In 2011, I embarked on my new job as a lecturer at IMU. Being a very passionate anatomist, I enjoy teaching and delivering my academic responsibilities with sincerity and satisfaction. I always look for new opportunities in my daily life to make it interesting and invite new challenges to solve ( at least try!!! ). After 2 long years of thinking deeply and dreaming of my long-term goals, I decided to work towards them. Having made that decision, it was in 2014 when I motivated myself and made up my mind to enroll myself as a PhD candidate. My mind was very clear about three things when enrolling in a PhD programme: a real passion for research., critical thinking, and the most important aspect of all is having dedicated and understanding supervisors.
The feeling of fear, doubt, and confusion was completely wiped off after having a short discussion with my supervisors. I was lucky to have Prof Ammu K Radhakrishnan, Dr Htar Htar Aung, Dr Shadab Mohamad, and Dr Premdass as my supervisors. I shared my thoughts and dreams with them. We spoke for hours together about the various research aspects and newer techniques and the need for cancer research. I would like to specially mention here that I always wanted to be a cancer researcher.
Trials and Tribulations of My Life as a PhD Student
I immediately registered as a PhD student under the excellent leadership of my supervisors in January 2016. This was a very important day of my life as I was taking up a new role apart from being a wife, a lecturer, and a mother of a 7-year-old little champ. Just wanted to remind you all that this was not the end but a new beginning.
My research was mainly into the novel drug delivery methods using nanoemulsions. This is a very hot topic of research currently. We were working with a few natural bioactive compounds, especially those that have established anticancer properties, but the challenge is about their bioavailability.
The best part is that I was very new to the field of formulations and nanoemulsions. I needed to learn from scratch like other research students. I had to seek help from many people whom I came across discussing the procedures and various methods that I can do to achieve the best formulations. Weeks and months rolled by, and I was not closer to my formulations. The best part is that for one whole year, I took the pains to just know about the chemicals and the basic steps involved in the preparation of my nanoemulsions. The challenges which I faced every day were of a new kind and a few of them gave me sleepless nights. I know that these are the criteria for any PhD student at any given point in time.
I realized during my second year of research that apart from my three important criteria there is one more aspect that has made me stronger and still keeps me motivated. They are none other than my friends. During my hard times, they were the ones who reignited me and made me dream about the day when I can graduate. At one point, when nothing seemed to work right for me, like any other research student I also went through this phase of giving up.
Before I realized my mental state, my friends were smart enough to understand me and they advised me that I was not allowed to think of giving up or withdrawing from this. They did everything for me so that I can again focus on my core research work and motivated me which made me say “NEVER EVER GIVE UP ‘’.
Having said that I again started to work very meticulously on my next phase of work, cell cytotoxicity. Being an anatomist, it was crazy for me to enter the tissue culture lab where everything puzzled me. With the support of my supervisors and friends, I was enjoying this journey, though I was in tears after every 72hrs when my results didn’t come out as expected due to some technical difficulties. For almost 18 months, I was in the tissue culture lab and didn’t realize I can be a pro in doing the MTT assay which put a smile on my face.
My Family and Friends: My Angels of Support
Though there were many challenges on my plate, my friends made it easy and I could easily digest them. One of my good-hearted friends who is also a hard-core researcher and good at understanding things from the internet and finding solutions quickly came to my rescue whenever I had a research question in my mind. She is my ‘GOOGLE GIRL” who is none other than Dr Shadi Gholami.
Can you all believe that I am having real angels with me always when I am in trouble. Let me explain a little.
I must mention that one of my friends known as Dr Moe Thida Kyaw really went ahead by accompanying me to the lab to support me. I need not explain anything, but we understand each other, and I am gifted to have this angel with me throughout my life.
My inner mind again whispers “you are so lucky to find such an angel friend “. Many other friends made a point to ask me about my progress and wholeheartedly wish me to complete my study. The best part is that all are ready to help me in whichever way they can, “My God, I thank you for making me enroll into this ocean of research study and find out a lot of angels in my life – real angels. “ By now, I am pretty confident about my skills and knowledge which I have gained through tough challenging things that came my way.
My family was with me throughout and my greatest support as well. On a lighter note, I could see a sense a feeling of relief on my better half’s face who played a very vital role and was happy that he need not have to go to the kitchen for the next few days at least. My little champ would not go to school or sleep without enquiring about my progress during the animal work. He was and is the key factor to keep me going successfully throughout, next to my real god – My mom. She was very confident that I will get through this successfully one day and asked me to stay calm and enjoy this pain which will give me rewards later.
All these positive things made me plan for the next phase of the study. I was ready to do the final lap of my race by doing the histopathology and immunohistochemistry studies for which all preparations were done and at the last minute came another heart-breaking challenge – THE COVID 19 pandemic.
LOCKDOWN or Movement Control Order is a new common trending word used by all humans living in this era of a virus-filled world. No one is sure about tomorrow, what next is a million-dollar question. Even my angels are going through this tough time. My inner me said, “don’t worry for this also will pass”.
My PhD life was like a roller coaster experience with many special twists on the last lap of my race. My supervisors’ continuous support and determination and many supporting good souls made it happen.
I am now a PhD graduate from IMU. I feel super positive and humbled. I am waiting for more such challenges to help cancer patients in some way or the other in combating this dreadful disease.
Now you know why “IT IS WORTH THE ROLLER COASTER RIDE “.
Written by Dr Anupa Sivakumar, Lecturer, Human Biology, School of Medicine, IMU
Dr Anupa Sivakumar graduated with her PhD in Medical and Health Sciences from IMU on 25 June 2022. Her thesis title was “Development and evaluation of nano-emulsion containing curcumin and/or tocotrienol rich fraction for transdermal delivery to improve therapeutic effects in breast cancer.”