Published: 20th April 2021
This former nano-scientist is helping kids and single moms acquire alternate skills that can help them fetch jobs
Once a nano-scientist, Pratibha Nalini now runs a skill development centre for kids and adults with the aim of making them financially independent
Deciding to give up something you've dreamt about and worked for all your life is, no doubt, a tough call, albeit in pursuit of a nobler cause. And the cause was worth it for 33-year-old Pratibha Nalini who gave up a booming career in nanoscience in France to start a skill development centre in Chennai for those who can't afford the usual market rate.
All that nano love
Pratibha had always been interested in Science. As a child, she dreamt of becoming an astrophysicist. She worked hard throughout her academic life, managed to secure herself a seat in NIT and was a topper all through. But it was in 2008, when she had an opportunity to do an internship at IIT Madras, that she was introduced to nanoscience. Back then, nanotechnology was still in its nascent stage.
The fact is that it was research that intrigued Pratibha. She says, "Just doing experiments in the lab and using fancy equipment gave me quite the thrill. Then, as providence would have it, I was asked to present a paper for a conference in Kerala, where a French scientist was present. He was so impressed with my presentation that he had a brief conversation with me, which I later realised was an informal interview." A few months later, he contacted Pratibha saying that he was willing to take her on for a French defence project. It was so sudden that it took her by surprise. Her lifelong dream was unfolding right in front of her.
The project involved working on nanowires and thin films for solar cell applications. Basically, she had to find new material for solar cells. Her research was submitted at the ENSICAEN University, from where she got her PhD. After her stint in France, she decided to take up teaching and returned to India where she started working with Vellore Institute of Technology. She left no stone unturned there as well and organised an Indo-French science colloquium on photovoltaic cells and even won the Best Women Scientist Award from the institute. Speaking about India's progress in nanoscience, Pratibha says, "India has a long way to go in nanoscience. We've got to support start-ups and encourage inter-disciplinary
The skilling shift
Although Pratibha had a sparkling career in Science, she soon realised that there was something missing. She would watch some of her students struggle to find jobs even though they had the same degrees as their peers. While some were able to learn vocational skills that helped them find jobs, even though their initial career goals didn't pan out, some kids simply didn't get access to extra-curricular activities. Pratibha realised that this was her calling, to help these youngsters learn alternate skills that would help them find jobs. She started a skill development centre called Lily of the Valley and has been conducting classes, free of cost, for those who are deserving.
She soon saw that the problem was getting bigger. There were a lot of single mothers, who either didn't have a job or couldn't manage a job because they had to take care of their child. So, she decided to teach them French in the hope that they would be able to take flexible part-time French tuitions. Her centre also provides music classes, mainly for those who have gone through some difficult situation in life and are looking for ways to divert their mind. "We listen to them, sometimes for hours. Sometimes, all they need is someone to listen," she says.
Pratibha also does scientific consultancy for people who are stuck with their research. She sits with them and guides them on how to proceed. So far, the centre has helped about 200 students. When asked if it was worth all the sacrifice, she says, "It's always a joy to see our students no longer be financially dependent."