About Author: Krutika Katrat is pursuing her Integrated M.Tech (Biotechnology) from Dr. D.Y. Patil Biotechnology and Bioinformatics Institute, Pune. She interned with the Tata Memorial Centre, ACTREC (Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer), Kharghar, Navi Mumbai.
Internship is supposed to be very pivotal for a student’s career, it’s an individual’s first outing in a REAL, pragmatic world related to his professional field where he is given an opportunity to prove his mettle and what he has actually learnt during his academic years, a practical exposure that validates what your university books have actually taught you, and a few new life experiences and skills which they haven’t. They go beyond academics, textbooks, examinations, and scores. For me, my year long internship at ACTREC (Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer) Tata Memorial Centre in Navi Mumbai was an enriching lifetime experience and when I write these adjectives it is not an exaggeration but simply an expression for the awesome time I had pursuing my dissertation, lab and research work, and other kinds of off – lab fun with my lab mates.
It was like an information explosion and eagerness to grasp everything as soon as possible during my first few days in the institute when I received my project and started working in the lab. Being a cancer research institute, it made me feel happy and responsible that I was in such a place where people were working day in and day out to battle one of the worst maladies of human civilization and that was CANCER. My project was on structural biology related to one of the anti-cancer proteins. And like in every research or project, I had my share of disappointments and difficulties when I couldn’t get results of my experiments or some unexplainable results; but these moments got overshadowed with the better moments of victory and smile whenever my experiments worked and I got my results rendering me as well as my mentor happy.
The best things that I learnt during my internship were developing my ability to think and how to troubleshoot the problems and hurdles we face in our work, something which is hardly taught in schools and colleges. My seniors were really supportive and my mentor Dr. Kakoli Bose and Lalith Kumar (a PhD student) encouraged me to design my own experiments and start my work on them, and they intervened only when I required their help. This way I got superlative guidance and also a creative freedom to plan and pursue my work, two things that elevated my internship experience.
Another unforgettable heart-wrenching experience that I had while working in ACTREC was watching cancer patients who came into the hospital for the treatment. Some of my colleagues in other labs used cancer tissue and radiation for their research and hence we, the students of basic research got an opportunity to interact with these cancer patients in the hospital or at times in the canteen. Many of the patients were small children aged between 2-13 years suffering from leukemia, men suffering from lung and stomach cancer due to substance abuse, and majority of the patients coming to this hospital came from poor and humble backgrounds, some even coming from far away places for treatment.
Watching these patients, their parents, and families fight cancer everyday; still managing to face all of it with calm composure, some of them with shiny smiles on their faces and hearts instilled with hope taught me that who a real Fighter is, who the Survivors actually are. The little kids in St. Jude’s children centre in ACTREC are so innocent and oblivious to their conditions that they accept the pain and their horrendous health condition as a life and jam along with it with smiles, some of them having their creativity and inner art intact which is evident when you see them dance and sing at ACTREC’s annual function and paint their imaginations on paper during workshops which institute organizes for their betterment. Witnessing all such fighters in real life has imparted me a life lesson that if a person in such peril state can be okay with it, then I should not stress upon lesser problems of life.
And not to forget my lab mates with whom I spent majority of the time during my stay as an intern in Kharghar who eventually became my friends and now that my internship is over, they still remain to be. Being away from family, my lab mates gave me the much required mental and emotional support whenever I needed it. They were the ones who consoled me when I failed, encouraged me to do better when my experiments didn’t work, celebrated with me when I was successful with my results and experiments, laughed with me when I or any of them cracked jokes, enjoyed the customary birthday parties in mentor’s office, and blasted the fun in the parties off work in post lab hangouts and trips. The work culture I had was awesome with a strict disciplinarian as a mentor who was a caring, down to earth, and an amazing person and knowledgeable and supporting seniors as lab mates.
I would have never thought of penning down my amazing journey of my internship if it hadn’t been for the Internshala contest. But writing all this down just brought a smile on my lips as I remembered all the beautiful and delightful memories and the valuable experiences, skills, and knowledge that I have gained during my internship. And now that my work is almost on the verge of getting published in a reputed science journal, I will always look back to my internship year in ACTREC as one pleasant experience. I thank my mentor Dr. Bose, Lalith and my lab mates for making it as awesome as it was.
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