Portrait Series – Nr. 1
Name: Sébastien Chenaux
Age: 25 years
Country of Birth: Switzerland
Subject of Studies and Home University: Master in Medical Biology at the Faculty of Biology and Medicine, University of Lausanne (UNIL), Switzerland
Host University: National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bangalore, India
Subject of Research: The Role and Effects of Oxytocin in an Animal Model of Autism
Since his early childhood Sébastien has been passionate about biology and chemistry. Thus, it is not surprising he continued to follow his interests and started his studies in Biochemistry at the University of Fribourg. ‘In terms of research I always followed my interests’, he said. By entering into the field of Neuroscience for his Masters at UNIL, the opportunity came up to go abroad and work at NCBS in Bangalore for a period of six months. ‘Since I always wanted to go abroad and gain experience outside Switzerland, the scientific collaboration between my Professor Ron Stoop at UNIL and Professor Sumantra Chattarji at NCBS appeared to me as the perfect chance to realise this,’ Sébastien said. Visiting the Indian subcontinent for the first time, he was very enthusiastic to travel to Bangalore in order to step out of his usual comfort zone and take new challenges. ‘Working here in Bangalore is a pleasure. I can acquire new skills relevant to both scientific and personal life such as organization and management of experiments as well as social interactions,’ he said.
The skills he has needed the most since his arrival in Bangalore in early July this year are, firstly, being patient, secondly, being well organized and , thirdly, enjoying the present moment. ‘In fact, compared to Switzerland, I became very aware of the differences regarding cleanliness, noise, transport infrastructure and standard of living. That was something I did not realize before,’ he added. ‘What I find crazy and at the same time exciting are the constant noise throughout the day and the heavily crowded streets with vehicles, people and cows just next to each other,’ he said. ‘Also the definition of time has another meaning in India. Experiments in the lab, for instance, he needs to organize according to the schedule of his colleagues who normally start working around 9 am or 10 am instead of 8 am as he was used to in Switzerland. ‘Luckily, I like to work late into the evening,’ he added with a smile. However, one of the highlights for him is the modern lab equipment at NCBS. ‘It is a great work environment with a high scientific level,’ Sébastien said. Additionally, he appreciates the many sports facilities on the NCBS campus. ‘People here are very active after work and meeting people is easy by doing sports together,’ he said.
In general, he said, you had to be open minded and always try to keep a positive attitude towards the differences in daily routine. ‘I get much help, for example, in organizing experiments or trips. But do not plan too many things at once,’ he insisted. ‘Here in India, it is a different rhythm of life from the one you are used to in Switzerland. You have to integrate yourself into it but that is not always that simple…,’ he added. To Sébastien the best way to get well accustomed to the ‘Indian life’ was to go out and meet people, especially in the beginning. ‘Do not stay at your work place only! Instead, try to travel around, catch up with people and learn more about culture. In the end, you discover a lot about yourself too,’ he said. ‘Thanks to the people of swissnex India who warmly welcomed me on my first day in India, I also met nice people outside the lab and could make friends with Swiss and Indians very quickly. We went on trips together to explore the more touristic sites in and around Bangalore, and we often meet after work for dinner and have a good time together. This is really the best way to become part of the Indian life,’ he said.
In terms of his research, Sébastien is eager to learn more during the upcoming months at NCBS regarding practical as well as theoretical content and he hopes to return back home with substantial results in order to finish his studies at UNIL. ‘I think that at this stage of my research I have found the right balance between the many aspects of my work on neurobiology of anxiety disorders and the role of oxytocin in the early development in the animal model of autism,’ he explained. To the question about his future career goals, he replied that he considered going into clinical trial management at a pharmaceutical company or to pursue a PhD.
For other students who wish to go to an Indian Institution Sébastien advices to get in contact with these Institutions as early as possible. ‘The obstacles are mainly on an administrative level and you can surely save a lot of time if you start your planning early,’ he said. And last but not least, ‘Indians love chocolate so you should always bring some in your luggage!’
Interviewed and edited by Kathrin Honegger, Academic Relations & Projects, swissnex India.