Chandana Basu Mallick

Chandana Basu Mallick
India

Coming to Estonia...
Well, my journey to Estonia was based on two main pillars. One was a motivation to do my PhD abroad in a challenging project and second was my husband who had joined a year before me for his PhD. I did apply to other universities as well and got through but was fortunate to get selected here too as every year not all faculties have chances to take international students and there are local students competing for the positions too who just finished their masters.

Before coming here I knew about Estonia...
Frankly speaking, I didn’t know much about Estonia. All I knew was that it was a part of Soviet Union and then developed its own entity after independence. I was warned about the freezing temperatures. Yet, I was all ready to explore this nation.  When I used to tell people I got selected in Estonia for my PhD, they would be happy at one instance but then their next question would be where is it actually and I would name the neighbouring countries to explain its geography; Finland sounded well to them but I always defended them in a way and somewhere felt quite close and protective to it even though I hadn’t stepped here yet.

Differences in student life in Estonia and in my home country...
Student life is similar in some kind to my home country and different too. As every other country student life here too are colourful, events taking place now and then, sports, full of enthusiasm, parties, fun. Organizations like ESN here that make it all lively starting from the introduction, film festivals to youth bands. However, I miss the campus life here (In India, most of the universities are in the outskirts of the city and have their own big campus) and also canteens or common hang out place for students in hostel or department where food or tea/coffee are at subsidised rates. I also find the curriculum here quite relaxed for students allowing them to get accommodated to it.

Studying in Estonia ...
I believe I have learnt here the true qualities of a researcher. I feel I have become more independent at the same time more responsible. I have learnt from my seniors how to stay at the top and yet be humble. My supervisors have always let me grow on my own, allowed me to follow my own instincts and nurtured me when needed with their own experience. I also learnt the art of perfectionism from the people here and their warmth has always inspired me to learn their language and converse with them in Estonian. “Tere” has become so familiar to me now that I end up greeting the Finnish security personnel or immigration officer at airport with the same word at times while travelling back to my country.

Some of the things I learned here...
I experienced the snowfall for the very first time in my life when I arrived. I was so overjoyed and my colleagues said “ Don’t worry you would get more n more of it and may be you would not enjoy it any more”. But I still enjoy it. It’s so beautiful, everything covered in white. My first sledging experience with friends was great fun. I got to see nature more closely in Estonia which I would always treasure in my life. Nature is so bland here, untouched and I feel it always remains so. I also experienced life in country side with no electricity (not that they can’t get it but they want it like that) where you experience true nature, breathe fresh air when you get up.  We also enjoyed mushroom picking, clean forests, walking on bogs, picking berries, lakesides, sauna and of course, Saaremaa. All these experiences would have been impossible without our Estonian friends guiding us all through. Last but not the least, my favourite strawberries which are rare in our country having a warm climate. :)

I would tell others in my home country...
I would highly recommend students from my home country to come and have an experience here. I am sure they are going to like it. The living standards here are comparable to any other European countries but the cost of living is low. Besides this, the best thing about Estonia is that you can have the feel of urban life and yet the warmth, calmness and serenity of a small town which seems rare in big cities.

Doctorate studies in Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in University of Tartu is for four years which is quite standard. Compared to other universities, while studying here you do find a proper balance within the curriculum and your own research. The elective subjects which you take also aid you to excel in your research for example, academic writing where you get to know more about writing grant proposals or research papers or information research where you learn about different web-based search tools. I have heard my friends from other universities complaining about tedious course work leaving them with little time for their own research. Few courses here are also internet based which saves time. I also appreciate the defense which is based on published papers rather than thesis work. So, a candidate has already been proved to some extent, though in some fields like cell biology, immunology, publishing in stipulated time is sometimes difficult.

My degree programme is...
A year back University of Tartu had a seminar on tolerance and how we can improve it here and my study revolves around this  i.e investigating the unique biological spectrum of skin color what we observe in the world. This remarkable variation and it’s genetic origin and evolution of skin color has always remained a puzzle for researchers. There are many genes that have been discovered to have played role in this variation and I am studying one of the skin pigmentation genes.

While being away from my home country, I miss the most...
Sun in winters, Indian street food, our colourful festivals, my family and above all an Indian store where we could get all ingredients.

I liked to study here...
I think mobility in Science has become important these days. You need to get out of your shell at least once and explore what’s going on; gain different experiences and that will give you an edge over others, improve your thinking, motivate you and help you to move ahead in your scientific career. It also gives you an opportunity to learn about different cultures and meet different people.

My future...
After completing my doctorate studies, I would go for my post doc studies. I strongly feel scientific research is a learning process where you get to learn at each stage and you need to keep your eyes open and the level of enthusiasm and curiosity high. There is no stop over, just journeys and experiences to gather and keep moving on.........

The last thing I want to say...
Life is an empty dream. It is you who has to fill colors in it and paint it as beautiful as you can. So, go ahead and don’t look behind, your future lies in your hand and you need to make the most of it.

About Estonia...
As they say “ Good things come in small packages”, the same holds true for Estonia.....small, yet beautiful and powerful.

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