Materials Research has immense potential in development of sustainable energy storage devices such as batteries and supercapacitors, as well as environmentally friendly materials for renewable energy sources such as solar cells and fuel cells.

Rashmi Rani, our next pathbreaker, R&D-In-charge at 3D-Oxides, works on developing and optimizing oxide thin films for use in microelectronic devices for cutting edge applications.

Rashmi talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her first project focused on exploring the use of lead-free sodium potassium niobate (NKN) in sensors, actuators, and energy harvesters that sparked her enthusiasm for materials research !

For students, to establish a career in the research field, it is crucial to cultivate patience and perseverance, as results may not materialize quickly.

Rashmi, tell us about yourself

I come from a well-educated middle-class family. My father was a government officer, and my mother was a teacher who later became a homemaker. Born and raised in Patna, I was always fascinated by the sciences, which prompted me to pursue my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Physics. My passion for the subject was matched only by my dedication to my studies, which allowed me to excel academically and carve out a promising career in the field of science.

What did you do for graduation/ post graduation?

I pursued Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics during my graduation, and then went on to specialize in Physics during my post-graduation. After my Masters degree, I pursued a PhD in Physics (Material Science).

What were some of the influences that made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

One day, while I was still in school, a teacher told me that becoming a successful scientist as a woman, is a great achievement that very few people can accomplish. This encouraged me to work even harder and pursue my passion for science, eventually earning advanced degrees in the field and becoming a successful scientist in my own right.

I would regard my brother Ramesh Kumar Shrivastava and Professor Seema Sharma as my mentors.

Being selected as a JRF (Junior Research Fellow) was a pivotal event in my career. It opened up several doors for me to pursue my passion for materials research and allowed me to develop my skills and knowledge in the field. This experience proved to be a crucial stepping stone in my journey towards becoming a successful scientist.

Attending the material science conference at Banaras Hindu Vishwavidyalaya (BHU) proved to be a turning point in my career. It was there that I had the opportunity to meet and interact with several eminent scientists and professors in the field, and their insights and enthusiasm for the subject inspired me to pursue a career in material science. This event sparked a newfound passion within me and set me on a path that would ultimately lead to my success as a scientist.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? 

I had always been drawn to science and had a strong desire to become a scientist. So, after completing my masters degree in science, I actively sought out scientific projects. Upon completing my Master- degree in Physics, I began my career as a Junior Research Fellow (JRF) at A.N. College, Patna, sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology, DST, Government of India. Here, under the able guidance of Professor Seema Sharma, I delved into research in the field of material science.

I have had a diverse career in material research and development, starting from my initial position as a JRF at the Department of Physics at A.N. College, Patna. As a JRF, I was responsible for conducting material research related  to energy storage and managing research projects.

My project as a JRF was focused on exploring the use of lead-free sodium potassium niobate (NKN) for real device applications.

NKN is a promising alternative to lead-based piezoelectric materials, which are commonly used in a variety of applications such as sensors, actuators, and energy harvesters. The use of lead-free materials is important for reducing the environmental impact and health hazards associated with lead-based materials.

As a JRF, I assessed the properties and performance of NKN in various device applications and compared them to lead-based materials. I have also explored methods for optimizing the fabrication and processing of NKN to improve its properties and performance.

The real-world applications of my research could include the development of more environmentally friendly and sustainable devices for a range of industries, such as automotive, aerospace, and healthcare. By developing lead-free materials with comparable or improved performance to lead-based materials, my research could help to address environmental and health concerns while maintaining the functionality and efficiency of the devices.

While working under the guidance of my professor, Seema Sharma, I learned about a prestigious international scholarship program (Erasmus Mundus) and decided to apply.

I was also presented with a remarkable opportunity to apply for the PEIN Research Excellence Program at Santiago de Compostela university in Spain, which I seized and went on to win the award.

My hard work and determination paid off, and I was selected for the scholarship, which gave me the opportunity to pursue my PhD in Italy. During my time in Italy, I had the privilege of interacting with several renowned scientists and professors, which inspired me to apply for postdoctoral positions. I was elated to be selected for these positions, which provided me with valuable exposure to international teams and their approaches to material science development. This period was a turning point in my career, and I was able to hone my skills and expertise in this field.

My PhD was focused on synthesizing and characterizing materials for various device applications. I also trained junior researchers in the use of scientific instruments and  publication preparation. 

Following the completion of my doctoral degree, I pursued postdoctoral positions in top-tier foreign institutions In Europe. During this time, I was able to gain a wealth of experience and refine my skills as a material scientist. I worked as a postdoctoral scientist, where I developed new materials and applied them to various applications. During this time, I gained expertise in fabricating nanoscale materials and characterizing them. 

Drawing on my vast experience in materials science, I joined a material research company as a member of the research and development team. In my current role, I lead the team in conducting cutting-edge research, collaborating with other researchers, publishing papers and patents, and contributing to the  creation of spin-off ventures.

I have been awarded two national fellowships sponsored by the DST and University grant commission (UGC) of the government of India, as well as two highly competitive international scholarships – the Erasmus Mundus  scholarship by the European Commission, and the PEIN Research Excellence Program in Spain.

I networked and built professional relationships through emails, attending conferences and seminars, and connecting on LinkedIn with other researchers and professionals in the field. These efforts were helpful in gaining new opportunities and advancing in my career.

Eventually, I joined the R&D company, 3D-Oxides, located on the Franco-Swiss border, as the Project Leader/Manager (R&D In-charge). In this role, I have been able to leverage my extensive experience and expertise to spearhead various projects and contribute to the company’s research and development efforts, playing a pivotal role in advancing their cutting-edge innovations.

How did you get your first break?

I was searching for research fellowship positions in universities to begin my research career after completing my Master degree. One of my colleagues informed me about the JRF position available at A.N. College, so I applied for the position and fortunately, I was selected.

As a PhD holder with postdoctoral experience from prestigious universities in Europe, I have found that my qualifications have made it easier for me to obtain research positions in Europe. My advanced training and expertise in my field of study are highly valued by potential employers, as these experiences demonstrate a high level of competence and expertise.

In addition, my publication record and the quality of my research work have also been significant factors in securing a job in a research company in Europe. By publishing in highly regarded journals with strong reputations or high impact factors, I have been able to showcase the quality and significance of my research work, increasing my visibility and credibility within the scientific community.

Moreover, my experience of working in numerous labs throughout Europe has provided me with a diverse range of experiences and perspectives, which was highly beneficial when applying for research jobs. This exposure has given me a unique skill set, allowing me to bring new ideas and approaches to my work, which can be valuable to potential employers.

To summarize, my PhD and postdoctoral experience, publication record, and quality of research work, along with my diverse laboratory experiences, have all played a vital role in increasing my chances of obtaining a research job in European research company. I believe that continuing to build upon these experiences and networking with professionals in my field will further enhance my opportunities in the industry.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

To establish a career in the research field, it is crucial to cultivate patience, as results may not materialize quickly. It is also important to work consistently and diligently towards your goals, persevering through setbacks and learning from failures along the way.

A career in research may not be as well-known or in high demand as other fields such as engineering, medicine, or banking. As a result, it can be challenging to persuade parents and family members to support your pursuit of this path.

To succeed in a research career, it is essential to continuously learn new things, keep up with the latest techniques, and stay updated with the advancements in the scientific world. This can be a challenging task, but it is necessary to maintain a competitive edge and contribute to the field.

Where do you work now? 

I am working in an R & D company, 3D-Oxides, France.

What problems do you solve?

3D-Oxides is an innovative material research company that specializes in the synthesis of oxide thin films through a unique fabrication technique known as CBVD. These high-quality thin films are highly versatile and have a wide range of applications across various fields, including photonics, microelectronics, and biological applications.

My expertise in material science, particularly in the realm of microelectronics, is of paramount value to the company. As a current member of 3D-Oxides, my work primarily centers on developing and optimizing oxide thin films for use in microelectronic devices. This crucial work includes designing and synthesizing novel materials with unique properties, thoroughly characterizing their properties, and extensively testing them across a variety of microelectronic applications.

My contributions are an integral part of the company’s ongoing efforts to develop advanced materials for cutting-edge applications. By leveraging the unique properties of oxide thin films, I can create innovative solutions for various industries, making a significant impact in the field of material science.

As a researcher in-charge, I am entrusted with numerous responsibilities, such as resolving issues related to material development, equipment management, collaboration with other researchers, and overseeing the publication process.

What skills are needed in your role? How did you acquire the skills?

My approach as a scientist is goal-oriented and determined. I seek out opportunities that align with my career goals and work hard to pursue them, using my skills and expertise to advance my work in my field.

I also possess a strong sense of curiosity and a desire to constantly learn and explore new areas of research, which helps me push the boundaries of scientific knowledge.

As a R & D In-charge , there are several skills that are important to possess. These include:

Strong analytical skills: Research scientists/managers must be able to analyze data and draw meaningful conclusions from it. You should have expertise in their field of research and be proficient in the use of laboratory equipment and software.

Effective communication skills and critical thinking skills: You should be able to think critically, solve problems, and make decisions based on available evidence.

Project management skills: You should be able to manage your own projects and those of your team, including budgeting, scheduling, and resource allocation.

Collaboration skills: You should be able to work collaboratively with colleagues, both within and outside their field of expertise.

Adaptability and flexibility: You should be able to adapt to changing research environments, new technologies, and unforeseen challenges.

Creativity: You should be able to think creatively and develop new ideas and approaches to solving research problems.

I developed and acquired these skills through a combination of education, training, and experience gained from my current and previous roles. For example: 

Pursuing degrees in relevant fields provides a strong foundation of knowledge.

Participating in workshops, courses, and conferences related to research and management helps to develop specific skills and techniques.

Working in research and development roles and progressively taking on more responsibility helps to develop skills in project management, communication, problem-solving, and leadership.

Building a professional network and seeking mentorship from experienced researchers or managers provides valuable guidance and support in skill development.

Continuously reading and staying updated with the latest advancements in research, technology, and management helps to stay current and relevant in the field.

What’s a typical day like?

My typical day includes:

Conducting experiments and collecting data. 

Analyzing and interpreting data. 

Writing research reports or articles for publication in scientific journals. 

Attending meetings with colleagues, collaborators, or supervisors to discuss project progress and next steps. 

Participating in team meetings or presenting research findings to colleagues or collaborators. 

Managing research projects and overseeing the work of other team members. Reviewing literature and staying up-to-date with the latest research in their field

Applying for grants or funding to support ongoing research projects

Troubleshooting problems or unexpected issues that may arise during experiments or project implementation. 

Collaborating with other researchers or institutions to advance knowledge in their field.

What is it you love about this job? 

What I appreciate the most in my job is the level of independence that I have in choosing   the appropriate materials for specific applications. Additionally, the challenges that come with each project and collaboration, including the process of characterizing results, analyzing data, and preparing publications, are particularly engaging for me. Furthermore, I like the opportunity to train and mentor MS students, helping them develop their skills and build their knowledge in the field. Finally, being able to develop new systems for electrical measurements is both challenging  and rewarding, as it allows me to continually innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible in the field. 

How does your work benefit society? 

My work as a material scientist can have a significant impact on society by improving quality of life, promoting sustainability, and advancing technology in various industries. Such as:

My research can develop new materials for energy storage devices such as batteries and supercapacitors, as well as materials for renewable energy sources such as solar cells and fuel cells.

I work on developing sustainable materials that are environmentally friendly, biodegradable, and/or recyclable, which can help reduce waste and pollution.

I can develop new materials for electronic devices such as semiconductors, sensors, and displays, which can improve performance and functionality.

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

During my postdoctoral position in France, I had the opportunity to synthesize a novel material for energy storage applications. Through hard work and dedication, I was able to achieve success and have my work published in a prestigious journal, which demonstrated my ability to conduct high-quality research and make valuable contributions to the field of material science. This accomplishment has been a significant highlight of my career, and it has motivated me to continue pursuing innovative and impactful research in the future.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

My advice to students is to not follow the crowd, but to choose their own path towards a successful career. To do this, it’s important to think differently from the prevailing trends. Be honest in analyzing your interests and capabilities, and then aim high. Remember, nothing is impossible, regardless of your background, resources, or location. If you give your best effort in whatever field you choose, maintain patience and self-belief, you can achieve great things.

Future Plans?

As a material scientist, my future plan is to establish a startup company that focuses on material research and development. This company will provide opportunities for Indian researchers and scientists to work together towards development of innovative solutions for various applications. Additionally, we will offer fellowships to Indian students who are interested in pursuing research in the field of materials science. Through this venture, I hope to contribute to the growth and advancement of the field, as well as create job opportunities and support the next generation of researchers.