Never underestimate the power of a question, especially when it comes from a high school student!

That question inspired Ankita Kulshreshtha, our next pathbreaker, Senior Research Fellow at Central Laboratory, Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, to embark on an Environmental Pollution Research career on a quest to answer her own question, which led her to more questions and analysis.

Ankita tells Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal that students should ask questions and if those questions are unanswered, they should build their careers trying to answer those questions.

Read on to know the question…

Ankita, tell us about your background?

My name is Ms. Ankita Kulshreshtha. I belong to Bhopal, city of beautiful lakes, hills and capital of Madhya Pradesh, located in the central zone of India. Bhopal is famous for being one of the greenest cities in India and known for its rich traditional culture and delicious food.

I was born in Bhopal city and brought up in a simple and well educated family. My family is well settled. The basic ideology of my father is “Study with good marks”. As a result we three siblings achieved good marks in our studies. “Marks judge our performance, so study to achieve good marks” concept was very helpful in my entire life. Blessings of elders is remarkable in life.

I completed all my studies in Bhopal city. I studied in two schools, first was Saraswati Vidhya Mandir where I completed my elementary studies and completed high school with 85.8 % in 2003. I was good in math but liked science, so I choose Biology for higher secondary. My second school was Govt. Subhash Higher Secondary School for Excellence where I completed 12th standard (PCB) with 89.33 % in 2005. I used to participate in general knowledge quizzes and cultural activities at school.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I choose biology for my higher secondary study which reflected my interest in medical career but I decided not to appear for my pre-medical exams as i wanted to join basic science. I was selected for B.Sc-B.Ed course at Regional Institute of Education (RIE) Bhopal in the merit list, but wanted to join B.Sc biotechnology because i found it very fascinating. As I got good marks in 12th, I was selected for BSc biotechnology course with first position in merit list at Sarojini Naidu Govt Girls College, affiliated to Barkatullah University, Bhopal, M.P. India. I completed BSc (Biotechnology) with 74 % in 2008 and two years later, M.Sc. (Chemistry) with 86 % in 2010 from Sarojini Naidu Govt Girls College, affiliated to Barkatullah University, Bhopal, M.P. India. One amazing thing was that I entered my college with first position in merit list (B.Sc. Biotechnology) and exited with first position in merit list (M.Sc. Chemistry). 

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

I was fascinated with my science teacher at school as I thought she was so intelligent and could explain almost anything scientific. So i decided to become a science teacher in the early days. I was fascinated by training at CSIR AMPRI during my M.Sc third semester which made me choose a career in research. Every innovative work and idea pushed me towards research.

I switched from biotechnology to chemistry for my masters degree because I realized chemistry is a basic fundamental science with more career options as compared to biotechnology. So I decided to pursue a career in chemistry. 

In 10th class, I asked a question “Air is invisible, so how can we analyze air ?” to chief guest and former Director, CSIR, Advanced Materials and Processes Research Institute, Bhopal, formerly known as the Regional Research Laboratory during a science seminar at Regional Science Centre, Bhopal. Curiosity for science coupled with questions “why and how” made me fascinated with science topics. I had completed B.Sc. (Biotechnology), M.Sc. (Chemistry), PGDCA and pursuing Ph.D (Chemistry). Studying a wide variety of topics helped me develop a keen interest in research.

Tell us about your career path

I was fascinated by research from an early age as I attended many science programs at school and have completed many minor training programs during my three years of B.Sc. A very clear vision for a career in research took shape when I did three months training on “Characterization and Comparison study of industrial wastes” during my third semester of M.Sc at CSIR- AMPRI, Bhopal, M. P. India in year 2009. I completed my M.Sc in July 2010 as well as PGDCA in September 2010 from Makhanlal Chaturvedi National University of Journalism and Communication, Bhopal. I prepared for government job exams before I got my first project but I was unable to focus on bank/ssc entrance exams. I wanted to join research projects so I appeared for walk in interviews and got the first project at CSIR –APMRI in July 2011.

I joined CSIR, Advanced Materials and Processes Research Institute (CSIR-AMPRI), Bhopal as project assistant II for my first project study in 2011. I learn basic concepts of research from CSIR institute during my first project. After termination of the three years project at CSIR AMPRI, I got my second project at Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, Bhopal through walk in interview as Junior Research Fellow in July 2014.

I analyzed air pollutants in ambient air and source emission when I joined as Junior Research Fellow at Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB), Bhopal in 2014. It took time to get answers to my own question which i had asked the chief guest in 2003 in 10th std (from 2003 to 2014). Questions asked in school always help in our career. You understand it when you achieve something that you thought of in school days. 

Then I got promoted as Senior Research Fellow in April 2016.

Now I am an experienced Senior Research Fellow with experimental knowledge of 11 research projects and having 8 years & 6 months of research experience in field of environmental chemistry, chemical testing and analysis of environmental pollution.

Tell us about your work on Air Pollution

As Project Assistant II, I had completed one major project entitled “Utilization of low-cost minerals of Madhya Pradesh for the development of Hyper branched Aluminosilica (HAS) and Mesoporous silica material” to sequester the effects of greenhouse gases with special reference to carbon dioxide gas at CSIR-AMPRI during year 2011 to 2014.

As Junior Research Fellow, I had completed two projects entitled “Study on presence of particle bound mercury in source emission & ambient atmosphere of Satpura Thermal Power Plants, Sarni, M.P. India” and “ Study of environmental status of aerosol pollution in sensitive zones of Bhopal city, M.P. India” at MPPCB during 2014 to 2015.

As Senior Research Fellow, I have completed four projects entitled “Comprehensive environmental monitoring of Bhopal city, the capital of M. P. India”, “Toxicity study of basic drug industrial treated effluents of Mandideep industrial area, M.P. India”, “Toxicity study of Bio medical liquid waste (treated effluents) of Bhopal city, M.P. India” and “Comprehensive environmental monitoring of Mandideep Industrial areas of M.P. India” during year 2016 to 2019. 

Now three projects entitled “Air Quality Assessment, Emission Inventory and Source Apportionment Study of Bhopal City, M.P., India” , “Comprehensive environmental monitoring of Dewas Industrial area of M.P. India” and “Toxicity study of fertilizer/pesticide/organic dye intermediate industrial waste treated effluents of M.P., India”  are ongoing.

Tell us about some of your milestones in research

  • I like to write research papers and review papers. I have 17 (Published) articles and 04 (Communicated) articles so far, in various international journals, attended conferences with 02 (Published) articles in International proceeding and 01 (Published) article in national proceeding. Iam a reviewer of one international journal ( Reviewed more than 10 articles as reviewer for International Journals.
  • I gave institutional training related to my work to M.Tech (Chemical engineering), (Chemical engineering), M.Sc (Chemistry) and more than hundred B.Sc students.
  • I have been invited as alumni and career counselor on the topic “Career options for chemistry students” at my college where I completed my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.  I interacted with students of M.Sc (Chemistry) on how to choose various careers options with a postgraduate in chemistry with or without NET/ GATE.

How did you get your first break? 

Dissertation and training programs during study can help your career, so selection of institute and training program should depend on your interest. My three months training during M.Sc helped me land my first project job as project assistant II at CSIR- Advanced Materials and Processes Research Institute (AMPRI), Bhopal, M.P. India in July 2011. 

What were the challenges? how did u address them?

Challenge 1:

Reading with correct understanding: Reading many published research articles was the first challenge for me. As we all know, reading of research articles is necessary in research work. In the beginning, the most critical challenge was to read many research articles everyday and I learnt something new every time when I read the same article again and again. I asked questions about this to my supervisor scientist and he said that you need to read the article again and again. I improved my reading skills and overcame this problem.

Challenge 2: 

Unexpected outcomes during experiment: As I did my first project related to synthesis of adsorbent of CO2 sequestration, working on experimental unit with co2 exposure and single phase synthesis from mineral was not easy task. During experiments it was a challenge to optimize the procedure of synthesis many times. It was possible only after study of more than thousands of research papers. Similarly finding and achieving a trend line in environmental pollution analysis is not easy because it fluctuates with environmental condition. 

Challenge 3

Failure conditions: When you choose a career in research, you face many failures during literature review, experiments, result interpretation etc, so you need to have patience for results and outcomes. 

Challenge 4

Doctoral Study: I wanted to do Ph.D from IITs or any international university. So I tried for it, but later I thought my projects were going well and I was increasing my knowledge with my research projects. I had completed M.Sc in 2010 but appeared first time for Ph.D entrance exams at Barkatullah University, Bhopal in 2017 and cleared the exam with interview and then joined Ph.D at Institute for Excellence in Higher Education, affiliated to Barkatullah University Bhopal. Its very rare for people to do what i did, as I joined Ph.D after completion of seven projects in the research field.

Where do you work now? 

Currently I am working with Central Laboratory, Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India as Senior Research Fellow (SRF). 

My Job responsibilities involve research study, work assignment to project team, monitoring, chemical analysis, data interpretation of results, report writing and research paper writing for allotted projects.

First, I developed my analytical knowledge being a chemistry student. Chemical testing and laboratory work helped develop my skills in the beginning. As far as working knowledge of instrumentation is concerned, it developed over time when I started working on instruments and software. 

I acquired skills such as synthesis of nanoporous & mesoporous Materials for CO2 capture application, water & waste water analysis, ambient air analysis, aerosol analysis, source emission analysis, soil analysis, industrial effluent analysis, vehicle emission analysis, noise analysis. Working knowledge of instruments i.e. X-ray Powder Diffraction (XRD), X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF), Scanning Emission Microgram(SEM), Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope (FESEM), Thermal Gravimetric Analysis (TGA), Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC), Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR), Ultraviolet–Visible (Uv-Vis) Spectrophotometer, Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS), Gas Chromatography–Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS), High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), Atomic  Absorption    Spectrophotometer (AAS), Cold Vapor Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (CV- AAS), Ion Chromatography, Carbon dioxide (CO2) Analyzer,   High pressure reactor, Autoclave,  Mercury Analyzer, Flame Photometer, Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP), Parr oxygen  Calorimeter (Bomb Calorimeter), Fine dust (PM2.5) Sampler, Respirable Dust  Sampler (RDS), Carbon Monoxide- Hydro Carbons (CO-HC) Analyzer, Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) Analyzer, Benzene / Toluene / Xylene (BTX)   Analyzer, Noise Meter etc.

Laboratory work, data interpretation, Result, Discussion, report writing and research article writing are also necessary skills in the research field.

What is a typical day like?

It depends upon the annual work plan. Target of day, month, quarter and annual work also may vary according to supervising scientist. It may start from monitoring experiments, result calculations, data entry of results and report writing , research paper writing, attend meeting, seminar and helping colleagues in their work.

What is it you love about this job? 

It’s really the peace of mind being a Senior Research Fellow and working with Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, Bhopal, is a dream comes true as I was very curious about facts of air in school days. I love my work and career that I have achieved with blessings of god, parents and my hard work. Environment and its analysis is the most interesting field and I learn new thing related to my studies every day. I am still a learner and would love to learn more about the environment and chemistry in future.

How does your work benefit the society? 

We are surrounded by environment, so it’s beneficial to study about environmental pollution which has direct impact on society. Studying project reports related with analysis of pollutant helps us understand the condition of environment and the recommendations also help in integration processes. Every single person needs to be aware of the condition of the environmental and should know how to reduce pollutants through their own efforts. Publishing reports and articles of our study may help society understand pollution status.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

The most memorable day was when I made my parents proud and got Shushmita Charobarty memorial award for highest percentage (86 %) in M.Sc chemistry batch 2010 at Sarojini Naidu Govt Girls College, affiliated to Barkatullah University, Bhopal on same day when India won world cup, that was 2nd April 2011. The other day when I was promoted as senior research fellow by Madhya Pradesh pollution control board, Bhopal in 28th April 2016.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Curiosity for study is the first basic step towards research. Careers with traditional courses take more time as compared to professional courses, but there are many career options available with traditional study. Research is one of the most interesting fields for careers with traditional courses. Have and ask questions in student life. Either you get perfect answers by others or you will involve yourself to find that answer. Every person faces ups and down in their life, so don’t be afraid of failures in life. Learn something new everyday that makes you knowledgeable, because knowledge is the only one thing that you can keep with you life long. Keep trying for what you want to achieve in life.

Future Plans?

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams and god. At this time, my plan is to continue working with projects in my field of research. As I am doing Ph.D so I will complete it first. I am at the middle of my career and have a long way to go in my field related to environment and chemistry.