Published: 23rd January 2018
Scientist Gokul Swaminathan shows how service and science can go hand in hand
After Gokul Swaminathan became a scientist, he decided that he wanted to give back to society and help them achieve their dreams too
Gokul Swaminathan still has vivid memories of lying in a hospital bed while suffering from malaria and dengue, and losing his parents at a young age made this harder to go through. And though he won that battle, the war against such diseases is far from over. Gokul still continues his fight against such infectious diseases, and this time he is working towards the development of strong ammunitions for others — vaccinations and immuotherapy.
Just because you did not do well in school doesn't mean you can't change things around later in life. Just find what you are truly passionate about
Gokul Swaminathan, scientist
In 2016, the Chennai lad, who was working as a Senior Scientist at Merck Research Laboratories, Merck & Co Inc, Kenilworth, NJ USA (known as MSD outside the United States and Canada) an American pharmaceutical company, was bestowed with a new responsibility. He became one of the founding employees of their new Exploratory Science Center at Cambridge, MA, USA. "I've been obsessed with figuring out how to cope with ailments, but I didn't know that I would be lucky enough to be a scientist," says the 30-year-old wiz, as he narrates how he struggled with academics, but he eventually ended up pursuing a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia.
Picture perfect: Swaminathan along with Bittu
Today, he is in a position to give back to society. One way this SRM University alumnus wants to do this is through his profession and at the risk of sounding corny, he says, "I feel that being a scientist is not necessarily portrayed as a cool profession to pursue, but for me, it's extremely gratifying. Discovering medicines and changing lives is definitely my calling." Among many awards, he received the prestigious Drexel University college of Medicine’s 'Amedeo Bondi award' for outstanding research work while in his graduate school, and also The International Society for NeuroVirology (ISNV) had presented him with the exceptional pre-doctoral research award, an award for research excellence in virology research.
Swaminathan has trained as a senior research fellow in the recombinant gene products group at the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), an organisation promoted by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)
The other way he is doing this is by sponsoring the education of Bittu Shaw, an underprivileged boy from rural Kolkata, whom he met again a week ago, after a gap of seven years. Shaw, speaks Bengali and Hindi, attends a Bengali-medium school, and wants to pursue hotel management as a career. Through Children International, an non-profit child sponsorship organisation, he particularly chose to sponsor Bittu because he saw a little bit of himself in the child. "When I look back at my own life, I realise that I've been helped all along my journey by family and friends, both morally and financially. And I wanted to do that for someone too," he says. He even donates to his friend's NGO Miriam Sei Education in Kenya, which focuses on eradicating illiteracy and poverty from rural Kenya. "I don't want to be a role model, I just want to convey the message that one must study hard, work hard and find a job for oneself. And when we are in the position to give back, we must," he concludes.