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☘☘☘ Letters by Vivek Rai
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Working With Pore Forming Toxin - II

How the BEST ever internship concluded.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Chinese Proverb

This chinese proverb accurately describes my summer experience at the Indian Institute of Science this year. After weeks of hard work – wet-lab experiments with long hours, nearly two hours of commute everyday, and precarious meal planning – my internship finally concluded on July 10 after eight long weeks (May 11 - July 10).

As described before, the core of my project was to characterize the assembly and pore-formation mechanism of Cytolysin A, a bacterial pore-forming toxin (PFT). One of the key findings of my research this summer studying the membrane lipid-phase dependent assembly of ClyA using synthetic lipid vesicles.

I presented my findings in a research seminar on July 15th along with all the other program participants. You can read my report report or browse the presentation on GitHub.

Cover page of my presentation delivered at MRDG seminar hall, IISc. The first page of my 12 minute presentation delivered to the group of professors and students at MRDG seminar hall at Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

The final week turned out to be much more hectic than I had imagined, partly because of being a victim of the planning fallacy. It is funny how I grossly underestimated the time it’d take to write the report, despite being aware of the fallacy and actively planning for it (ironic, huh?). The final week saw several rounds of data review, graph revisions, and extensive literature review to collect relevant and verifiable references.

After the report submission, but a few days before the live presentation, the BioEngineering department had arranged a picnic for all the program participants and their mentors to Lepakshi. The place was a few hours from Bangalore and home to an old temple. I had a lot of fun. The picnic also provided a much-needed respite from our busy summer schedule and an option to bond with other students. At this point, the thought of creating a presentation was nowhere in my head, as it seemed like I have a lot of time. However, I don’t know what happened or how the time slipped by, I found myself in a situation where it is 4 pm in the evening and I have nothing to show the presentation next morning. This is when the tension started to get to my nerves.

I stayed in the lab until much later that evening. After spending around three to four hours in the lab, I had a reasonable draft of the presentation and a transcript to go with it. However, it wasn’t until I had sent the slides to Pradeep and got no corrections back, that I could cozily slip into my bed for a restful sleep and prepare for the big day.

The next morning, I’m cold and nervous. Seven students (my fellow co-interns) have already presented their work, and it is my turn next. I get up, walk up to the podium, set my transcript of the desk, and suddenly my mind went blank. I could not remember anything about the transcript or what I had written in it.

I paused for a moment and looked at the slides projected on the huge screen next to me. I read the title in my head and it seemed to relax me a little. After all, this was a work that I had been deeply involved with for over 2 months now, and by now, I had grown accustomed to those words. I don’t understand what happened next, but this seemed to do the trick. Words started to flow through me, slide by slide, as I presented everything that I had prepared. I explained all the figures as I had prepared them, along with my reasoning for those experiments and what did they mean. Within a few more minutes, I have finished my presentation and answered all the audience questions as well.

Later, I was told by Prof. Sandhya that all the professors loved my presentation. They thought that not only it was good content but also delivered very professionally. I took a sigh of relief.

Overall, everything turned out to better than what I had hoped for. Pradeep was an excellent mentor, and Prof. Sandhya provided a strong academic role model to look forward to. As a final cherry on the top, I found out later during a one-on-one meeting with Prof. Sandhya and she had looked through my blog (yay shorts!) and really liked it.

With this, it is time to return home. I am not just taking back a report and certificate from IISc, but a lot of fond memories and inspiring moments. I have learned to be more curious and enthusiastic about things around me, observe things closely, and constantly ask Why? I have also learned to do vertical research, do smart work, interact with peers, build connections, be independent, and assume humility. These are the fundamental skills and attitudes that will reflect throughout my life and help me become a better person and researcher as I try to find my own life path.

Thank you Indian Institute of Science! I’ll miss you. I hope our paths will cross sometime soon.