After spending most of my life in the city of Chennai, India, I moved out to the neighboring state of Kerala to begin my (what now seems never ending) academic journey in 2013. In a way, living in a state where I did not know the local language and eating food that looked vaguely familiar but tasted a world apart prepared me for my life abroad.
After completing my undergraduate program, I ended up in the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada where I had the pleasure of acquainting myself with the worst winter I had ever experienced. Armed with the thickest jacket and the bulkiest boots I could find, I started my Masters in Science (MSc) degree in Canada. I was lucky enough to secure fellowships from Mitacs and Research Manitoba to fund most of my research stipend for two consecutive years. I also participated in a roundtable discussion with the Honourable Ian Wishart, who was then the Minister of Education, Government of Manitoba in 2018 to discuss my experience as a Mitacs Globalink graduate fellow at the University of Manitoba. In the last year of my MSc program, I carefully weighed the pros and cons of staying in Canada to complete my PhD in biomedical sciences, but eventually decided to apply to schools in the United States because I liked the flexibility of rotating through different biomedical labs that many US graduate programs offered to first year PhD students. I ultimately decided to join the Biomedical Sciences PhD Program at the University of Connecticut Health campus in Farmington, CT.
Unfortunately, I had to defer my start date by one year due to the complications of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. I remember being severely disappointed that I was losing a year of my graduate training because I had already submitted my thesis and was on track to defend in the first week of August 2020. Ultimately, due to air travel restrictions, I could not fly home after my thesis defense and had to defer my graduation too until January 2021. So, I had to remain in Canada and continue my research in my master’s thesis lab. In October 2020, a few days after my mother’s birthday, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I could not fly back to be with her during her surgery or to help her during her chemotherapy sessions. Working in the lab served as a welcome distraction but it was very hard to fight the warring emotions of guilt and despair. I eventually was able to secure flights to travel to Chennai in January 2021 before her last chemotherapy cycle and spent almost six months with her during her post-chemo recovery. It was ironic that what I had perceived as one of the biggest disappointments in the first half of the year, the deferral of my PhD program, turned out to be a gift in disguise so that I could be with my family during that challenging time.