Plants taller, with wider and longer leaves !

Community and species-specific responses of plant traits to 23 years of experimental warming across subarctic tundra plant communities

I collaborated with researchers from Sweden, China and wanted to understand how long-term warming will affect plant traits across Arctic Tundra communities. The study is now online in Nature Scientific Reports. 23 years of warming was carried out across different plant communities to see how warming can affect plant traits. We found that long-term warming significantly made plants taller with wider and longer leaves. Moreover, such responses will however also depend on which particular community the plant is currently in because warming might differentially affect the same plant species in different communities.

Global change will thus positively affect plant traits as most of the plant species showed positive increases in height with longer and taller leaves.  This will have a significant consequence on competitive interactions in communities. This is because all the traits that were analysed in the study  are responsible for competitive interactions. Hence warming will have significant changes in community structure and community assembly as dominance structure can change and some species having a competitive advantage due to their positive growth i.e., growing taller, for example, will dominate among other species. So it’s all about having a positive growth rate during global warming. But which of the species can actually do that consistently across communities? Find out in the study!!

And I travel, and I get scared.

And I travel, and I although don’t travel a lot, but its just very beautiful here in Switzerland. On a sunny morning day as I travel from Basel to Zurich around 10 in the morning, numerous thoughts cross my mind. It is just so wonderful to travel by train in Switzerland. With the Swiss Alps in the background and a song “Aftermath” by Muse playing, it just makes your day a lot better than you had expected. I can tell you, it’s just how I imagined when I was about to come to Switzerland a year ago for my PhD interview. I never ever in my wildest dreams expected that I would be living here; a place abode to many beautiful stories, many beautiful landscapes, many beautiful dreams and the story of my PhD.

 “From this moment, from this moment….

You will never be alone…. we are bound together….”

The perfect song of Muse makes this short journey to Zurich even better. I have so many journeys to make, so many stories to tell. I cannot tell you how it feels to look outside. The pictures above will make it clearer I guess. It’s just so scenic, and spring on the onset, makes it even more beautiful. But what worries me more now, is that 20 years from now, this might never be beautiful anymore than it is now. Why? Time. Uncertainty. Time does not stop. You don’t know what will happen in 20 years from now! This is a moment that will only be in my mind, cornered and tucked away deep inside. Only I will know how I felt, when I looked outside the window. This is strange.

Life is way too comfortable in Switzerland. As I stay here more, the more I want to stay and make this my home. But I will not. I just cannot. I have to go back. I have to make India a better place to live. Whatever I can do I will do to make my home a better place. Today is Sunday and I am travelling back to Zurich and going to my University to finish some work.

 

I am hardly getting time to do my project. The project, which is full of uncertainties; I wonder whether it will lead to any possible answers that I am desperately searching for. I am scared. I am petrified that I may end up as a failure. PhD is tough. My supervisors believe in my abilities a lot, but the irony is I don’t. I somehow keep thinking that I am deceiving them, faking that I am good enough for this PhD. This scares me a lot. Will I be able to do justice to this PhD? What if I end up as a failure? What is this PhD leading me to? I never ever imagined that I would land myself up in these circumstances. I am confused of my abilities; I am scared of this PhD. Life is tough amidst this beautiful journey that I am taking, where will it lead me to? I am in search for a higher truth, a theory that connects a quantitative trait to population collapse. Will I be successful? I don’t know, I am scared to find out the truth. In a month or two, I will know where I stand. In a month or two…

 

“…it’s no place for the faint hearted,

But my heart is strong, coz now I know where I belong

we are free from this moment…from this moment…”

 

Of PhD, of a hike, and Switzerland!

More than a month passed after my sister’s wedding. A lot of events have happened since then. The first week is always tough when you come back from home, Arpat said, my supervisor. Yes indeed it was. I was feeling left alone, drained of enthusiasm , drained of energy and lack of concentration. My PhD is not going the way I visualised. PhD is not easy. Not easy at all. And the level of research, the level of intelligence is way better than what I visualised; way better than all the IISERs. But that is what is compelling me to drive forward perhaps. I love the atmosphere and the excellent professionalism here in Zurich.

And after I came, I finally had a good chat of how my PhD should shape and perhaps I cannot agree more with Chris and Arpat. Theoretical, Simulation and experimental based! Its tough to formulate a theory from scratch and to see its applicability in nature. But that is supposed to be my first chapter. A high risk, high gain project; a project that might lead me nowhere, or might lead me to a higher understanding about how evolutionary dynamics of a trait and ecological dynamics shape how a population responds to stochastic environmental change. Lets see how this works out!

And there is so much to tell!! Fortunately, life is working out great. Pragya joined as a PhD in Basel and will be working on sexual conflict and behaviour on hermophrodites. I envy her of the fact that very little is known about them and hence there is so much to explore. And also she has landed herself a 4 year PhD, fully funded! Mine is 3 years, (plus 1 year more, depending on external funds). Well, on the bright side, she is here and I can have amazing scientific conversations with her. It cannot get better!

Grindelwald: And finally i had the courage to go to Grindelwald, after repeated coercing from Koen (PhD student in my group). He was like “you should really go now, or otherwise the snow will melt and you will have to go next year, trust me, you should go.”  Well thanks Koen. It was indeed an amazing experience,  a tough hike, but it was really great! The pictures just looked perfect.Grindelwald, a village in Switzerland’s Bernese Alps, is a popular gateway for Jungfrau region. A great place for skiing and hiking in the alps. The pictures will let you know 🙂

 

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Beside Lake Brienz in Interlaken

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The Jungfrau region from Interalken

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I love this picture. The streets and then the alps. We had lunch to this amazing view!

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While we travel to grindelwald from Interlaken, we see this amazing picture!

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Interlaken to grindelwald journey

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This is Grindelwald! The skiing resort! Not much people were there in this amazing weather

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The hike we did, with the snow and the sun!

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And then we climbed down to the bottom of the foothills!

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How this picture captures everything: serenity, freedom and a lonely walk! (Pragya is the lady ahead walking though! 🙂 )

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This is Switzerland, I just cannot get enough of this picture.

Life after my sister’s great Indian wedding

Its almost a tragedy everytime I leave the country. I cannot imagine the intricacies involved when the time for me to leave the country arrives. I am amazed and very rightly surprised how my mind works and how my emotions fluctuate erratically flickering between two basic emotions. I am sad as I write this and as I write I move farther away from home. As I look into the inflight communicator, I currently find myself above the Black Sea, thousands of miles away from home. It all started from my sister’s wedding, ‘the great Indian wedding’, they say. And indeed it was. Grandeur and majestic.

I already miss my family, and this is a sacrifice and nothing else, to achieve something that you are not guaranteed, in 3 years. Peer pressure, societal pressure, and the pressure to show people that I can succeed, all these are the reasons behind why I am doing this PhD. I won’t deny that there are personal ambitions stuck somewhere between all this, but that is not enough to explain why I am sitting on this plane travelling thousands of miles away from the place I know so well. The wedding is over, and with it all the emotions, the euphoria, the majestic happiness, the movie-like dances, the drama! Sigh, it pains to look at the pictures where I stand beside my sister in the beautiful wedding attire. The great Indian wedding it was and nobody denied that. Nobody. Life is going to change for everyone after this wedding. My sister won’t be available anymore like she was, that’s married life for you. My mother and father will feel the emptiness in the house.

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What is the role of me sitting here in this plane and writing this? Why do I have to do this PhD? Does all this make sense? Where is the higher truth? Why do I have to leave my hometown, and the happiness with it? I am a foreigner in Zurich, a foreigner trying to blend in, but while doing so I can only guess that I am becoming more of an outcast. I cannot blend in; all I do is creep into my own wormhole, my own comfort zone. My comfort zone was back where I was not alone, where I was too happy or too busy to even let millions of thoughts cross my mind. It was back in my hometown, not where I right now sit. But that is life and perhaps ‘you learn from it’, this is what everyone would say. I will just sit down and let time pass by and watch this drama like an adult comedy theatrical. Time has never stopped since the big bang, if only it was otherwise! Sigh!

Coldplay music makes this blog even more sad. And I did not even want it to sound like that, perhaps it was the effect of their songs. I think I will stop, or this will just go on. Long story short : I am very sad as I travel back to Zurich, the place where I am doing my PhD. It will never be like home. Perhaps, all these fleeting thoughts are added to by the fact that Pragya is coming to Basel only to never meet me again, ‘never’ she said! Never. Maybe it’s the multiplicative effect of all her fleeting memories crossing my mind and the fact that I am leaving home without getting the time to say goodbye!

Goodbye then!

Where are you taking me?

Let’s do this one little magic and give you the power of everything for a single day. Will you then paint the sky red or with majestic dreamy blue? Will you then, recreate life and happiness and love or will you just recreate  the unpleasant gory darkness that is inside my heart? Will you surprise me and pull the curtains off my greedy face? Will you step outside and press the buttons that would completely destroy me off the face of earth? Will you quitely put the knife in me so that I cannot again be reborn? Will you rub away those unpleasant memories of me and recreate happiness everywhere around?

Let’s do make this one little song that will be cherished by people forever. Let’s demand the majestic and the rich , to pay some money and buy our song. They are rich and will forever be rich, but we can be immortal then forever. And you won’t be able to destroy be ever. I want to sit by the riverside, and count the shooting stars, like they do in movies. I want to wander away never to be found again. Will you then remember me? Will you then remember that there was someone like me? Or will you use the one little magic that you would have and rub away my unpleasant memories off the face of earth?

How do I let go?

It is almost midnight and all that I can hear is this old clock. The seconds passing away slowly. It is dead silent and the next thing I can hear is my own breath. I do not know what to write and I certainly do not understand where life is taking me. Its hard to stay away from home and when you come back home, you feel its hard to stay away from someone you love.

I have achieved a lot in couple of months in Zurich. But one thing that i think will help me get over the fact that you are no more in my life is a bit of math and a bit of ecology. Having said that, I almost completely feel that this rather stupid of me to think of like that. No, i don’t think so that i can let go your thoughts. I almost certainly immediately feel, that I still cannot face the truth that is its official and its true : you are gone now.

So many mails, yet no replies; so many phones, yet no answers. And now you blocked me everywhere. I deserve this, I completely understand but you have got me wrong this time. Perhaps, that should and certainly be not the reason because you do not know the entire story.

Its slightly raining now, and I can hear the rain quite clearly. The sound of rain does not make me remember you, the sound of the clock quite amazingly also does not remind me of you. Everything , in fact everything else does..While I write this, I cannot believe I am thinking that we for the first time in the last six years , will actually be never seeing each other or what the hell, won’t be talking to each other anymore. I desperately want to talk to you, again and again and again, but well, that is not possible is it ? You have blocked me so suddenly. It was so sudden, it was like everything suddenly felt silent. I could not and did not understand what happened, and now it dawns that it might be over. How do I let go of you? I cannot , its impossible. It is impossible. You were supposed to join me in Switzerland, that was the plan right? Yes that was the bloody, plan to go on hikes, to go on unknown trails, cities of eastern Europe, Budapest, Kiev! I cannot imagine that that is not going to happen. No, please don’t do this. Please, you are completely wrong this time. Distance has taken a toll on us, but trust me and come here. Just trust me.

I am scared, i want to cower at the sight of happiness. I don’t want to be here. My sister’s getting married and I am sad. I am so scared. That this might actually happen, that we might no longer be together, that I am not able to grasp the sudden stop! No I cannot and I won’t be able to. How do I let go of you? I cannot, that was the plan. That was my plan, that I will never let go of you. Yes, How do I let go of you? I won’t let go of you.

 

 

My feet In Zurich!

This is a three month old memory and I am writing after a long time and perhaps after I realised that i need some time on this. So it was my last year at IISER and I was looking ahead in the future:  where will I find my new home for PhD?  After getting rejections from the graduate program in Cambridge and Sheffield, I was getting very nervous as most of my friends have got into good places for their PhD while I was still looking at options. It was March end, and I just started applying to various positions in Europe. I did not give GRE neither TOEFL and hence I could not apply to US. So I was limited by just 40% of the places. I also opened a Twitter account and luckily I somehow saw the advertisement of a PhD position in Population Ecology in Arpat Ozgul’s lab. In the same day Pragya (my special friend 😉 ) e-mailed me the description of the position.

Well when I looked at it, I did not think this place would offer me a position. They were basically an animal group doing some awesome research , and here I was still looking for options and what specific topic would finally suit me. But two things were common between us : they were quantitative (I am too) and   they wanted to work in future predictions of environmental changes on animal population. I always wanted to work on this specific topic at some point in my career but never got the chance. Finally I worked on the cover letter, a short description of my thesis (which is all mathematical and quantitative) and my CV and waited without patience (I forgot about it as I never thought I would make it to the interview round)

In just a week span of time, I got their reply that I was selected for the interview phase. It was surprising and they offered to pay for my trip to Switzerland 🙂 . That was nice. However, I could not make it to the day all the interviewers were called since I would have my thesis defense the same day. So i booked my ticket for the next week. I think this was an advantage for me as I was probably not intimidated by the presence of other prospective PhD students.

Fast forward and I arrived in Zurich on April 30 after 26 hours of long flight! My flight got delayed in Kolkata and i missed the connecting flight in Abu Dhabi and so I had to board another flight for which i had to wait 6 hours in Belgrade and so on..

I arrive in Zurich and well it was beautiful!! The next day was bright and sunny and I went out for a walk early morning. I was presenting my thesis and interviewed on the same day at 1 PM and that did not stop me from having a nice stroll. I was living in Haldenegg some 10-15 minutes to Irchelpark.

Near Haldenegg, This view was amazing. Just outside of ETH.

Near Haldenegg, This view was amazing. Just outside of ETH.

Hehe!

Hehe!

This is where I had breakfast. They were surprisingly offering Assam Tea and Darjeeling Tea. I had a good chat with the people there about the Assam Tea!!

This is where I had breakfast. They were surprisingly offering Assam Tea and Darjeeling Tea. I had a good chat with the people there about the Assam Tea!!

The no 10 train that took me to University of Zurich, Irchelpark. It was nice!

The no 10 train that took me to University of Zurich, Irchelpark. It was nice!

I clicked a few more pictures before I headed to my room for a quick review and practice for my interview. I arrived at Irchelpark at around 1145 am and roamed around to have a nice look . It was surrounded by slick architecture and lush greenery!

Uni Zurich, Irchelpark

Uni Zurich, Irchelpark

There were around 14-15 people present in my interview and it did make nervous. Perhaps I was prepared for this, perhaps I was well prepared with my presentation. My presentation went for around 30 minutes and answering questions for another 15 minutes. I had to tell you that I got selected because my interview was pretty good. I could answer all their queries, presented without stammering (my big weakness) and without goofing out during the entire 45 minutes of my presentation.

Then again there was the next closed interview where only Arpat and few of his Post Docs stayed behind to question me further and of course tell me about the project. It went quite well i think. The next thing was to meet all the labmates and talk to them about their project and life in Zurich in general. This went till 5 30 PM. They invited me for dinner!!!

The dinner was awesome. I had like three beers and horse to eat as my dinner! Well that was neat and great . I did not quite like the gravy though! But the dinner and the conversations went till midnight! I had a great time. They made me laugh with their strange jokes and expeditions and adventures. Koen, one of their PhDs, talked with me a lot!! It was overall a great evening for me!

Thanks for the dinner! Had a wonderful time! thank you Arpat, Koen, Gabrielle, Nino, Chloe, Molie, Sam, Chris and all. I am coming soon!

Thanks for the dinner! Had a wonderful time!
thank you Arpat, Koen, Gabrielle, Nino, Chloe, Molie, Sam, Chris and all. I am coming soon!

So it went well and I got into Zurich (Einstein’s university 😀 ) . The acceptance letter was also nice, the way they wrote it. And so it went great!!

I am coming soon! Watch out for more!