A dream career is one that combines your interests with your skills and benefits the society. But very few are fortunate to pursue such a career because they don’t take risks !

Supriya Shah, our next pathbreaker, Sports Bio-Mechanist at Army Sports Institute, helps athletes in various sports like running, sprinting, boxing, archery improve their technique, enhance performance and most importantly, prevent injury by performing 2D and 3D motion and gait analysis.

Supriya talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about initially not being eligible for a postgraduate degree in sports science in spite of having a medical background (BAMS) and how she overcame the challenges.

For students, if you want to pursue your dream career, consider roadblocks as stepping stones not obstacles!

Supriya, tell us about your background?

Hello. I am Dr. Supriya Shah. I am from Pune and I completed my basic education in Pune. Since I was a child, I always had an inclination towards biology, especially the structure of the human body and the miraculous way it works. I have a Bachelors degree in Ayurveda Medicine and Surgery (BAMS). As a medico, I was serving as an Emergency medical officer handling not only emergency cases but also other physical ailments.

While as a teenager, I looked forward to adventurous activities like trekking, climbing, rappelling, cycling which turned into my passion. I observed that people faced sprains, strains, muscle tightness, dehydration, heat stroke etc and started guiding them in minor ailments during these adventures. Meanwhile, I was  also working as an Ayurveda therapist in Germany for some time and was able to cure chronic physical conditions like back pain, neck pain etc. This urged me to have a formal education related to physical activity & medical science. I opted for a Masters degree in Exercise and Sports Science. Since I am from a middle class family I chose to study at an esteemed university in India. My father is retired and was working at a warehouse and my mother is a housewife.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

As I mentioned before, I have a Bachelors degree in Ayurveda Medicine and Surgery from Maharashtra University of Health Sciences. I have a Masters degree in Exercise and Sports Science (MSc ESS) from Manipal University (Karnataka).

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

Well, my love for adventure sports was the prime motivation for me. But definitely my medical background, experience from emergency services, few friends and my officer with whom I worked for KEM research centre (Pune) encouraged me to opt for sports medicine/science that will help me pursue my passion and utilize medical knowledge. As I mentioned before, there were a few turning points that led me to pursue education in exercise and sports.

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

To be frank, since I was from a medical background I wanted to opt for sports medicine in universities abroad because they are far ahead in this field. But I was not eligible for a postgraduate degree in sports medicine because i did not have a bachelors degree in allied health sciences. But, my medical background and experience as a Project associate at KEM research Centre gave me confidence to take up sports science. I got a part scholarship from Lila Poonawala Foundation for my post-graduation After my formal studies for 2 years at Manipal University, I took up an internship at Invictus Human Performance, Bangalore where I gained practical exposure. We saw different professional players from racket sports, football, cricket, climbing, motorbiking etc. After my internship, unfortunately, I was still considered as a fresher and did not get any placement for the first 6 months. After that I had 3 offers out of which I chose and started as a Sports scientist – Biomechanist at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai. My work involved performing all the testing & assessment for athletes, rehabilitating people based on 2D gait analysis, isokinetic testing, VO2 max testing, balance, agility, speed etc. Later on, based on my expertise and knowledge, I also took additional responsibility of a strength and conditioning coach which involved training athletes. Thus I was serving a dual role. After gaining experience here for 1.6 years, I joined  and currently serve at Army Sports Institute as a Sports Biomechanist. Here my work responsibility involves performing motion analysis for various sports like running, sprinting, boxing, archery etc.

How did you get your first break? 

After my internship, unfortunately, I was still considered as a fresher and did not get any placement for the first 6 months. After that I had 3 offers out of which I chose and started as a Sports scientist – Biomechanist at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai.

We had two campus interviews for internship opportunities during our last semester – Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital and Invictus performance lab. After completing my internship and masters, I had no offer in my hand. Some of my colleagues had offers from Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital after finishing internship there. I returned back to my home town, Pune and started writing to different sports institutes all over India. It is very unfortunate that in this digital world, most of the institutes do not revert back on emails. But the grassroots ones value us sometimes. The only way was to keep ‘google’ing and keep writing. There were no fixed campus placements but we were guided by our college department for any upcoming opportunities. We had an opportunity as research assistants at a government institute but again our experience was considered as negligible. We had the least chance of penetrating the system since any allied expert could apply (sports psychology, sports nutrition, exercise physiology etc). Also, most of the sports academies try to find an ‘all in one’ expert (physiotherapist, nutritionist, physiologist, etc.) The top institutes prefer more experienced people educated from universities out of India. Now, the present government system of India and projects like Khelo India, Fit India etc have started realizing the importance of different experts and the demand is growing now.

What were the challenges? How did you address them?

  • Challenge 1: Although emergency services and research are part of any life sciences stream, my previous experience in these areas was not considered and I was treated as a fresher in India which was very disappointing. As a fresher in a very niche field, there were not many job opportunities in India. There still are limited institutes in India who cannot afford you. Although the country is developing very fast in this field, you need to have passion and patience in place.
  • Challenge 2: Since the field is very new in our country, you have to read a lot of scientific articles and develop and refine your own protocols. There can never be a full stop to Read and learn and I love doing it.
  • Challenge 3: There are a lot of pseudo competitors in the fitness industry whose approach is not always scientifically appropriate. So the only way out is to develop yourself and stand out by believing in yourself.

Where do you work now? 

I am a Sports Biomechanist at the Army Sports Institute, representing the Khelo India programme. Army Sports Institute is one of the top sports institutes in India. It is a residential sports academy wherein around 400 sportsmen from army quota reside. Currently ASI imparts training in seven sports disciplines – athletics, archery, boxing, diving, fencing, wrestling and weightlifting. A team of sports professionals consists of sport medicine doctors, strength and conditioning experts, sports biomechanist, sports nutritionist, and a biostatistician. The doctors are army doctors but the other experts are civilians. ASI has a 3D motion analysis system which is managed by me. I perform 2D and 3D motion analysis according to the need of athletes and the sport. 

One needs to constantly read scientific research papers and update ones skill set. Different sports have different movements and hence different demands. I feel the biggest challenge of this field is that one has to constantly update oneself with upcoming technologies. Most of my work is technology dependent, like knowing the right testing equipment, parameters, software etc. It is very exciting to see the way our body, muscles, joints, and various systems work in sync to perform a wonderfully coordinated task of movement.

Well, as i mentioned above, the challenge in my work and my openness to learn new things keeps me going!

How does your work benefit society? 

I work with many of the elite athletes as well as amateur athletes. Many of them are already representing India in their sport and some will soon achieve that level. I think helping them out by identifying motion errors and suggesting correctives help them improve their technique, enhance performance and most importantly, prevent injury.

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

It was my pleasure working as a sports biomechanist for Jaipur Pink Panthers (Pro-Kabaddi league) while working at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

India is a developing country in the field of Exercise and sports science. As a result, acceptance of the sports science field is a little slow. So, have patience. Try to gain as much practical experience in the field apart from the theoretical principles. You also need to have sound scientific knowledge. India would flourish with sports scientists in a couple of years down the line.

Future Plans?

I have already started with my own venture – The Fit Owl which is in its inception phase. Well, in the long run, I am looking ahead for a PhD in a renowned university from a more developed country.