How HLF changed my life: Parimita Roy

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Laureates of mathematics and computer science meet the next generation
Heidelberg Laureate Forum

The COVID-19 pandemic forces us all to pause, reflect, and adapt. While the 8th Heidelberg Laureate Forum has been postponed to September 2021, this year’s Virtual HLF will take place from Monday, September 21 until Friday, September 25, 2020. Its motto: Traversing Separation.

An excellent opportunity to review seven successful years of HLF and to follow-up on some alumni and their path since then.

Who are you, where are you from and what is your scientific background?
I am Parimita Roy from India. Currently, I am an assistant professor at the School of Mathematics at Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, Patiala, India.  I completed my Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology (ISM), Dhanbad, and completed postdoctoral training at Université Le Havre Normandie, France. My area of research is mathematical biology, nonlinear dynamics, and bifurcation analysis.

Photo courtesy of Parimita Roy

In which year did you attend the HLF and what were you doing back then?
I attended HLF in 2017. At that time, I was already teaching at the Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, Patiala, India.  However, the exposure at the HLF inspired me to embark on an explorative journey as a postdoctoral researcher (on sabbatical from my home institute) for one year in Université Le Havre Normandie, France. During the sabbatical year, I leveraged the power of complex network theory to get new insights on how infectious diseases spread among cities having different topological connections.

What inspired you most during the HLF?
It was a lifetime opportunity to meet the stalwarts of mathematics and computer science, a prospect often kept afar from a young girl with dreamy eyes hailing from India’s hinterlands. The close confluence with laureates and brightest peers from diverse fields empowered me with new insights. I was amazed by the way each laureate was interacting with every young researcher (they were so kind).  Learning about their personal and professional journeys motivated me deeply. It made me believe that with extraordinary thinking and a strong desire to make a positive change, a common man or woman with a humble background can overcome all hurdles along the way.

What is your best memory you have from your stay in Heidelberg?
Every meeting with the laureates was memorable. I got a better understanding of the diverse cultures of countries much different from my own. I tasted wine for the first time, and it felt great (P.S. German wine is excellent, though people know it as a land of beer!).  I also made a few good friends, whom I sometimes miss even today.

Parimita Roy on her HLF experience.

What has happened in your life since then and in which position are you currently working?
After returning from the HLF trip, I became more motivated towards translational research, and I joined a research group LMAH (Applied Math. Lab.) in Université Le Havre for my postdoctoral research.  After HLF 2017, I became more focused on applying my research skills to solve real-life problems. I took a PhD student who is currently working on species extinction problems (like Quokka, Corroboree frog extinction in Australia). An important factor that is responsible for extinction is climate change. Global climate change has a clear imprint on the distribution of species over recent decades. Motivated by a conversation with Prof. Martin  Hairer in HLF, I am using stochastic PDEs (partial differential equations) to take into account the effect of randomly fluctuating environments.

Which advice would you give the next generation of Young Researchers?
Young Researchers should expose themselves to broader ways of learning, out of box thinking by exchanging ideas with peers and colleagues and creating a network of smart friends. I believe that the forum will allow young researchers to forge new collaborations and obtain suitable mentorship. HLF will allow them to get a break from a monotonous academic work-life, diversify the thought processes in contact with the best minds of the world. It will not only make them productive but also allow them to grow in wisdom and make a positive contribution to the profession and humanity in general.

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your professional and private life?
COVID 19 indeed has had a significant impact on me and my students’ lives. The pandemic has forced us to move everything online, which has both negative and positive connotations. I learned many new things like how to take online classes effectively, making video lectures, taking online exams, etc. I even started my own Youtube channel to put on educational and tutorial videos. However, the vivid discussion of the classroom and the ever-explorative questioning of my undergraduate students was sure to be missed.

In my private life, staying alone at home overburdened me with household work. I panicked a lot in buying household stuff such as food shopping and other necessary items. I feel confident to combat the pandemic. But there is a lack of common-sense and empathy within a sizable part of society. It makes me scared and agnostic at the same time.

Furthermore, there’s a lot of misinformation on social media that is either exaggerated, falsified, or taken out of context. At one point in time, I stopped reading stories related to COVID 19 because it was affecting my mental health somehow. I can’t even meet my parents during the period who are staying in Kolkata, a city more than 1500 km away.  It caused me immense agony for me as well as them. But hey! On a positive note, I have become a good cook now.

What is the most valuable lesson the pandemic taught you so far?
The first lesson I learned is that we all are connected irrespective of our places, and we are all susceptible to the same human vices, illnesses, and its consequences.  COVID also taught me the inherent power of virtual space. This pandemic gave me a chance to reconnect and understand people closest to me.  Since I am staying alone, social distancing was exhausting and lonely. I learned how to keep myself busy. I also realized the importance of having alternative plans for our career and personal well-being.

As an expert on modeling the spread of diseases, with which feelings to you observe the current spread of the coronavirus?
Public health is significantly influenced by city layouts, population counts, and mobility. It is basically improper to think of different countries as separate entities from one another. A healthy psychological state is also crucial and could make the human body’s immune responses better, improving resistance towards infectious diseases. Once we realize these facts, we’ll doubtlessly get better in our ability to plan for future pandemics. Rather than panicking about the pandemic, we should be functioning together to combat it, along with other connected problems. We should skillfully manage this issue for what it is, not what we perceive it to be. We need to build up complex epidemic network models to portray the spatial spread of the epidemic among countries due to population dispersion. The theory of complex networks can be a powerful tool in providing promising implications for research in the fields of health care and designing migration policy.

Jens-Steffen Scherer

Jens-Steffen Scherer is a neuroscientist, science communicator, and moderator. Besides pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Oldenburg, he works for the National Institute for Science Communication (NaWik) and the Südwestrundfunk (SWR). In 2018 Jens-Steffen won the 8th Science Slam of Oldenburg. LinkedIn

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