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Rising to the Pinnacle

"My ambition is to conduct high-quality, beneficial research...
It makes me proud to be a woman in science."

-Sara Khaleeq

Author: Stuti Ajmera

August, 2021.

I never faced any difficulties that couldn’t be handled with a little effort.

During my childhood days in Oman, we used to go to the beach every Friday. Mother would make biryani while we built sandcastles and collected shells. Father and I would have long discussions about various topics. I would pick up new words from him. We could buy one story book and one toy every month. We'd finish all the stories in a week and then wait impatiently for the next month. Life was simple and fun.

I did, however, move around quite a bit. I've switched ten schools. Sometimes I started at a new school after the session had already started, so I had very little time to prepare for the midterm exams. But I'd be able to catch up by the time final exams rolled around and secure first or second place in my class. I am an extrovert and would easily make new friends.

My parents' top priority has always been our education—we chose our field of study. We've always had the ability to make our own decisions. Science is something I am very interested in. And I made the decision to pursue a PhD at IISc in Bangalore. My parents and professors both welcomed and encouraged it.

They have not only encouraged me to study, but they have also inspired me to do so. They were always highlighting the importance of us acquiring knowledge and education that others could benefit from as well. My father wanted me to study medicine so that I could treat the underprivileged for free or at a minimal price. They have been emotionally and financially supportive of all of my career decisions. And they are the proudest at all my academic achievements.

Sara with her Lab

Currently, I am a Ph.D. research scholar at IISc. Following this, I intend to pursue a postdoctoral degree in the United States, return to India, and establish my own laboratory. Then I'd be recognized as a scientist.

My ambition is to conduct high-quality, beneficial research. I'd like to work on projects that can be turned into services. I'm currently working on vaccines. With the ongoing pandemic and constantly evolving pathogens,

I believe we must be prepared for the future India's research remains deficient. We need indigenous vaccines and technologies so that we are not reliant on others. I am in my final year of a PhD program and will soon be going abroad for a postdoctoral fellowship. Only then will I be able to set up my own lab. It will be a long road ahead of me for the next 7-8 years, but I am motivated.

My dream is to educate an increasing number of children. It is a cause near and dear to my heart. We used to have a housekeeper who had a large family. They idled their time by playing, doing odd jobs, or being beaten up by their alcoholic father. That's when my mother suggested that I assist her in enrolling some of her children in school. My mother believes that the only way to help these people is to educate their children. And she told me that if you find yourself in a position of financial strength, consider it a responsibility to support and sponsor the education of young boys and girls who want to study but lack the financial means to do so. It's a thought that has stayed with me, and I try to help the students I can with the little scholarship I have.

Throughout my life, I have worked hard and achieved my goals. Madame Curie is a huge inspiration to me. She rose through the ranks of a male-dominated field to become the first and only woman to receive the Nobel Prize in two different sciences. It's inspiring to see how dedicated she was to her research. It makes me proud to be a woman in science.

Except for a minor hiccup, my journey has been smooth. In my first year of PhD, I was engaged to be married to a doctor. While his mother was proud of his degree, she was not supportive of my pursuit of a PhD from IISc. She attempted to put a lot of pressure on me to leave. So, my first year at IISc was miserable. That's when my father intervened and ended the engagement. I recall him telling me that nothing was more important to him at the time than my PhD.

It strengthened my determination to pursue my passion. Since then, I've been working even harder. I read more papers, constantly strive to improve the quality of my work, learn new techniques, and broaden my skill set. I'm attempting to build my CV in preparation for a good postdoctoral position, and I know nothing will be able to stop me from soaring high and accomplishing all my dreams.

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