NepaChem talk with Dr. Deepak Koirala

Dr. Deepak completed doctorate degree in chemistry from Kent State University (KSU), USA. His PhD work has resulted 18 publications including 7 first authorship papers in highly reputed journals such as Nature Chemistry, Angewandte Chemie and JACS. He also shares a US patent with his PhD advisor. He has received the Taylor Research Award and the University Fellowship from KSU. Dr. Koirala represents one of the very successful emerging Nepali chemists. In an effort to recognize Nepalese scientists around the globe, NepaChem presents an interesting talk between Basant Giri and Dr. Koirala.

NepaChem: Congratulations Dr. Koirala for the completion of your graduate program.

Thank you very much.

NepaChem: How do you feel now? What are you doing these days?

I feel happy and satisfied by the research accomplishments during my PhD. I achieved more than what I had expected before coming to US for my graduate career. I would like to dedicate this achievement to my parents and family members. 

Currently, I am working as a postdoctoral scholar in Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Chicago with Prof. Joseph Piccirilli. Here, my research is focused on functional RNA molecules which have crucial roles in cellular functions.   

NepaChem: How difficult was it to find a job in the US?

It is highly competitive and getting harder to get a job in the US. However if you have a strong research background, there are many opportunities. In my case, I did not apply for the industry jobs but for the postdoctoral position, I got excellent responses. I was interviewed at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University and University of Chicago and finally joined the University of Chicago.

NepaChem: Could you explain your doctoral research? Consider people who are not familiar with your field of research. 

Although I did a variety of research projects and published 7 first authorship papers in last five years, I wrote my dissertation focusing on three publications. My PhD thesis mainly highlights the potential application of human telomeres for cancer treatment. In human cell, at the end of each chromosome, there is a special DNA-protein complex which is known as telomere. The function of the telomere is to maintain the integrity of the chromosome. In normal human cell, telomere become shorter and shorter during each cell division and finally cell dies regularly as programmed. However, in the cancer cell, length of the telomere is constant due to the over-production of an enzyme called telomerase. This means cell never dies and has potential to divide infinitely. If cells grow in an uncontrolled way, it forms a tumor and finally the cancer. Researchers have shown that human telomeric DNA can form a special structure called G-quadruplex and this structure can block the function of the telomerase. Therefore, if we can stabilize the G-quadruplex structures by drugs, we can stop the telomerase function and hence the cancer. For this, it is very important to know what the stability of human telomeric G-quadruplex is, how it is formed and how this structure interacts with drug molecules. My PhD research answered these questions at single-molecule level. During this research unprecedented facts were discovered about G-quadruplex structures which are very important for the potential application of human telomeres for the cancer treatment. 

NepaChem: Please tell us your journey to higher education.

I was born in a middle class family in Palpa. My high school education was completed in Rupandehi after our family moved there. I passed SLC (2053 B.S.) from Pashupati Secondary School, a government school, in first division and joined Tribhuvan Multiple Campus, Palpa for higher education. I completed I. Sc. (1999), B. Sc. 1st and 2nd year from the same campus and 3rd year from Patan Multiple Campus, Lalitpur. After completing B.Sc. in 2002, I joined Central Department of Chemistry (CDC), Tribhuvan University (TU), Kirtipur. I passed M. Sc. (2005) in distinction division with specialization in Physical Chemistry. While studying at CDC, I had opportunity to work with Prof. Dr. Rajaram Pradhananga for master’s dissertation. I taught for about 2 years in Amrit Science Campus and CDC before coming to US for higher education. In 2008 fall, I joined KSU for PhD, worked with Prof. Hanbin Mao and completed PhD in spring 2014. 

NepaChem: Publications are generally used as a measure of research productivity. You have authored and co-authored several journal articles in high impact factor journals during your graduate study. How was this success possible?

In most of the cases, publications are the measure of the productivity and the research accomplishments. I am happy that I published several high-impact papers during my PhD. This success was a combined effect of my hard work and dedication towards research, advisor’s effort, helpful group environment and outstanding seniors (especially Dr. Soma Dhakal and Dr. Zhongbo Yu). Inputs from the advisor always play a vital role for strong publication records of a graduate student. To get such support and help from the advisor, it is important to demonstrate your skills, talents and enthusiasm towards research.

NepaChem: What do you suggest prospective and current graduate students to achieve a successful graduate study? Tell us 5 ‘Sutra’ or ‘Mantra’ of success.

I think there is no specific ‘Formula’ or ‘Sutra’ to be successful in graduate career. One should always keep in mind that in scientific research, there are no fast tracks, express lanes or shortcuts. One must be hard working, patient, proactive, dedicated and consistent. I believe that finding problems in your experiments is much more difficult than their solutions. A well designed and planned starting is half way done.  Before starting a research project or experiments, you should always ask these questions to yourself: What am I doing? Why am I doing? How do I proceed to next steps? What have others done? What is unknown? At the beginning, it could be difficult to get answers to all but regular reading of the literatures and discussions with advisor and collogues are the keys to improve yourself. For any problem, first think yourself and try to understand as simply as possible and if you could not find answers, ask others. Do not hesitate to ask questions and participate in discussions with your colleagues and professors. I think that “there are no stupid questions, although some answers could be stupid.” It is very useful to discuss with your advisor about your progress and request for his inputs and suggestions. Remember that it is you who care the most about your research projects. When performing any scientific experiments, “prepare for the worst and hope for the best’’ so that even though your experiment fails in the first attempt, you have hope and courage to perform the similar experiments again. In scientific researches, most of the times, you get negative results and these are the guidelines for a useful discovery.

NepaChem: Selection of adviser and research field is critical and very important for new students particularly for international students coming from countries like Nepal. What are your experiences?

It is very important to choose an advisor and a research field for your graduate study because this is a critical step which determines your success and rest of your career. I agree that the students coming from countries like Nepal have no good research experience, but they do have a sound theoretical knowledge. To be honest, our education system in Nepal barely prepares us for any research. Therefore, at the beginning, it would be equally difficult for us to start the research in any field. Besides considering my interest in a particular filed of research, I would also consider the advisor and the group itself. I would not decide which group to join before visiting the laboratory and discussing about the research projects, knowing the laboratory environment and other researchers in the group. Every university in the US will give a reasonable time to select the advisor after joining the graduate program. Actually, I joined Mao group after working with another advisor for one semester. Although research field was excellent, I could not survive in the group because of the advisor. Later, I found that several other students had already left the group due to the same reason. Before selecting a particular research group, be sure that you will be satisfied and happy for next 5-6 years in that group.

NepaChem: How do you project yourself in terms of career in next 5 years and then in next 20 years?

It is a hard question for me. Currently, I am in first year of postdoctoral training and it takes few more years to complete. If everything goes well, I have a plan to join a research institution (most likely academic) as a research faculty within next 5 years. I have no preference on geographic location though. Regarding the long term career goal, I would like to be an established research scientist and contribute to the society through the scientific discoveries. To be honest, I have a dream to establish an advanced research institute in Nepal with international collaboration. I know it requires contributions from many others but it is possible. This will help to advance the science and technology in Nepal as well as provide suitable opportunity and support for our youngsters to build their scientific career in own country.

NepaChem: What are your hobbies, and spare time activities?

I love to visit different places and play games. I like to play football (soccer) and cricket. Whenever I get a free time, I briefly go through online news from Nepal. I often read inspiring stories of great persons and scientists which constantly provide me energy to perform better and contribute something to the society. During weekends, I usually spend my time with family, playing with my daughters.

NepaChem: At last, how do you see the future of scientific research in Nepal? Do you have anything to say?

There are a lot of great Nepalese scientists around the world who are doing outstanding scientific research. We have enough scientific manpower to establish world-class research institutions in our own country. Most of the students coming abroad from Nepal for graduate studies are working in the world’s top research institutions. This means we are skilled, talented and creative. Therefore, I see a bright future of scientific research in Nepal. I always think how I can utilize my knowledge and achievements for the benefits of my own country. However, it is unfortunate that there is no defined policy in government level regarding scientific research in Nepal and there is no platform to initiate your research if you return back. In this regard, already established institutions like TU, KU and NAST could be remodeled and new research-oriented rather than teaching institutions could be separately established to provide opportunities for young scientists. I believe that doing research is not only working in an established platform, it is also a process of creating new platform. I also think that it is our responsibility to convince our government. Scientific researches and discoveries are not like you invest today and get benefits tomorrow. Therefore, I am very hopeful about the scientific advancement and research in Nepal.

NepaChem: Thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.

Thank you very much to you too for providing me this opportunity to share my experience and research.

1 comment:

Sushil Thapa said...

very intresting, motivative n useful talk thanks a lot both of u