Awash with Awards

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Manivannan S. mixes it with Nobel Prize winner Eric Wieschaus, after winning a Best Presentation Award at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Japanese Society of Developmental Biology.

In the last month three NCBS students added their names to the Centre’s honour roll of prize-winning conference presenters.  Manivannan S. from Gaiti Hasan’s calcium signaling group won one of the best poster awards at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Japanese Society of Developmental Biologists, held in Kyoto.  Girish Arjun Punjabi and Shivani Jadeja, respectively, won first and joint second prizes for best talks at the first Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS), Bangalore. They were reporting the results of research projects done within the M.Sc Wildlife Conservation programme run at NCBS in conjunction with the Wildlife Conservation Society-India and the Centre for Wildlife Studies.

Talking to the students it is obvious that winning the awards, and doing so while attending  their very first conference, has boosted their confidence enormously. Girish explains that he never saw himself as an eager public speaker before, but visiting his native Pune shortly after the SCCS conference, he found it was now a simple task to give a talk to a group of student wildlife volunteers. “I found that I could easily adapt the talk, just making it a bit simpler. It went down really well, and led to lots of conversation”. Manivannan seems positively supercharged from the experience and is now itching to consolidate his research into his first paper. And rubbing shoulders with legendary developmental biologist and Nobel laureate Eric Wieschaus was a great thrill, he adds.  For Shivani, the award was perhaps almost an inevitable consequence of her successfully communicating the extreme excitement she felt when her original hypotheses held up. “When I was in the field I had an inkling that the things were happening as I had imagined, but it was only when I was discussed the results with my supervisor Kavita that it really dawned on me that the data was supporting the pattern I’d suggested so long ago”.

Shivani Jadeja, in Velavadar National Park, Gujarat.

The sense of being excited and committed to their research is also evident when talking to Manivannan and Girish. Manivannan uses the Drosophila model system to study how insulin interacts with the inositol triphosphate calcium signaling system. He works on a mutant that  mismanages its energy reserves and, like a human with an insulin problem, it has a reduced life expectancy.  Girish studied the den site preferences of the Indian Fox and found that it prefers grassy habitats much more than previously thought. “This is a real problem for the fox, because grasslands do not have the  conservation appeal of forests, so they are very poorly protected.”  Shivani would not disagree, because she too is committed to grassy habitats, and is looking at ways to slow down the invasion of Indian grasslands by the woody weed Prosopis. She found that Blackbuck play an important role in the dispersal of Prosopis seeds, with the territorial males in particular transporting them a considerable distance before leaving them perfectly primed for germination in a pile of highly fertile dung.

None of the students will ever forget their first major opportunity to talk about their research. Nor will they forget the drama involved in just making it to the conferences. For Shivani and Girish, it was all in the timing. The SCCS meet was just days before they were due to hand in their dissertations. Shivani had to be cajoled into presenting, and then got an another shock when she heard that, while she had offered to present a poster, the organisors wanted her to talk. For Manivannan, events were even more traumatic, with an evening football match at NCBS leaving him on crutches not too long before the flight, and doubtful about being able to attend. But his friends told him things would work out and once he was in Japan someone was always on hand to help him as needed. He now feels Fate was definitely on his side: not only did he win the presentation award, but in a lucky draw run by one of the exhibitors, he also scored an iPod Shuffle.

Girish Arjun Punjabi (left) in the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary (Solapur, Maharashtra), with field assistant Bapu.


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

Bookmark and Share