Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Meenu Murali. My country of birth is India and I am a physics researcher under the MASSENA doctoral programme, University of Luxembourg.
Tell us about your educational background.
I have completed my integrated masters degree in Physics from Amrita University, India. Currently, a PhD researcher in the working team of Dr. Giusy Scalia, under the doctoral programme MASSENA, funded in the frame of the PRIDE scheme of the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR).
Tell us about your science.
My research topic is “Pressure sensor based on liquid crystal and carbon nanotube composites”. In this work, I design and develop appropriate process technologies to investigate the response of different types of carbon nanotubes and liquid crystal configurations to the application of pressure.
When did you decide a PhD was something you wanted to do?
The time I spent at the Raman Research Institute, India during my master’s project made me more passionate about research in Physics. This experience made me believe that the broad overview gained during my master’s degree will be consummated only by the deep study that a doctoral degree entails.
Briefly describe your average work day as a PhD student.
I’m an experimental physicist and I spend most hours in the labs. So, a day in the office usually involves reading and planning the experiments or analysing the results.
What would you say your biggest challenges have been so far in your PhD journey?
The biggest challenge was to constantly persevere. There were many instances of downfall and self doubt. To stay determined, consistent and focused required a huge amount of support from around and within. Self motivation was the game changer!
Aside from your PhD, what other things are you passionate about? What activities you do in your free time?
I enjoy travelling. The initial years of my PhD gave me tremendous opportunities to explore the world, both with friends, as well as on my own. Solo trips have helped me gain perspective and rediscover myself.
What is your ideal job and what skills do you currently possess that will help you land this job?
I hope to shift from academia into industry. To ease with the transition, I prefer a R&D job. As a PhD researcher, I possess critical thinking, time management and communication skills. I’m also adaptable to work in differing cultural environments both as a team member as well as independently.
Are you currently working on any side projects? Tell us about them.
Prior to my PhD, I have also done an internship at the Centre for Nano and Soft Matter Sciences, India that has further showered me with better understanding about the field of liquid crystals. The project was “to investigate the photoluminescence effects in the nematic phase of calamitic-discotic liquid crystal composites”. Soon after, I have also worked as a research assistant at the Indian Institute of Sciences, India. The work I did here was on a model liquid crystalline system based on rod like viruses with variable chirality. This highly inter-disciplinary work used a non-pathogenic rod shaped virus, M13, as building block. This combination of two or more academic disciplines has made me think across boundaries and helped develop my adaptability and creativity.
What drives you?
The path to the PhD finish line is a steep climb of endurance and perseverance. We often feel overwhelmed and demotivated. To be able to swim against this tide, one needs to constantly remind oneself it is okay to feel not okay. Constant self-motivation is the key. Small acts of periodic reminders to believe in myself (in the form of sticky notes on my desk and desktop wallpapers) has helped me big time. I am also fortunate to have some very supportive colleagues-turned-friends and family around me who made this journey much easier. One of them recommended me Dr. Spencer Johnson’s book, ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ The book’s very core message is that things change all the time and we must adapt. The quicker we adapt to a change, the more contented we will be. This enlightening book came to me at the time when I needed it the most. I would certainly recommend this light read to help one adapt with the constantly changing course of their PhD life!
What is your ultimate ambition in life?
Looking to the future, the diversification of liquid crystal applications, spearheaded by a variety of entrepreneurial ventures, promises an important role for scientists trained in this technology and I want to be a part of such exciting endeavours.