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The Indian Anamika Ashok Rawat is a first-year PhD student in the Department of ExperimentalPlant Biology at Charles University in Prague. She is supervised by Viktor Žárský and financed by the Marie Curie Initial Training Network PLANTORIGINS. Her PhD work addresses evolution and function of the exocyst complex, a key regulator of plant cell polarity and morphogenesis.

Lab Times: Please tell us about your academic education.

I grew up in India and was awarded a Master of Science degree from Sardar Patel University, Gujarat, India in 2009. Afterwards, I continued to work at the same place as a researcher for a few months, before I decided to move to Charles University in Prague.

Lab Times: How did you hear about the Marie Curie fellowship?

I always wanted to explore new opportunities and widen my scientific horizon. When I got the opportunity to visit the Slovak Republic, I found out about PLANTORIGINS and the Marie Curie fellowship assigned to Charles University in Prague. I was attracted to Charles University, not only as one of world’s oldest universities but also as one of the world’s best universities. To be honest, I was not familiar with the Marie Curie fellowship before coming across this project. Now, I am quite impressed by the impact of Marie Curie measures on science and the scientific community.

Lab Times: Did you have to overcome many bureaucratic hurdles to come to Prague?

In my opinion, travelling to foreign countries is always an exciting challenge. It needs lots of patience to get over the bureaucratic hurdles. I experienced the same: getting a visa in my home country but also after my arrival in Prague. I faced many difficult problems like apostillation, translation and notification of documents. In order to get a visa I was asked to provide apostilled educational documents, some of them translated into the Czech language, and to get Czech medical insurance, which was the most troublesome job. But I do appreciate the way my supervisor helped me out and also the university, who always gave me support. Finally, I managed it all.

Lab Times: Tell us about your start in Prague! Are there special measures for the integration of foreign students?

Well, the first few days were not that easy. As an Indian I belong to India. Upon arrival in Prague I experienced a cultural shock and also the climatic conditions were totally different from my country. But I slowly became acquainted with the new atmosphere and mingled with people out here. I would like to mention that people here are very cooperative and warmhearted. There are even some clubs and associations at the university for international students organising numerous activities for the integration of foreign students.

Lab Times: Did you know the Czech language before and how does your English help you in and outside the lab?

I was not acquainted with the Czech language before. Now, I can speak a few basic words and phrases. I am planning to join some Czech language courses very soon. As far as the question of communicating with people is concerned, everyone speaks English at my work place, so it is not that difficult for me. Outside the lab, however, and especially when I needed to get different kinds of paper work, I was always joined by native speakers as people in offices may speak only Czech.

Lab Times: Are you enrolled in a PhD programme?

Along with the fellowship I am also enrolled as a PhD student. One has to give an interview for getting admitted to PhD studies. The PhD programme is generally for four years, during which the student not only has to perform regular experiments but also has to pass theory exams and publish scientific papers. At the end, a thesis is submitted, which has to be defended.

Lab Times: How many hours do you work in the lab each day?

I believe what matters is not how much time was spent but how the time was spent. I usually work for 8-9 hours in the lab but mostly it depends on the experiments being performed; sometimes I need to stay longer. People in our lab are free to work on weekends.

Lab Times: Do you plan to stay in the Czech Republic after receiving your PhD?

Well, it’s too early for me to say anything. It depends on future opportunities that come my way. As for now, I am enjoying my time and work in Prague. I would be happy to visit other parts of the world to explore science. I like my working environment, so coming to Prague was never a wrong decision.

Lab Times: What do you do in your spare time? Do you feel integrated?

Integrating with professional people was never a problem. Outside the lab, it is now getting much better after some initial difficulties. Prague is a very beautiful and historic city. In your spare time you just step outside and enjoy your time. I can’t stop praising the beauty of the city. And, of course, the internet and my books keep me busy.

Lab Times: What do younger scientists in the Czech Republic think about their career perspectives?

The Czech Republic has a relatively small scientific community in comparison to other European countries like Germany, France or the UK… But they have many collaborations with large and renowned institutions all over the world, so they get opportunities to visit these labs. As in other countries too, many young Czech scientists do believe in pursuing a career abroad but in the end they want to be back on home soil and serve their nation.

Lab Times: What needs to be done to make the Czech Republic more attractive?

I personally feel that by the way the Czech Republic is emerging and establishing itself as a scientific research hub, it will attract more and more foreign students and scholars in the near future. The quality of the scientific work is on par with any other developed nation. But some changes are needed to make foreign students feel more comfortable: make the visa process less painful and reduce bureaucracy. Also, more collaborations with other foreign universities and institutes are needed. The government is trying to enhance science but like everywhere else, funding for projects has always been an issue faced by scientists and needs more attention. Another aspect is that young scientists outside of Europe are often not aware of research opportunities in the Czech Republic. So it needs a little bit of exposure and promotion to attract them. The Czech Republic is a calm and beautiful nation and so are its people, fun-loving and helpful. So no-one should hesitate to think about making a scientific career in the Czech Republic.