The quest to understand the workings of neurons in the brain often leads to additional questions, a never ending process in the investigation of brain development.

Ramasamy Kandasamy, our next pathbreaker, Neuroscientist (Mext Scholar) at National Institute of Genetics, Japan, tries to trace the origins of neuronal diversity in the brain using a wide range of techniques such as molecular biology, genomics and bioinformatics.

Ramasamy talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about his exposure to Genetics and animal models that set him on a path to become a researcher.

For students, Genetics and Neuroscience are two of the most fascinating areas in biological sciences because very little is known about them !

Ramasamy, your background?

I am Ramasamy Kandasamy. I hail from Virudhunagar district in Tamil Nadu. My father had a transferable job, due to which I grew up in different parts of India. This helped me experience a diverse set of people, cultures, traditions and languages. My mother was a school teacher and my father is an engineer. Since my childhood, he tried to kindle my interest in mathematics and eventually; I grew passionate towards the subject.  Thus, naturally, I aspired to pursue engineering after school.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I pursued dual degree (B.Tech and M.Tech) in biotechnology from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT-M). Currently I am pursuing a PhD in neuroscience at National Institute of Genetics, Japan (NIG).

 I was supported by the MEXT scholarship during my PhD.

What made you choose this career?

I had developed a keen interest in mathematics and physical sciences by the end of my school life. My father played a key role in kindling this interest. I was also inclined in learning about genetics and evolution. Thus, I had a broad array of interests as is the case for most school students. At that point, it was difficult for me to select one direction for my career. So I feel that my decision to study biotechnology was more of an impromptu one. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

During the third year of my bachelors, I did an internship at Orchid pharmaceuticals. Here I learned to clone and express deacetoxy cephalosporin-C synthase. This enzyme is used in industrial production of cephalosporins. This helped me understand how genetic engineering was applied to improve the efficiency of drug production. The following summer, I was fortunate to be accepted for NIGINTERN program at the NIG, Japan. There, I worked on germ cell development in mice.  This was the first time I was working on animal models (mice). For my undergraduate thesis, I worked on cell differentiation in the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. The internship and my undergraduate research really helped me walk the shoes of an academic researcher and made me consider being a scientist as a career option.

How did you get your first break?

My undergraduate coursework, research projects and internships offered me a great exposure and inspired me to pursue a career in science. My experience during my internship in Japan motivated me to pursue my PhD at NIG. My application was successful, and I was accepted as a graduate student. I joined the laboratory for mammalian neural circuits from my graduate studies. 

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Like in any other field or career, a key challenge was to acquire new knowledge and skills. I made a transition from molecular biology in my undergraduate to neuroscience in my PhD. My projects involved using surgical procedures, genetic engineering, and bioinformatics analysis. I have been lucky to have good supervisors, who help me along the way. 

Challenge 2: Another major challenge was to learn to think critically. Critical thinking is extremely important for a career in science. When a new knowledge is generated, it is prone to logical flaws. Thus, it is crucial for us to question it till we are convinced that what we’ve found is indeed reliable. While critical thinking was emphasized in my bachelors, I gained more skills on this aspect during my PhD. 

Where do you work now? 

I am a final year PhD student working on brain development. I try to understand the origin of neuronal diversity in the brain using a wide range of techniques such as molecular biology, genomics and bioinformatics. My work depends a lot on collaboration with others and this gives me opportunity to learn from the experts. This is one among many great things in my current position. I enjoy having the autonomy to plan and execute the course of my research. 

How does your work benefit the society? 

Understanding brain development is essential for our fight against neurodevelopmental disorder such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD), schizophrenia etc. I hope my work would lead to new knowledge that might help improve our understanding of brain development. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I would suggest the young minds to explore various opportunities that are available. It is important to experience several career paths before choosing your future. Try to do internships in variety of fields, talk to people pursing different career and use the internet resources, such as this website, to learn about various career options. For those who choose to pursue a career in STEM, I would strongly advise you to learn mathematics, more than what you learn in school. Personally, I often feel the need to have had a more in-depth knowledge of certain mathematical concepts. Good luck!