Now more than ever, diversity and its various dimensions are celebrated values in many organizations, including research institutes. International and cultural diversity have been a hallmark of iBV for a long time already, but the multiplication of international fellowships and programs, including LABEX, always bring more talents and different perspectives that benefit our research and enrich our workplace culture. Because diversity is nothing without a feeling of belonging, we have asked Kavya, Shruti, Alphy, Akshai and Chamara, all native from India or the neighboring island Sri Lanka, what they experienced as PhD or postdoc at the iBV, in Nice and in France in general.

Can you quickly present yourself and explain why you decided to come at the iBV?

Kavya: I came in 2016 and I am in my fourth year of PhD, in the Signaling Labex program. Alphy and Akshai are in their 3d and 2d year of PhD. We all three are from Kerala.

Shruti: I came at the iBV as a postdoc in Patrick Collombat’s team, for 2 years. Before that I did my PhD in India at the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences-Pilani. During my PhD years I obtained a Fulbright scholarship to spend a year at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina, and that was my first international experience. I left recently for Vienna.

Chamara: I am from Sri Lanka, near the capital city Colombo. I studied my bachelor in Vietnam through the Vietnam Government Scholarship. After that, I did one-year postgraduate studies at City University of Hong Kong. Then I attended to Université Paris-Saclay for M2 master studies, where I met my PI, Andreas Schedl. I joined his lab for the M2 internship and then afterward decided to continue my PhD studies there in the same lab.

Alphy: Back in India I had this idea of working on a subject with a lot of imaging. So, I looked for institutes with good imaging platforms, and I chose the iBV for the quality of what they were doing on their platform.

Kavya: When looking for a lab, I recognized the names of some fly people I had heard of in my University classes and I decided to join this fly community at the iBV. That’s how I applied to the Signalife program.

How was the first contact with France and the institute?

Kavya: When applying for the International PhD program Signalife, I left Kerala for the first time and everything was completely new, the country, the landscapes, the people, the language, even “Bonjour” was a new word for me! I immediately fell in love with the sea and the mountains.

Alphy: Same for me, the sea and mountains are amazing.

Kavya: At the beginning I did not have any internet or map on my phone, so I was walking around with a paper map and lost myself several times walking around my home. At first people on the streets did not understand when I gave them my address, but in the end, they could help me. I forget: the first thing I ate when I came here was a croissant!

Chamara: Most beautiful thing about Nice? I see people do really care for others. They are kind and not afraid of showing it. They are always happy to help both professionally and personally, which make it easy to work with them. Besides, most French people I have met here in Nice are really straightforward and they are not afraid of showing their feelings, which make it easier to work with them. We Srilankans smile in almost all occasions. We smile instead of saying good morning, good bye etc… I think, at the beginning it made my friends almost inconvenient, but now they become fond of that!

What’s your day-to-day life at the iBV like?

Shruti: I am gone now but I was very happy with how open research is here. We have the iBV internal seminars and the pizza clubs that really allow us to see what research is going on in the institute and what techniques are being used. We also get good feedback at these seminars and I think this has helped everyone, one way or another. Also, people from the first 3 floors of the Biochimie building usually all sit together for lunch and exchange all sorts of information from experiments that are working (or not!) to our country’s culture, personal beliefs etc. I really appreciated that break we get every day. Since most of us are outsiders, these social interactions make it easier for us to turn colleagues into friends and thus not feel alone. I was also very pleased with how open and friendly everyone was to my husband who did not work at the iBV, thus making him also feel comfortable joining us for Friday beers or the iBV hikes and runs that were organized.

Kavya: I am very happy about my choice to come here. We have all these common fly meetings and also all these imaging materials and great microscopes that are bought on a regular basis. Sequencing is also very well arranged and fast, that’s very convenient. And with Alphy and Vishnu, another PhD student who defended his thesis last September, we also shared our love for our work with the public and French youth on several occasions, at Fête de la Science and also in high schools.

Alphy: Most of us followed some French class and Vishnu was doing very well in the end! For me, let’s say it is still in progress!

 How dit it work from an administrative point of view?

Alphy: Arriving in Nice was only moderately difficult for me, because Kavya and Vishnu were already here so they helped me out. Even my first stay was arranged by the University, with the aid from Welcome Center. Still, language was of course a common problem, even if for me, many paperwork, for example at the Prefecture, could be done in English.

We have started to build an informatic file where we compiled a lot of administrative procedures to help new people when they arrive, hopefully that will be useful!

What do you miss from home?

All: FOOD!

Shruti: As a vegetarian, I missed the variety of vegetables that we had in India, although I must say it is even much worse in Vienna where I am now!

Akshai: Yes, it is not that easy if you are a vegetarian here!

Kavya: The funny thing is that I was a vegetarian when I arrived, but not anymore!

Alphy: On the Liberation market, some people start to cultivate vegetables from India, and if you place an order they can bring it to you later. I also miss our festivals. In India there is more noise, it is more lively! But I just realized Nice Carnaval is not bad at all! I went only this year and I was sad I did not go before, it was fun! Also, I miss the noise we make at the movies! Here you are not allowed to scream or talk, people complain about it. In India we like to show our feelings!

Kavya: Even at Avengers movies, like Thor, we are always very excited during the fights but people do not like it!

Alphy: I went to see Captain America with Vishnu and I was so happy you know, standing up and screaming youhouuuu all the time, but people were calling Vishnu and asked him to stop me right away!

Chamara: Which makes a second movie, in the theater itself!
For me, what I miss the most is definitely the time with my family and my mom homemade foods.

Kavya: Another thing I missed, at least in the first year, was the rain. In Kerala we have many months of monsoon! I am happy that there is rain here and I don’t miss monsoon anymore!

What are the things you like in Nice and France?

All: In Nice, definitely the weather!

Alphy: We have some friends who went to study in Northern Europe countries, and they are not well at all, because of the bad cold weather and the lack of light.

Kavya: We also like that it is very easy to travel and discover other European countries. Flights and buses are cheap.

Alphy: By the way, another strange thing: in India, train tickets are cheap, but here they are much more expensive than a plane ticket!

Chamara: What I like here is the “Good morning”. In India and Sri Lanka, we never say Good morning to strangers!

Akshai: Yes, I did not know that at the beginning but Vishnu explained me: “Wherever you go, even in shops, you have to say good morning”.

What are you most proud of having achieved here? 

Shruti: I think I am very happy with how well I organized my days and my experiments. I already worked on my time management skills during my PhD but I seem to have mastered this quite well during my postdoc. There are all styles of work schedules at the iBV but I realized that what works best for me is to have less breaks during the days and being less distractible, which makes me able to pack everything in normal working hours. That being said, it did not mean that I slacked off even one bit. I am very happy with the amount of work I have done in the last two years and hopefully this translates into a paper or two! Again, huge thanks to the iBV and Patrick for having every resource I needed to achieve this so that I didn’t have to think of alternative strategies because we couldn’t afford it or didn’t have the equipment.

Alphy: Same for me, I learned to be bit more organized in the way I do work. In India, we had whole 24hour clock to finish the job, while here I can do it in 8 hours. I also got an opportunity to be at UC Santa Barbara to attend a one-month workshop, which was great!

Kavya: Coming to France made me more independent and stronger, which I am very proud of. Concerning lab work, I gave an oral presentation of my Ph.D. work in the RNA localization and local translation conference in the United States. There were very few students presenting, most people giving talks were either PIs or researchers or postdocs. It was a wonderful experience of presenting my work in front of the pioneers of the field. Also, outside work, I tried many things for the first time in my life: scuba diving, skiing, parasailing, kayaking, wine tasting, and many more! Now I have the confidence to go anywhere alone in the globe and enjoy at its max.

Akshai: I am proud I gave my first Valrose seminar a few months ago, it went very well and people were interested and had many questions.

Chamara: What I feel most proud of so far is …my choice of choosing my PI Andreas! It is really convenient to discuss with him and he is always happy to help, most importantly he knows a lot about the project I am working on. Like most of us, I have a very pleasant working environment in the lab as well. This is the main reason that I am very happy in France!

Shruti Balaji was a postdoc in the group of Patrick Collombat. Kavya Pushpalatha, Alphy John, Akshai Janardhana and Chamara Weerasinghe are PhD students in the groups of Florence Besse, Matteo Rauzi, Max Fürthauer and Andreas Schedl, respectively. On photos are also Praveen Viswanathan, a PhD student in Thierry Lepage’s group, and Vishnu Saraswathy, a former PhD student in Max Fürthauer’s group and now a postdoc in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA. In 2018, the annual PhD prize of the Doctoral School or Life and Health Sciences in Université Côte d’Azur was awarded to another Indian student from Besse’s lab, Jeshlee Vijayakumar. NDLR: The interview was done and the article written before the covid-19 lockdown, this is the reason why it is not mentioned.