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Spotlight On IFS Alumni, Dr Babita Paudel-Bhattarai from Nepal

Published: 2017-08-27

As a recurring feature of our IFS blog, we are periodically turning the spotlight on one of our alumni. When IFS staff members travel, they are meeting and interviewing our former grantees to discover more about the impact they are having in their countries. Our present Alumni Spotlight is on Dr Babita Paudel-Bhattarai, interviewed by Nathalie Persson in March 2017. She says, “It was not only receiving the grant that made me happy but it motivated and inspired me to return to my home country and conduct natural product research. It was the turning point of my career. We hope you enjoy this new feature of our website.

Dr. Babita Paudel-Bhattarai Nighisty Ghezae, IFS Director

What are your current work, research and position? 

I am a senior scientist at the Research Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology (RIBB) in Nepal, mainly working on natural product chemistry. I and my team are trying to isolate bioactive compounds from lichens from the high altitude regions of Nepal. Recently we got a fund from the University Grant Commission (UGC) of Nepal. Under this project we are first isolating Streptomyces sp. from various regions of Nepal and then screening bioactive strains to isolate various antimicrobial and anticancer compounds. Besides that I am a TWAS grantee. In that project we are isolating several oral bacteria from different people of various geographical regions of Nepal. We are looking for some correlation between oral micro-flora and oral diseases.

What have you been doing since completing your research project as an IFS grantee?

I actually got two IFS grants in 2013 and 2015. My research on isolation and characterization of biological active compounds from lichens and their endophytes from high altitude regions of Nepal is still going on. Besides research work, I personally and my institute are organizing several seminars and trainings to motivate young scientists towards research work. The government is not giving enough priority in science and research, so people like us are trying to promote science in our country. As I am a life member of the Nepal Biotechnology Association (NBA), Women in Science and Technology (WIST) Nepal, Humboldt Club Nepal and Nepal German Academic Association (NEGAAS), I am actively involved with these organizations related to science and technology.

What role did the IFS grant play in your professional life?

The IFS grant was the first of my career and it afforded the opportunity to continue natural product research in my own country. From these grants I was able to support some students from the Central Department of Biotechnology, Tribhuvan University, Kritipur, Kathmandu, Nepal to conduct their masters program research work as a co-supervisor. From those results, we have been able to write two papers which are under review. IFS grants definitely played a valuable role in my career. I am always thankful to IFS.

What continuing involvement with IFS have you had since completing your project? 

Since I am still an IFS grantee, I keep continuous contact with IFS. I was invited by IFS twice, once to attend a regional conference in Luang Prabang in Laos in 2016 and the second one to attend a workshop in Phitsanulok in Thailand in 2017. This is a good way to meet other scientists from the region who share their ideas in natural products and medicinal plants research. I would like to see an alumni association of IFS grantees in Nepal in the future. I do not know how many IFS grantees and former grantees are in my country or what they are doing. It would be good to have an association to link us together, so that we could plan support activities for young scientists who are willing to apply for an IFS grant and we could organize proposal writing, scientific writing training, and seminars for such candidates. We can share our experience and knowledge with them. Likewise this will enable us to know who is doing what and it may foster collaboration.

From your perspective, what are some of the most pressing issues in science and research, and what is the role of science for development in your country?

Increasing funding and research facilities are the most pressing issues if we want to do serious research in Nepal. To date, our government is spending little (about 0.3% of GDP) on research, which makes researchers depend on external funding. There are many challenging issues such as climate change, food security and in the field of medicine, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms. To tackle those types of problems, scientists need funds, training and various platforms such as seminars, workshops and conferences to understand and share our ideas and findings.

In your view, what is the role of science for development in your country?

Nepal is a small landlocked country that is rich in natural resources. We have unique biodiversity, valuable medicinal plants and freshwater resources but sadly the government is not spending enough on science and research. So we are not able to utilize those resources fully for human welfare and for the development of the nation. We can benefit from the knowledge that we generate from research and translate it into applications that Nepalese can use to their benefit, although it has to be done in a sustainable manner to maintain our natural resources.

What advice do you have for early-career scientists like you once were?

Researchers should know where to apply for grants (inside or outside the country). They must also have knowledge on how to write a good proposal. Lastly, collaboration is the key for success in the field of research, so always try to collaborate and network with scientists not only from their country but also from outside.

What have been some of the most exciting or rewarding experiences in your professional and / or personal life?

After completion of my PhD from South Korea in 2009, I was selected as a Georg-Forster Postdoctoral fellow by the Humboldt Foundation in the University of Göttingen, Germany. That was the most rewarding experience of my career. While I was working as a post doc in the Korea Polar Research Institute, South Korea, I came to know about the IFS grant through my colleagues. I applied successfully for my first international grant at the end of 2013. It was not only receiving the grant that made me happy but it motivated and inspired me to return to my home country and conduct natural product research. It was the turning point of my career. At the national level, I was awarded the Shree Lunkarandas-Ganga Devi Chaudhary Navapratibha (Emerging Talent) Award in 2017 for contributions in science and Technology in Nepal.

Nighisty Ghezae, IFS Director

Thank you. Hope you enjoyed this feature and keep an eye on our next  spotlight  of our alumni.                                                                                                                        Dr. Nighisty Ghezae, IFS Director


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