me this was a huge source of inspiration. I loved the idea of being a miracle worker, the power of being able to help people and explore life. Back then I envisioned ‘scientist’ as an intelligent group of individuals in their big white lab coats, shaggy hair and an eccentric personality. However, towards the end of school something changed in me, and I wanted to discover Biology at a micro level, and figure out the answers that weren’t obvious to the naked eye.”
What do you do?
A developmental biologist and a geneticist; her current work focuses on elucidating a novel role of a particular gene in creating and maintaining muscles in a developing embryo and during muscle regeneration after injury. She conducts research with the end goal of finding out new ways to push muscle re-growth in people who undergo extensive muscle injury, for example, athletes.
What is your inspiration behind your work?
Over the years she has discovered a very different meaning of being a scientist. It is fun, one’s own play zone to brainstorm, come up with new ideas, test those ideas and explores the unknowns of the world. She seeks inspiration and motivation in small things of life. Every challenge brings out the problem solver in her.
She says, “My workplace is like my second home and it has a very relaxed environment where work goes hand-in-hand with having fun. Our coffee room is always stocked with chocolates, snacks, and the occasional birthday cakes, in addition to the ubiquitous German kaffee. But my favorite memories are usually associated with me and my colleagues treating ourselves now and then to beer at the balcony while watching the sunset.”
What has been the biggest challenge in your life and how has it shaped you as a person and a scientist?
The last 3 years of my life have been some of the most rewarding, yet the most challenging years of my life. Working in a laboratory with erratic and long working hours is a laborious task. Every day present new obstacles, the sum of which can become extremely frustrating and demotivating. Every road-block had been pivotal in my personal and professional growth. I delved into my work as a naïve 22 years old, and now I am almost 26, through this journey I have harnessed a number of skills including time management, self-motivation, conflict resolution and negotiation.”
Her love for people, nature, wildlife, giving nature and coupled with an optimistic take on life has turned out to be her biggest strength.