I always liked Biology. I had the good fortune of studying under teachers who loved the subject as well, and who believed that there was more to this feared subject than the ordeal to remember countless names. Their enthusiasm was infectious and their viewpoint, enlightening. I learnt to look at Biology in way most people, especially in India, would never consider. Biology grew from a fascination in 9th Standard to the very driving force that drives me forward in this desert of a world to quench my thirst for knowledge.
Many of us face a dreary two years in 9th and 10th standard, dreading the hour long class and the hours of effort to memorize the myriad of names that comprised Biology at that stage. It wasn't until I decided to take up Biology in the 11th and 12th that I truly came to realize the complexity of this eclectic science. It is the ideal field to combine just about every science and engineering known to man, after all it is the study of living beings, one of the greatest mysteries of the universe that man is still trying to understand.
Biology is a systematic science, and studying it, I have come to see it as a subject as logical and yet complex like Mathematics and Physics. The study of the human body became an enjoyable task once I understood just how it all fit together and that there was a system that the body followed. Every name and property in the body linked to the next and had a specific reason to be there – to help the organism survive. The entire understanding of the living organism right from the cellular stage till the ecosystem is deeply based in Physics, Chemistry and Maths. Only a thorough understanding of these basic subjects would truly help a person understand the depth of Biology, and only on applying these concepts can you truly learn to appreciate the miracle that is the living organism. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and the greatest inventions of mankind have always tried to do just that – imitate what happens in nature.
There are many institutes that offer Biological Sciences as an undergraduate degree in India and it has been gaining popularity as many are learning to explore the possibilities outside the conventional streams. With the rise in popularity of IISERs and IISc's Undergraduate programme, many students are now considering a serious career in Biology. Various colleges like Presidency College, and St. Xavier's University also offer excellent courses in Biology. For the more technically inclined, and who would still like to study this subject, BITS-Pilani's Dual Degree programme provides the ideal conditions to pursue both Engineering and Science.
Before college, few in the Engineering fields would have even thought of taking Biology as a subject, and most would simply detest it. Most would have shed the worry of ever having to face the subject again – after all, the board exam was to be the last of it. BITS-Pilani gives everyone a chance to reconsider this view with a very interesting take on Biology through its course General Biology. This course is compulsory for all students, irrespective of their discipline, and gives the same perspective that I mentioned earlier. The teachers, with their inspiring charisma, bring the subject alive, covering all the basic concepts one would have surely forgotten after summarily dismissing the subject two years earlier. The course also lays a solid foundation that any student studying Biology would need. For any student pursuing a degree in Biological Sciences, and yet who hasn’t studied Biology in their +2 education would do well to put extra efforts into this course.
The undergraduate programs at BITS Pilani begin with the very basics of their fields, but build up very quick. This holds true with respect to the Biological Sciences courses as well. After a rather simple and entertaining course in the first semester, the Second semester begins with several courses with steep learning curves. These courses help give the budding Biologist a grasp on the fundamentals one would require when considering a future in research. BITS’ free and unique atmosphere provides an amazing learning environment that lets you explore your potentials and aptitudes, which are especially important when considering a career in the field of research – you need to be good at what you like to do. I have come to learn that, while there are some things best learnt in a classroom, any true knowledge will not be handed to you on a presentation slide or through the mere vocalisation of words written in text, it must be taken. You will only truly learn when you get down and dirty with the details and are ready to work with the subject from the very basics to the very pinnacle. The library, the teachers, the PhD Scholars and even your seniors, batch-mates and juniors possess a world of knowledge and as a biologist they not only represent a source of knowledge but test subjects as well for certain experiments.
Apart from the hectic coursework, and eventful summers lined up, BITS-Pilani also offers a wide assortment of electives and the freedom to choose relevant electives outside your own domain of study. Study projects and Lab projects are what I found most useful in filling the void that I could not fill with my own pursuits.
A valuable opportunity to explore one’s suitability for different career paths and as way of letting you know what the real world and industry require, Practice School is a period that must not be wasted. Having been interested in research since the get go, I chose a Practice School Station that was a research establishment attached to a hospital. Here I learnt the necessary skills, formalities and conventions of research and what it means to be part of a larger team working towards a certain goal. Each summer and winter is an opportunity that absolutely must be put to good use to supplement whatever knowledge you would have gained through courses at college. Internships also help build a rapport with the scientific community and in an environment where your success is measured with the number of people who cited your work as references in their own endeavours, it is especially important to interact with as many people as you can.
The dual degree system available at BITS is especially advantageous for a Biologist, as you will learn as you get more exposure to research, that no research can be completed with knowledge of just one subject. There are countless opportunities in research and industry both in India and abroad. Many premiere research institutes and labs such IISc, IISERs, TIFR, NCBS have developed some very exciting opportunities for work, internships and workshops for undergraduates. Commercial establishments and hospital research facilities as well are not far behind.
Biology is a field that is still considered to be somewhat of a fledgling in India, but it is the future of the world.
A third year student pursuing a Dual Degree in Biological Sciences and Mechanical Engineering, with interests in Molecular Biology, Biomechanics and Neurobiology. Anish is currently an undergraduate summer research student at the Center for Neuroscience, Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.