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News Category: Fellows


Inaugural Harvard B4 Fellowship Opens New Doors for Postdocs


Left to Right: Venki Murthy, Ramya Purkanti, Gayatri Ramakrishnan, Parvathi Sreekumar, and Praveen Anand

One year ago when Parvathi Sreekumar earned her PhD in Crop Physiology at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, India, she never would have guessed that today she’d be halfway around the world, learning computational biology and bioinformatics to study bacteria in Philippe Cluzel’s lab. Yet here she is in Cambridge, along with three other research fellows from Bangalore who were awarded the inaugural Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) Fellowship, co-sponsored by the South Asia Institute (SAI) at Harvard University and the Institute for Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB) in Bangalore. The four fellows, selected from over 52 applicants, earned their PhDs in different fields from different institutes in India, but all now share the unique experience of spending 11 months pursuing research in a completely new direction at Harvard. “Being part of this fellowship is broadening my research exposure and equipping me with new skills that I can go home and implement in India. I’m grateful that students from diverse fields are being given an opportunity like this,” says Sreekumar.

Each B4 fellow is matched with a lab at Harvard that focuses on a research topic within the biosciences, including Systems and Synthetic Biology, Neuroscience, Genomics and Bioinformatics, Soft Robotics, and Biomedical Engineering. For Ramya Purkanti, who studied evolutionary cell biology in yeast for her PhD, Michael Desai’s lab was a perfect fit. “Michael’s lab is also studying evolution using yeast, but they’re asking very different questions,” she says. “My PhD investigated the development of organelles within eukaryotic cells, and now I’m researching the development of sexual reproduction – why did sex evolve when it’s so costly to find mates, and only half of an organism’s DNA gets passed down? The way this lab asks scientific questions, designs and sets up experiments, mines the data, and interprets results is very sophisticated, and I’m really enjoying learning it.”

Aside from the challenging task of getting up to speed on their host labs’ research while simultaneously moving their own projects forward, the B4 program has no official requirement of the fellows. That freedom to explore an environment that’s as brimming with academic activity as Harvard’s has proven to be almost as valuable as the time the fellows spend in lab. “The fact that I get to work on what I’m interested in without extra limitations or requirements sounded too good to be true,” says Praveen Anand, a fellow working in Sean Eddy’s lab. “This fellowship gives me a perfect opportunity to network and learn directly from people who are already well renowned in their fields. I have also started to attend the LS50 course to brush up on my statistics, and found it amazing.” Purkanti agrees: “Something that really struck me was a lecture I attended about a new photosynthetic bacterium, because the lecturer presented her science in jargon-free English and put it in the global context, so that everyone in the audience could understand. Now I want to learn how to speak about my own science in a similarly fluid, ‘normal’ English, too.”

The B4 Fellowship is the brainchild of MCB professor Venkatesh Murthy and Harvard Business School professor Tarun Khanna (who is also the Director of the Harvard South Asia Institute). It represents just one part of the larger B4 program, whose overall goal is to connect research institutions in Boston and Bangalore to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the biosciences, with the key point being to “Invest In People” to grow the sector for societal benefits. All four B4 fellows agree that it is definitely living up to its stated purpose. “The opportunity to nurture and shape our scientific temperament at one of the best institutes in the world is unparalleled,” says Gayatri Ramakrishnan, who is working with Martha Bulyk at Harvard Medical School. “This program is of immense help and provides a much-needed boost to graduates like us who are in the early stages of their academic careers.” “It was really good at this stage to push myself and learn new things,” adds Sreekumar. “I might not have had the impetus to try something new if I had stayed at my home institution.” Her host advisor, Philippe Cluzel, says, “I see the B4 program as a great opportunity to bring together people with different scientific backgrounds and ask them to work on a problem they could not have tackled otherwise. It has been a really great experience to have Parvathi among us, and I am sure we will keep in touch once she is back in India.”

The one thing the fellows would change about the program (aside from the static in Boston’s dry winter air that makes their hair stand on end)? Make it longer. “I wish I had arrived here earlier, maybe as an undergraduate or as an intern, as I would have had the privilege to explore, experiment and learn as much as possible,” laments Ramakrishnan. “It would be very useful to have at least two years to gain this experience and contribute even more positively to the growth of research and technology back in India,” adds Anand. “We aspire to expand the duration as well as the number of fellows in the coming years”, says Murthy. “We hope that these fellows will take their experiences back to India and influence the system in small, but significant ways – even though the actual period of time they are here is quite brief.”

The B4 Fellowship complements the B4 Young Scientist Development Course, which took place in Bangalore in January, 2017. Read about that program here.

The B4 program is supported by the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology and the Government of Karnataka’s Department of Information Technology & Biotechnology and Science and Technology.

 

by Lindsay Brownell for the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University
Source

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Arms, armor, and weapons


rrBy Meghan Smith, Communications and Outreach Coordinator, SAI

Sometimes, to shatter the glass ceiling, you need a weapon.

Rachel Parikh has plenty at her fingertips – and she wants to use them to break more than a few glass ceilings. As the Calderwood Curatorial Fellow in South Asian Art at Harvard Art Museums, she focuses her work on manuscripts, arms, and armor – yes, weapons.

She admits that even she had her own misconceptions about studying weapons.

“You often associate arms and armor with war, violence, and masculinity,” Parikh says. “I made my own PhD dissertation all about breaking misconceptions about Islamic art and South Asian art, so it was funny that I fell into this misconception about arms and armor.”

Parikh’s dissertation at the University of Cambridge focused on a seventeenth century Deccan Indian copy of a sixteenth century Persian manuscript called the Falnama (‘Book of Omens’). After completing her Ph.D. Parikh was a Postdoctoral Fellow at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she researched and cataloged objects for the museum’s Department of Arms and Armor.

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Mar. 20 – 31: Visiting Artists at Harvard


SAI is pleased to announce our Visiting Artists for the Spring semester, who will be at Harvard from March 20 – 31. During their time at Harvard, the artists will display their work on campus, meet with students, attend courses, and give a public seminar.

Check back on our site for details about the seminars.

Madhu DMadhu Das is a multi-disciplinary Visual Artist based in Mumbai, India; his artistic practice is primarily concerned with the projection of identity onto the social and natural world: in a way that the two are woven together in the Indian space (both mythic space and actual); Exploring both conceptual and material sensibilities through range of media including drawing and painting, photography, performance, video, site-specific interventions, collaborative community projects and interactive/performative installations.

In his work, human body often establish an improvisational relationship with object and sculptural elements in the space. The work has involved the spaces in both a narrative sense and as a site of memory to re-narrate historical events as a way of plotting connections between the particular and the universal. Subjectively, he adapt aspects of material culture as well as methods from anthropology, allegorical fiction as conceptual tool, which later extends to the space of the viewer, from the point of a storyteller, exploring exciting linguistic devices and imagery with a sense of irony and paradox.

Das received his Masters of Arts (Painting) from S N School of Fine Arts and Communication, Central University of Hyderabad, India in 2013. Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) from College of Fine Art, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat, Bangalore, India 2009. He was awarded the Inlaks Fine Arts Award, Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation, India (2015) and Shortlisted for Emerging Indian Visual Artists by Delfina Foundation, UK (2014).

 

IMG_0452Rabindra Shrestha is a Nepalese visual artist. Installation, detail pen and ink drawing, painting, traditional painting (Paubha), illustration, cartoon, and ceramic art are the different mediums of his visuals expressions. Most of his art is directly conceptual based. The collaborative line art project, Earthquake line and Finger prints with red line are some of his series in the Nepali contemporary art scene. Many people refer to him as a “Line Artist”. Shrestha’s works has been exhibited throughout the National Fine Art exhibition (nine times), Kochi-Muzirise Biennale 2014 (India), and Asian Art Biennale (Bangladesh). He secured the National Special Award (NAFA) from National Academy of Fine Arts three times, and was a winner of the US embassy Art Competition (Nepal).

 

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Report: Exchanging Health Information


Network map of health data flow from paper records to consolidated databases, from the sub-center level upwards.

Network map of health data flow from paper records to consolidated databases, from the sub-center level upwards.

In September 2016, the Harvard South Asia Institute, with support from the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies, organized the two day seminar, Exchanging Health Information: Setting an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda. A new report contains a summary of the seminar deliberations and a roadmap for prioritizing research and policy formulation for health information exchange in India.

The seminar brought together experts in medicine, computer science, data science, public policy and law to identify a research and policy agenda that addresses implementation barriers to health information exchange. Building on international standards in health systems interoperability and learning from best practices from other industries, seminar exercises employed India as a use-case to anchor deliberations.

SAI recently spoke with seminar organizer Satchit Balsari, Fellow at Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and Chief at Weill Cornell Global Emergency Medicine Division, about the seminar and its potential impact.

SAI: Why was it important to bring together an interdisciplinary event, with experts from a variety of fields, to address implementation barriers to health information exchange?

Satchit Balsari: We have observed in many sectors that new technology best succeeds when it is in tune with user behavior and regulatory frameworks. When all three are in sync, we see widespread adoption. Problems come up when one of is out of step. The high level of provider dissatisfaction with some of the larger electronic medical records in the US, for example, is largely because front-line clinicians have had little input or control over the design and implementation of these EMRs. Standardization and interoperability to allow patients to move their records from provider to provider, or across institutions required legislation and incentivization. Retro-fitting has been expensive. Yet patients and doctors will tell you how incredibly important it is for health data to be more portable than they have typically been. Legitimate concern for data privacy thwarted portability in early years, when there may have always been technical solutions to legal concerns. Bringing together a wide range of stakeholders from clinical practice, law, policy-making and computer science allowed folks to understand the needs and limitations of each discipline, while formulating an inter-disciplinary approach to health information exchange in emerging economies.

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SAI to host weekly seminar series on Partition of British India


0126 Partition Seminars_The Harvard South Asia Institute is pleased to announce a weekly seminar series focusing on the Partition of British India every Wednesday evening through February and March. The series, part of the SAI research project ‘Looking Back, Informing the Future: The 1947 Partition of British India – Implications of Mass Dislocations Across Geographies’ will explore issues that have often been ignored in the context of the Partition as well as discuss their relevance and impact today, both in South Asia and in other parts of the world. Through two-hour seminars spread over eight sessions, faculty, students, and community members will be brought together to explore the various facets of this complex historic event.

SAI will produce a podcast series based on the seminars, in which distinguished faculty and visiting scholars explore the history, context and continuing impact of the Partition.

All seminars will be from 5:00 – 7:00PM in CGIS S050, 1730 Cambridge street, Cambridge, MA. Add to your calendar. *Locations subject to change, please check our site for updates.*

The seminars are free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

Seminar resources.

Letter by SAI Director Tarun Khanna: “We are embarking on a major research project to understand the history, context and continuing impact of Partition”

Join the conversation: #SAIPartition.

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SAI responds to Executive Order


The South Asia Institute (SAI) fully endorses Harvard President Drew Faust’s response to the Trump Administration’s executive order restricting travel to the United States.

We offer our full support to Harvard students, faculty, staff and affiliates, regardless of their country of origin or religious background, alongside the Harvard International Office and the university’s Global Support Services. We encourage all South Asia scholars to apply for our programs.

The work of universities in the world has never been more vital. The SAI is committed to the advancement of global scholarship and understanding, and our work in this fascinating, important region will continue. Across many borders, our diverse students and scholars are aiming to generate knowledge and insights that transcend and outlive any temporary barriers to progress.

Harvard President Drew Faust: We Are All Harvard

Resources:

Harvard International Office

Harvard Global Support Services

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Q+A: Shashank Shah, Livelihood Creation Project Director


Shashank Shah, left, at a field visit in Lucknow

Shashank Shah, left, at a field visit in Lucknow

For the past 18 months, Shashank Shah has been the Project Director for the SAI-Tata Trusts project on Livelihood Creation, which has just concluded. SAI spoke to Shah about the project and lessons learned.

SAI: Why did this project focus on the theme of livelihood creation? And how were the three tracks chosen?

Shashank Shah: Livelihood is a very big issue in India, given that India has largest population of people below the age of 35, and hence, skill-building and livelihood creation are primary issues and priorities for the government of India. They have reached out to corporations to help in this effort because they have the capacity to contribute, and they are the levers that fuel the economy of the country.

Given the expertise of social entrepreneurship by Professor Tarun Khanna [Director of the Harvard South Asia Institute], they thought it would be the best focus area for this project.

The two focuses of livelihood creation are skill building and social entrepreneurship. Skill building will give jobs to people who need them, and social entrepreneurship will lead to opportunities for self-employment, and also lead to positive social outcomes.

We identified three tracks: First, Rural livelihood creation in the Indian craft sector. This industry is the second-most employing sector in rural India, after agriculture. Rough estimates indicate that around 200 million people depend on the handicraft sector directly or indirectly. So we thought our project could try and create some kind of intervention and would benefit a large number of organizations. We had expertise in Professor Mukti Khaire.

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Meet our B4 Fellows


As part of SAI’s Boston Bangalore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) Program, five postdoctoral fellows from India will spend a year at Harvard working in a science lab under the mentorship of a Harvard faculty member. The fellows have range of specialties, including plant physiology, computational biology, evolutionary cell biology, and molecular genetics.

The program is supported by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India and Department of Information Technology & Biotechnology and Science and Technology, Govternment of Karnataka.

 

Meet the fellows:

GayatriGayatri Ramakrishnan

Home institution: Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
Field/specialization: PhD in Computational Biology
Harvard faculty mentor: Prof. Martha Bulyk (Harvard Medical School)
An overview of the research you will conduct at Harvard: I have begun to work on structural basis of DNA-binding specificity of transcription factors. In simple terms, the study aims to understand and analyze: a) rules that aid interactions between DNA and certain biomolecules known as transcription factors (that “activate” a gene); and b) rules (mutations) that could potentially damage such interactions. The inferences from such a study are valuable in directing experiments on genetic diseases in human and cancer research.
What are you most excited about for your year at Harvard? Exchanging ideas and having healthy discussions with pioneers and experts in science.

 

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A new way to detect fake medicines


Technicians test antimalarial tablets on a PharmaChk device, Accra, Ghana, Dec. 5, 2016. PHOTO: WOLFGANG KRULL

Technicians test antimalarial tablets on a PharmaChk device, Accra, Ghana, Dec. 5, 2016. Photo: Wolfgang Krull

This article was originally published by the Wall Street Journal. Muhammad Zaman, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University, is a visiting faculty member at SAI.

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Working Paper: Domestic Violence and Social Change: Feminist Informal Justice systems in India and Bangladesh


baisakhi fair - jaisalmer - rajasthan - india

By Fauzia Erfan Ahmed, SAI Research Affiliate, Jyotsana Parajuli, and Anna-Lucia Feldman

Although feminist endeavors have succeeded in legal reforms that criminalize gender-based violence in India and Bangladesh, it remains a pervasive obstacle to gender equality for women. Sociocultural norms, which legitimize violence against women, are a major reason. The authors argue that reform of traditional informal justice systems, which reaffirm these patriarchal norms, need to be the central focus of feminist research. This working paper explores the literature on two such innovations that aim to provide social justice for low-income women who are survivors of domestic violence: the NGO (Non Governmental Organization)-reformed shalish, which includes women jurors in Bangladesh, and the nari adalat or women’s courts, established by the Mahila Samakhya Program in India. The units of comparison are government affiliation; mediation or arbitration practices; types of disputes; and jury composition. The differences between these two feminist alternate dispute resolution bodies reveals arenas where lessons can be learned. They highlight the advantages and disadvantages of state versus NGO feminism; peer mediator versus upper class mediator; and all-female jury versus mixed-gender jury. In conclusion, the authors recommend that these feminist informal justice systems include communal harmony in their philosophy and conduct proactive outreach so that women, who have been subject to communal violence, can also be petitioners.

Read the full paper.

 

 

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