Veronica Rodrigues 1953-2010

Thursday, November 11th, 2010
Veronica Rodrigues.

Veronica Rodrigues, Senior Professor at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) passed away on 10 November, 2010, after a five-year battle with breast cancer. Veronica was born in Kenya in 1953 where she went to school.  She joined Makerere University in Uganda but left during the turmoil there on a scholarship to study in Trinity College Dublin, where she did her B. A. with Honours in Microbiology in 1976. Stimulated by the scientific papers of P. Vijay Sarathy and Obaid Siddiqi on bacterial genetics, she wrote to Sarathy asking whether she could do her PhD with him. Sarathy, himself a PhD student, passed the letter on to Siddiqi who invited her immediately to join TIFR. With a strange British passport, which barred entry into Britain, Veronica landed in India in 1977, a country very new to her and about which she had a romantic and idyllic view. Obaid had moved his interests to neurogenetics and pioneered the study of olfaction in the fruitfly. Veronica was Obaid's first student in this new area.

Her independent contribution in the study of olfactory behaviour was appreciated enough for her to be offered a regular position at TIFR even as a PhD student. Veronica next spent three years at the Max-Planck Institute of Biologische Kybernetik in Tubingen. Here, she pioneered the study of coding of olfactory information in the brain, one of her major contributions and a landmark study. Returning to her position at the TIFR Mumbai, Veronica moved into the study of how the brain develops. Her group first charted out the rules that govern how smell and taste sensory neurons develop. Veronica and collaborators were the pioneers in this area as also in the study of the development of brain-regions where olfactory information is coded. Veronica next combined her early training in physiology and behavioral biology by asking how the brain is made to encode behaviour and how it changes in response to olfactory experience. Research in the Rodrigues group, more recently, elegantly addressed questions of how individual nerve cells, which are often robust and stay alive through an animal's life, are plastic and can change their form and function in response to environmental stimuli. In all these studies her ability to link molecular -and cell- biology to animal development and ultimately to behaviour has made her group one of the major players in the neurobiology of olfaction.

She unhesitatingly collaborated with the best anywhere. They were usually transformed to work on shared questions better than would ever have been possible alone, and each collaborator became a friend. Ever generous with sharing credit, her leading role was often implicit, but readily acknowledged by all.  In scientific gatherings, where preening is not uncommon, her low-key style with high-quality work stood out. She worked extraordinarily hard to communicate her group's science: As its head, that was not only her duty to her colleagues, but she realized the meaninglessness of good work unless it is written down well, published and communicated in seminars.

In parallel with her research successes, Veronica gently assumed many leadership roles, first at the Department of Biological Sciences (earlier the Molecular Biology Unit) at TIFR, helping to create an extraordinary intellectual environment. This was the crucible where the NCBS grew before it moved to Bangalore. Veronica's generous efficiency ensured that the fledgling NCBS had all the hospitality it needed in its early stages. Such incubations are often tense, but with Veronica's care, feathers were never ruffled and strong bonds were made to last.  Later, she became the Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences in TIFR Mumbai and in this role continued to ensure that new faculty had all the resources and independence they needed to allow their science to take off well.  While very closely involved with NCBS through interactions with colleagues there, and as a member of its Management Board, Veronica resisted all invitations to move to Bangalore, fiercely loyal to her Department in Mumbai and in love with its beautiful location by the sea. Finally, she agreed to fully move to Bangalore in 2005 while still retaining strong links with Mumbai. At NCBS, Bangalore, along with her development of an excellent laboratory she revamped its meetings, workshops, student symposia and cultural programmes to make the campus thrive intellectually. Much of this was done behind the scenes and with little formal authority. Always collegial with administration and staff, she set high demands while interacting at every level of detail

Veronica was demanding of others, a tough scientific critic who placed similar standards on herself. She inspired fierce loyalty and affection from all those who interacted with her, yet never hesitated in firmly telling her closest friends and collaborators what she thought. She held back no punches and none could charm her away from telling it as it was. Yet, her friendships withstood all lapses by others and her ability to work for others and the community, were legendary. Sensitive to the failings and boorishness of a male-dominated scientific environment, she chose her company carefully and kept her distance from those who exemplified this culture. This, along with her dignified and scathing silence was usually effective in conveying her views.

Veronica became an Indian citizen, with much effort and difficulty, about 20 years after arriving here.  While truly an internationalist she was always quietly proud of how much she had done for Indian science by doing what she loved: just doing a great job as a scientist, a mentor, a colleague, a leader and a friend. To the Tata Institute in particular and to India, she was ever grateful for their generous support for basic science. She was persistent in her demands for our accountability, asking that we excel in science and in training, in reciprocation for this liberal support.

Veronica Rodrigues made a deep impression on all who interacted with her. Her departure leaves her family and friends empty, her imprint will last.


Veronica-a true giant of 20th

Veronica-a true giant of 20th century and of present

She had a life-long association with the scientific community in India and abroad. She was a true giant of the 20th Century and of present, a legend in the chronicles of scientific research. Her daily commitment to matters of the laboratory, even during her last most painful days -at-large and as an active researcher, was an inspiration to us all. We are proud and fortunate to have benefited from her international acclaim.

For her service to science, to education, and to our nation at the scientific level, we honor Dr. Veronica's distinguished lifetime and will forever treasure her contributions to our institutions and to our lives. We who have been touched by her wisdom, her energy, and her tireless devotion to our profession will miss her.

Veronica gave her magnificent intellect to the students, to the world and her heart and soul to TIFR and NCBS. As a heart winning scientist who revolutionized our understanding of many aspects of science, and as a superb mentor, teacher, laboratory leader, and victor of science education for almost 3 decades, she has earned a proud and permanent place in the TIFR and NCBS history. We will miss her deeply."

We and India has lost a great mind of science. At NCBS we have lost a revered member of our campus family. We cherished Veronica Rodrigues and we will miss her dearly. She had a long and distinguished career not only in science but in education.We consider her, among all to be the most distinguished in the areas of excellence- research, teaching, friendship and to the scientific community. In addition to her role in establishing good Science in TIFR/NCBS, she was also a primary mover behind great explorations in science for young minds.

You tried your best to teach us before you went away,
We now have a better understanding of what you tried to say.
Please always know we love you and no one can take your place,
Tho' many years can come and go your memory will never be erased.
So when each day starts without you, we won't seem so far apart,
Cuz every time we think of you, you will be right here in our heart.

Well written obituary, Dr.

Well written obituary, Dr. Vijay Raghavan. I have admired Veronica for her charm and confidence, ever since I joined for my PhD in the Department of Biological Sciences, TIFR. She strongly supported me in my independent research endeavors, and at the same time was also honest, harsh and critical in all her professional advice to me. TIFR, Mumbai could not be the same without her after she left for Bangalore. She brought honesty, passion and activity to the Department, in a way only a few can. Veronica, you will be dearly missed. May your soul rest in peace.

Wonderful Person ! I remember

Wonderful Person ! I remember when she first called me to meet her for exhibiting my Art works at NCBS during the New phd enrollment program in the year 2009. She instantly connected with my work. Her larger vision was to engage scientists with the artistic process. She was among the few who believed "Science" and "Art" can learn a lot from each other. Veronica gave me my first public exhibition exposure. I will always be indebted to her. My Artistic trajectory has taken well of from then. Thanks Veronica. May your soul rest in peace

I was a project student in

I was a project student in NCBS and have seen her discussing with her students in the lawns near the cafeteria.. It looked so informal and lively.. I pray the Almighty for her peaceful abode!

I was an exchange student

I was an exchange student with her slightly more than 3 years back. She was a very good host and had even helped us to fit in to the lab of 23 by organizing road trips. She's always ready to help us when we have troubles and does so with a smile. I will never forget veronica and the hospitality that she has shown. Thank you, for everything u've done for us. I will remember you.

It’s been a great loss. She

It’s been a great loss. She was always been an inspirational figure for the students and will be remembered as a strong epitome of confidence and self belief. A great loss for science, too. My sincere condolences to her family and friends.

Class of 68, Dr Riberios Goan

Class of 68, Dr Riberios Goan School, we only just found each other and even in the few months we emailed each other, Veronica radiated warmth and love. Not once did she tell us her achievements, and as I read the accolades, I read them with pride and joy. Veronica God Speed, god bless - we already miss you. Prof. thank you for your comments. Eva Fernandes - classmate.

Safe journey, Veronica. It

Safe journey, Veronica. It must have been a great comfort to be surrounded by so many loving friends, on your way.

Vijay, This is Veronica's

Vijay, This is Veronica's nephew Craig Rodrigues, in California, U.S.A. Thank you for the wonderful writeup. Veronica touched many people, both professionally and personally. As her nephew, I understood that her professional accomplishments were quite significant (even though I couldn't understand all her work!). However, despite being busy with all her work, Veronica was fiercely loyal to her family, and kept everybody together even though we were scattered in India, Kenya, Canada, and U.S.A. Thanks again for the wonderful writeup. -- Craig

It is heart-warming and

It is heart-warming and consoling for the family to read Professor VijayRaghavan's eloquent tribute to Veronica's achievements and the sincere tributes from her colleagues and friends. We will cherish her memory and never forget her as a pillar of strength for our family through many crises. To all at NCBS, TIFR (Mumbai) and elsewhere who were there for Veronica through her long illness - a heartfelt and sincere thanks from our family. Sincerely, Edmund Rodrigues (Toronto).

From another classmate and

From another classmate and friend I wish to concur with all the wonderful worldwide tributes to Veronica. Edmund, please accept our condolences on the demise of your dear sister and my dear school friend. We just got to communicate with one another in the last few months but her sense of humour and tenacity to fight this awful disease came through loud and clear. Vijay, I sincerely thank you for replying to my last email to Veronica and also for yourimpressive tribute to a dedicated and superb lady who will be sorely missed. My heartfelt condolences, thoughts and prayers are with you, Edmund, your family and all of Veronica's colleagues.

Edmund: My sincere

Edmund: My sincere condolences.May her soul rest in peace. Maurice

Veronica was such an awesome

Veronica was such an awesome person. I enjoyed working in her lab and interacting with her; she was extremely helpful in helping me transition to neurobiology. What a cruel loss.

Veronica's mentoring and

Veronica's mentoring and teaching qualities were always to bring the best among those who worked under her guidance. It is very sad that she is not among us today. May her noble soul rest in peace. Narayan Subramanian

I was a student at the NCBS

I was a student at the NCBS for an year as a JRF. Even in this brief period of time, she managed to impress upon me the idea of Life in motion. Always surrounded by blur of activities, it was impossible to assume that she was battling death itself that she had trapped within her. That I say is true life, if there is one. To Live by defying death. "There are only two times when one really lives. Once when they are born and once when they look death in the face and defy it." She will be missed and thus she will be immortal.

Veronica Was A Great Mentor:

Veronica Was A Great Mentor: After my masters, I worked with Veronica as a project assistant and immediately noticed her passion for science. She always invested her time and put efforts in students to develop them as scientist. She advised me to explore upcoming field of zebrafish development and recommended me to a fish lab for my PhD. I followed her advice and do not regret a bit of it. Today, Veronica is not amongst us but her scientific achievements will always be a strong source of encouragement for all.

The news emptied me for a

The news emptied me for a long while, and deep down, I realized that with the little interaction I had with Veronica, she had stuffed me with a lot of courage and enthusiasm to do my science. I am sad and her absence in the world is slowly sinking into my thoughts.

Veronica was a leader and one

Veronica was a leader and one of the best scientists in India. A great loss for science in India! May Lord rest her soul in peace.

Veronica was the strong

Veronica was the strong pillar of Indian science. She personified the enthusiasm and adventure of science. She was a big driving force of motivation for many of us. It was my privilege to have Veronica as my mentor in my early days of science and learnt a lot from her. Although Veronica is no more but her undying enthusiasm for science will live long as her legacy.

Veronica was a wonderful

Veronica was a wonderful mentor to me during my days at TIFR Bombay, both in the lab and outside. I have fond memories of rotating through her lab, observing mating behaviors of Olfactory mutants- that was my introduction to Drosophila. I especially remember how she was able to "quietly" and "effectively" get the message across to me, when I needed to do "work harder". She most certainly had a big influence on my work ethic. And of course I remember very fondly the camaraderie that she fostered outside the lab, whether it was a trip to Gokul, or the informal get togethers in Raman/Bhaskara over chocolates and Baileys. You will be missed, V!!

Veronica was my first mentor

Veronica was my first mentor in research lab and she taught me one main thing, thats the fighting spirit and not to give up. Even though my stay in her lab was quite short before moving to Panic's lab she always has been of a special significance to me as my first mentor. Her loss is not only for the current scientific community but future generation has also lost a great mentor.

Veronica was my co-adviser

Veronica was my co-adviser when I was a master's student. She was an excellent scientist. Her insights into experiments were priceless. Her memory will be cherished always.

Veronica has been a

Veronica has been a tremendous source of inspiration and support from my days as a graduate student at TIFR/NCBS. Her passing makes the world a lonelier place.

What a brave and wonderful

What a brave and wonderful lady, an astute scientist and leader, and a great friend. My real association with Veronica began after P. K. Maitra came to ARI and urged me visit DBS. I did so immediately and Veronica was most kind in arranging meetings with the faculty throughout the day. Since then, she has been a great source of inspiration for me. She was very supportive of my research and always encouraged me in my endeavors at a small place like ARI. Earlier this year, she examined the doctoral thesis of one of my students who worked on hydra. She had a few good things to say about the work which, inevitably were accompanied by some valid criticism-- that was Vintage Veronica. Saroj and I had the opportunity to host her for some typically Saraswat-style fish dinners at home, which she enjoyed immensely.

This is a very sad news

This is a very sad news indeed. I was a master's student with her and she was an excellent scientist. Her insight into experiments was priceless. I will always cherish her memory.

Veronica was one of my

Veronica was one of my mentors. I will spare the words, since her contribution to my development as a scientist goes beyond the words.

Legacy of Veronica in Biology

Legacy of Veronica in Biology Education: Though Veronica was in the TIFR, Mumbai and later at the NCBS, Bangalore, to us, in the department of Life sciences at the Sophia College for Women, Veronica was always an insider; and our lab was almost an extension of her lab! In fact, if any single person to whom we directly owe, for the establishment of the Neuroscience program at the Sophias, it is Veronica. She had introduced us to the excitement of studying the biological basis of behavior, through that ever green model: the fly, Drosophila. In fact, our students and us did cut our teeth in neuroscience by playing with the fly, as early as in the eighties. Later, we were on another great collaborative venture, when unfortunately she had taken ill and almost permanently shifted to NCBS, Bangalore, from Mumbai. We had just then, initiated a pilot study at the college level involving large number of undergraduate students, in a massive program of screening the RNAi lines of the fly, in the lines of the great collaborative work that has been happening in the US, especially by people like Utpal Banerjee in UCLA , between research scientists on the one hand and undergraduate students and teachers of educational institutions on the other. It will, in fact, be a great tribute to Veronica if scientists from resource-rich centers organize sustainable research programs involving large number of undergraduate students of colleges across the country. As Veronica's mentor and PhD guide Obaid Siddiqi used to say, after all, colleges have an unique asset that research institutes cannot boast: the large number of young hands! The challenge today is, how to dovetail research programs taking care of this ground reality, in India. To us, who had occasions to work with Veronica, there is no doubt about its feasibility; it is only a question of determination, as she had shown time and time again! We celebrate you Veronica!

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