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This 23-year-old aspires to create benchmarks in oncology research  

Prabneet Kaur Kakkar, a Junior Research Associate with SmartAnalyst India Pvt Ltd, says new research interventions are required to further reduce India’s cancer burden effectively



A biotechnology enthusiast Prabneet Kaur Kakkar completed her Integrated B. Tech and M. Tech degree programme from School of Biosciences, Apeejay Stya University (ASU). With a deep interest in Oncology, the 23-year-old specialised in Molecular Biology, Genetics and Microbiology. As part of her Master’s thesis, Prabneet worked on “Cloning, expression and purification of Plasmodium falciparum Protein Kinase 2 (PfPK2)” at National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi. Recently, the Apeejay alumna has joined SmartAnalyst India Pvt Ltd, a Gurgaon-based firm focused on supporting Bio-Pharma Innovation, as a Junior Research Associate (Team Oncology). In this interview, she explains about her interest in this scientific field of research. Edited excerpts:

What inspired you to study biotechnology?

Biotechnology is one of the most progressive and evolving branches of science and technology. It offers enormous potential to the students who are interested in making life easier for humankind. I got an opportunity to acquire in-depth knowledge of each and every branch of biotechnology. In my university, the concept of Liberal Arts amused me the most and helped me to grow professionally as well as aided my personality development. Together, these shaped me well to fit into the world of research.

Please tell us about your life as a biotechnology student? How did a usual day look like on campus?

We usually had a busy schedule, packed with classes throughout the day. There were practicals arranged on a regular basis for each subject offered, all biotechnology related. Sometimes I indulged myself with some extracurricular activities on campus such as community services, taking part in cultural fest and playing basketball as a part of ASU team. The only thing constant throughout the whole journey was chit chatting with friends and making precious memories that I can cherish forever.

What skills one needs to learn to be a part of the Biotechnology field?

One of the most important technical skills in Biotechnology is your research skills as that allows you to grow tremendously in this field. Strong scientific research skill, in-depth knowledge with a keen interest in R&D, practical applications, and eagerness to learn more play an imperative role. Apart from these, quantitative ability, analytical skills, problems-solving skills and an inquisitive nature is a must.  Since biotechnologists manipulate living organisms, they must be able to react quickly to any unexpected developments or results.

Why did you take up the role of researcher and what interests you about this field?

Initially, I had never thought I would take up the path of a researcher. But I took this decision after gaining knowledge for four years as a part of my academics. Today, I am able to apply those theoretical knowledge into the practical world and conduct research, and my career has allowed me some time and resources to do that. The environment that my lab provided me with during my Master’s thesis was very inspiring and encouraging. The good part is that you are always learning something new, you are always in touch with people, who are much smarter than you are, and sometimes you produce something relevant that is used by others.

What are the potential areas of research in Biotechnology? 

Research areas in Biotechnology include bioinformatics, genomics, medical biotechnology, environment and biodiversity, plant and animal biotechnology, biofuels, product and process development, human resource development,  bio-instrumentation, and biosafety. A large focus must be put on aspects such as enhancing the knowledge base, generating highly skilled human resources, nurturing leads of potential utility, and bringing bio-products to the marketplace. Plus, there is a wide network of bioinformatics that would help in exchanging information at the global level as well.

Why did you pick Oncology as the area of research? 

In just the last 5 years, there have been major advances in treating cancer. As per a report, India’s large population of 1.3 billion accounts for 7 of every 100 new cancer cases. This is likely to grow, age and urbanise in the coming decades, and so cancer cases will also increase. This needs further research interventions that can effectively control the burden and cancer types that are uncommon in other settings. Hence, there is no better time than the present to be in this field. It’s not just exciting but rewarding, and forever evolving. I want to grow in this field, be challenged with new research, treatments, and technologies.

One advice you wish to give to those aspiring to get into the field of research?

You are young and have a long career ahead of you – so while it’s important to have conviction about what areas you want to study, keep an open mind and learn as much as you can from those who are gracious enough to mentor you. Have fun with your research! Often, research can be a drag (time consuming, boring, repetitive), but keep yourself motivated by curiosity and a desire for understanding. This curiosity will sustain your entire research career, so stay hungry!

Harshita is Assistant Editor at Apeejay newsroom. With experience in both the Media and Public Relations (PR) world, she has worked with Careers360, India Today and Value360 Communications. A learner by nature, she is a foodie, traveller and believes in having a healthy work-life balance.