Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) has a longstanding tradition of honouring staff and students annually for their exemplary service and work during the Foundation Day celebrations, which is held on 30th October in TIFR, Mumbai. On this occasion, staff members who have served for 25 years at TIFR institutions are honoured. This time, three members of the NCBS family- Prof. R. Sowdhamini, Senior Professor, Mr. Prashanthmurthy, Administrative Officer-Hospitality Services and Mr. Ravindra Munshi, Engineer-Quality Control, were honored for their services. We took this opportunity to talk to them about their time at NCBS, how NCBS has grown over the years and how they have grown with the institute.
“25 years? Feels like I started just yesterday”, says Munshi. “I feel that I have been useful”, Sowdhamini humbly adds. Prashanthmurthy says, “It is great to be recognized. The award gives me a sense of satisfaction and is a source of motivation.”
It was a big celebration for Sowdhamini, whose Computational Approaches to Protein Science (CAPS) lab turned 25. “It is an important milestone for us and for what we have done in the lab. We celebrated by hosting seminars and talks. Whoever has been a part of the lab over the years, attended these celebrations. In fact one of my very first students also joined. Basically we had our own fun time.”
Picture 1: A glimpse into the fun 25 year celebrations of Sowdhamini’s lab. Sowdhamini (L) and her graduate student Shailya Verma (R) pictured with the celebratory cake. Picture source: Sowdhamini.
All the three started at NCBS in 1998 and their journey began in a building at IISc. In fact, Sowdhamini still has an old silicon graphics machine and a filing cabinet from 25 years ago!
Having witnessed the setting up of NCBS, as a curious graduate student at IISc, Sowdhamini had decided to join NCBS during her thesis defence itself. When the opportunity presented itself, she took the plunge. On the other hand, coming from the hotel industry,Prashanthmurthy was looking for a position where he could work in the canteen business.
“I have a BSc, but never really knew much about research institutes, except for IISc, and research as a career until I joined NCBS. I have learnt a lot over the years from the students and researchers. NCBS has basically given me everything ”, says a grateful Prashanthmurthy.
The current campus and NCBS itself for that matter was in its infancy, when the three started. There was still a long way to go for NCBS to become the well-reputed research centre that it is today. All the staff at the time faced their own set of challenges in moving to the new campus and had to take on many roles. “There was nothing here. It was extremely isolated and we had very few faculty and staff to begin with. One can say that in a way the surrounding areas developed due to NCBS”, say all three. Having seen NCBS grow and transform over the years, all three have seen an expansion of infrastructure, research , collaborations, students and diversity.
Over the course of their time at NCBS, they have taken on various roles. Something that they and the community are proud of. “I am particularly proud of conceiving the idea of the creche and the fact that it has stayed on for all these years. I was the first faculty mother at NCBS”, recalls Sowdhamini. Prashanthmurthy proudly says, “Our team helped set up the catering software that we use today. The other highlights are the multi cuisine menu, and the attention to food safety and nutrition.” Munshi adds, “The SOPs (standard operating procedures) that we set up back in the day are still being used. We keep updating it, but these SOPs are the key to how our campus functions.”
Picture 2: The 25 years service awardees from NCBS in all smiles while receiving their awards. Munshi (L), Sowdhamini (C) and Prashanthmurthy (R) receiving their awards from Prof. L.S. Shashidhara, Director NCBS-TIFR and Prof. Jayaram Chengalur, Director TIFR respectively. Picture source: Ravindra Munshi, R. Sowdhamini and Prashanthmurthy.
When asked about a vision for the next 25 years of NCBS, Sowdhamini had this to say, “I imagine an NCBS, where we keep supporting new research, expand our networks and collaborations, have umbrella projects, expand outreach and remove any barrier across themes. I also hope that our culture stays this way.” “We have seen NCBS grow very fast. I hope that it touches the next level of excellence in the coming time. The culture, force and research at NCBS will keep us alive”, adds Munshi. “NCBS is self-sustaining and can run without wheels”, sums up Prashanthmurthy.
So what has kept them going for all these years? “The culture of NCBS- no hierarchy, SOPs, organization, interdependence, freedom to function and mutual respect have kept us running. There is something new to learn everyday”, say all three.
All three were part of the move to the current NCBS campus, which turns 25 this year. Big celebrations are planned as a part of this with the inaugural event–Campus@25–happening on 14th February 2024. This is just the beginning, as we look forward to more celebrations during the year and reflect on the culture and growth of NCBS.