Meet award-winning Infection Biologist Dr. Karthika Rajeeve
Watch the exclusive interview of Dr. Karthika Rajeeve for Shesight.
Interviewer- Dr. Chandra Vadhana
Research – Neha Srivastava
Video Editor- Akshita Modi
Science is an ever-evolving field. The body of knowledge and the marvelous structures of reality are explored and amplified by scientists who are curious about the universe and have the desire to solve problems.
Dr. Karthika Rajeeve is one such scientist who has made India proud by winning the Elife Ben Barres Spotlight Award, in 2022. A staff scientist at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB), Karthika is an inspirational woman who is paving the path for the future generation of the scientific community.
Karthika studied agriculture and biotechnology and now as a scientist is looking to understand bacteria and infectious diseases. She earned her Ph.D. in infection biology from the Graduate school of Life Sciences, University of Würzburg Germany.
How did her journey begin? “Studying Agriculture didn’t excite me much, it was just studying crops, fertilizers, harvesting. In the final year of my bachelor’s degree, I got inclined to a subject- Biotechnology”, says Karthika. Because of her growing interest in the subject, she decided to do her M.Sc. in Agriculture Biotechnology.
This was the turning point in her life that propelled her to explore the mysteries of science and make contributions that would impact humanity.
When asked for tips on pursuing a Ph.D., she mentions the Graduate fellowship programs which are open twice a year. In order to make use of the opportunity, one must have good grades to stand out among 1000s of applications. This stands true, especially when applying to European universities. One must also be able to define the purpose of pursuing a Ph.D. On grant, Ph.D. is a 4 year fully funded course where one can explore laboratories in rotations to know the best fit for the learner. One’s attitude and the ability to work in a team also matter.
Dr. Karthika’s transition from a Ph.D. scholar to becoming a scientist was when she chose to work for the industry. Through her Mentor Thomas, she got a good position and opportunities in the research field. At one point she was doing 5 projects in parallel. She gained a wide range of experience in leadership roles as well. It was now time for her to get her own independent laboratory, where she could further pursue her research, independently.
Working with human pathogens, she got fascinated with bacteria and their interface with the human immune system. This raised her curiosity and she set out to explore bacteria associated with cancer. She works on human pathogens Chlamydia trachomatis and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Her research focuses on how these pathogens evade the host immune system.
On being asked if she had a scientist temperament from her childhood, she says, she was always a curious kid doing experiments. Once as a kid, she injected blue ink into a plant just to see if that changes the color of the flower! The curiosity continued eventually leading her to become a scientist.
She feels that the worst thing about science is experimenting on animals. She wants to popularise the use of organoids which is already a revolutionized concept but has not yet started in laboratories.
Karthika also feels very strongly about the issue of the lack of participation of girl students in the STEM field. She believes that girls should always be encouraged to nurture their curiosity for science. Education bodies should make certain changes in the system to attract more women to the field. There should be infrastructural and supportive improvements for women to continue their contributions to science. There should be enough support for women in their career journey through provisions for grants which provide childcare support. This can help ease their career path.
To whether the field of science is too demanding, she says, “Science is part of daily life. It is about how keen you are to quench your curiosity leading to questions and finding answers. It is a challenging choice because it requires a long period of commitment and consistent efforts with work-life balance. Family, marriage, and motherhood all have an impact on your career. The absence of a support system from a spouse, extended family, or organization you work for, is also a barrier.”
Science as a field of work remains a challenge for women scientists in general and most often than not, their contributions go unrecognized. Many have gotten their due and have been appreciated and awarded but not all could reach those heights. Research work is a journey entailing decades of work, requiring a longer period of commitment. Karthika says “To all the women out there, everything is possible you just have to do it. If you have a strong vision in your head and decide to take small steps toward it, then none can stop you from achieving it.