This week we had a pleasure speaking to Dr. Shruti Muralidhar for our interview with scientist series.
Tell us about yourself.
I am a postdoctoral researcher at the Picower Institute for Memory Learning at MIT.
What’s your area of research?
I am working on elucidating the contribution of hippocampal interneurons to learning and memory.
What do you think about the current publication trend?
Open Access is definitely the way to go since a major portion of academic research is publicly funded. I do not think the general public should pay to access scientific articles. I think Sci-Hub is a direct ‘guerilla’ response to the ivory tower created by years of hegemony of large academic publishing houses.
Is publish or perish a valid statement for young scientists?
In the current system as it stands, yes – publish or perish is definitely a valid statement. I don’t think it is entirely bad because early career scientists benefit from getting their work publicised. However, since the publishing system is broken in many ways, even a single rejection sometimes has devastating effects on the career trajectory and morale of the researcher.
What do you think of preprint servers? Do you think they are useful?
Pre-print servers are an excellent start in subverting the current inflexible system of “pay and publish”. I hope the scientific community uses it responsibly, to promote good peer reviewed science.
Do you think science is communicated well to non-scientists? What are some ways to improve science communication?
Currently, no, I don’t think science is communicated well to non-scientists. I think students and scientists will enormously benefit from basic scicomm training, if provided by the institutions and universities.
As we know, there are more PhD’s graduating every year as compared to available tenure track positions. Do you think there is way to improve this?
The answer clearly is – not to stuff graduate students into an already broken and leaky academic pipeline. I am enthusiastic to see that grassroots change has already begun to ‘de-stigmatize’ non-academic career steps. Alternative/industry careers are not looked at as ‘cop-outs’ or ‘failures’ from the system; there is better training during academia to capitalize on individual strengths; students now get more exposure to careers other than just academia – all this will go a long way in fixing the system.
What are alternative career options for young scientists apart from applying for tenure track positions?
Literally anything! Academic training is not uni-dimensional and science/field specific. Critical thinking, project, time and people management, trouble-shooting, use of advanced literature searches to come up with the best way forward – all these are skills that are applicable in every field imaginable. Most scientists end up staying in allied fields because they are wary of huge changes. But I think taking that extra leap forward and changing fields can be extremely rewarding.
Apart from science, what do you enjoy doing the most?
I am an amateur cello player, baker and inveterate beach bum. I also love doing scicomm and am one-third of an India-centric scicomm collective called IndSciComm.
What do you think is a recent scientific invention which has changed the way we do science now?
I am constantly fascinated by how microscopy has advanced over the years. From a simple set of lenses that could only barely magnify, we are now at a point where we can observe how life works at multiple levels. All this with a mind-boggling array of lights, dyes, lasers and analyses. Every recent advance in microscopy has been thrilling and highly significant. I cant wait to see what is next!
Shruti is a postdoctoral researcher at the Picower Institute for Memory Learning at MIT. She did her bachelors at Delhi University, Masters from National Brain Research Center in India, PhD from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and her first postdoc at the University of Utah. Currently, she is working on elucidating the contribution of hippocampal interneurons to learning and memory.