Interview: Shreenanda Ghosh
Shreenanda is a PhD student at the Institute of Solid State and Materials at the TU Dresden. She is working with one of the most compelling unconventional superconductors till date, Strontium Ruthenate (Sr2RuO4). By combining Muon spin relaxation (which is an unique tool to study structural and dynamical processes that are taking place in the bulk of a material in an atomic scale) and the application of uniaxial pressure (which is a good way to perturb a material without introducing any disorder) she is searches for a conclusive evidence regarding the superconducting order parameter of Strontium Ruthenate. For this purpose her group has developed an uniaxial pressure device which is expected to widen the range of applications of Muon spin relaxation method.
1. What inspired you to pursue a career in physics?
I think it had happened by a happenstance. Though I had loved both Mathematics and Physics, but to be honest I used to spend more time with Mathematics, which started to change gradually towards the end of my school life. Physics has always been amazing; the need of perseverance, the challenge of solving each of the fundamental problems, the ineffable joy of convincing myself about a phenomenon keeps me hooked to Physics!
2. Who are your role models?
My mother is the greatest inspiration in my life, having the biggest influence on me. From both of my parents, I have learnt to stay ‘honest’ which ultimately pushes through all the odds.
I would like to mention the name of Inna Vishik and Rajibul Islam – both of them are renowned physicists (who are actively involved in popularizing Physics also) -wonderful personality and generous mentors. Their activities help me a lot in shaping my thoughts. This answer won’t be completely honest if I don’t mention my literary role models who have left indelible footprints on my entity-Alexey (‘A Story about a real man’-Boris Polevoy), Satyabatee (‘Pratham Protishruti’-Ashapoorna devi) and Deepabolee (‘Saatkahon’-Samaresh Majumdar).
3. How did you get to where you are in your career path?
I had grown up in a small town of West Bengal, India. After secondary school exam (10th), it was obvious that I had opted for science. But to continue with the basic science after school wasn’t an easy decision since most of my friends/elders used to aim for medical/engineering profession. I even didn’t appear for counselling after qualifying in a state based competitive examination. I was the first in my family (immediate/extended) to opt for studying basic science. My parents migrated to Kolkata, the state capital, for providing better education facility to me and my elder sister. My journey remained quite smooth during the next 5 years of Bachelor’s and Master’s in Physics - both from the University of Calcutta.
Coming to Germany for pursuing Ph.D. and getting accustomed in a completely different environment of another continent -was the most challenging part of my career, until now. I have never stayed alone for a single day before, which made it more challenging I think. My parents and my elder sister had rendered immense support and strength to believe that I could make it. It will be worth conveying my sincere gratitude to Dipjyoti Deb (Robert Bosch Gmbh) who happens to be a family friend, for his continuous support and careful guidance at each stage of my career in Deutschland.
I feel honored to hold the title of Research Scientist (Ph.D. student) at TU Dresden which is at the same time very challenging for me. It wouldn’t have been possible without the generous guidance that I have received from both of my advisors from the very beginning and other group members of mine as well. The journey has been wonderful until now.
4. What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
The most interesting project that I have worked on until now is the topic of my PhD. Let me try to portray without going into too much of scientific details, I am trying to get insights into a vexing problem which is more than two decades old. I am working with a newly developed device-for applying uniaxial pressure on a sample to be studied by muon spin relaxation (μSR). Our technically demanding experiments are expected to crack a new frontier and with this much of challenge there comes a huge amount of uncertainty but that is why I am enjoying it very much!
5. What’s a time you felt immense pride in yourself / your work?
After delivering my first International Talk while coming down from the dais, I remember my senior Advisor whispering ‘very good’ with encouraging eyes and pioneer scientists of my field of research congratulating me - which I have never dared to dream-all of those tiny bundles of joy which support me in looking forward...
6. What is a “day in the life” of Shreenanda like?
An average day of my life usually starts with a phone call, because of the different time zones of Germany and India; I prefer to talk to my mother/family at the beginning of the day. After having breakfast I go to the office which is very close to my apartment and start working. I am an experimentalist doing experiments based on facilities, so I work in the lab only for a few weeks during the whole year. Rest of the time I usually work with the computer-analyzing data etc. In our group we try to go for lunch altogether. Usually there are group meetings/seminars/colloquiums happening regularly. Depending on the time of departure from office, either I cook something for dinner or have it at the Mensa. Very recently I have convinced myself to join a gym! After dinner either I go for a walk or listen to music with a cup of tea. Reading in bed is something that I am doing all the way from my childhood, so my day usually ends with a book.
7. What are you seeking to accomplish in your career?
I haven’t thought about that in detail, just enjoying the journey itself. I would like to continue research. It would really be nice to gain expertise of a particular specialized field.
8. What do you like to do when you’re not doing research?
I am an insatiable bookworm. The next favorite companion of mine is music, which makes me feel complete, always. Apart from that, I am actively involved in popularizing science in my mother tongue-Bengali. I am one of the core group members of an online Bengali popular science magazine - being run by science enthusiasts-scientists spread around the world. I am also a volunteer of a non-profit organization and mostly involved in collecting donations but that’s also a web-based venture.
Other things I enjoy doing are to travel to new places, taking pictures, sketching, walking along the river alone, and maintaining my personal diary…
9. What advice do you have for other women interested in physics?
I would like to answer this particular question by quoting none other than the ‘first lady of Physics’, Chien-Shiung Wu:
“There is only one thing worse than coming home from the lab to a sink full of dirty dishes, and that is not going to the lab at all!”
10. What should be done to increase the number of women in physics?
It’s not only very heartening but also obnoxious to think that there are more men than women who find Physics interesting! Personally I would prefer to start from the grassroots level. I consider it’s wise to talk with the young girls in person and try digging deep into their mind, what are those bewildering reasons which keep them away from the world of Physics? We should let the school girls know about the history of wonderful women physicists who haven’t received what they had deserved and try motivating the young girls to follow their path, which they have created for us despite of sheer difficulty.
This is the least that we can start with -to deal with the age old issue of gender imbalance in Physics, I believe.
Apart from that, many hands are required to work on rest of the (different) parts of this problem, but that demands an independent illuminating discussion by itself.
Foto-Rechte: (1) Shreenanda Ghosh, (2) Shreenanda Ghosh, (3) Shreenanda Ghosh