3 PhDs from India: We Love Estonian Christmas

I still remember that happy email from someone named Gyaneshwer proudly informing me that he was the first Indian to have defended his PhD at the University of Tartu. Now, five years later, the second, third, fourth, and fifth Indian students have defended their doctoral degrees in Tartu.

Sandip, Pratyush, and Chandana

From left to right: Sandip, Pratyush, and Chandana after the commencement ceremony on 1 December 2015. Photo from a personal archive

Chandana Basu Mallick never gets bored of snow. She experienced it for the first time in Estonia – it was on 17 April 2007, and it was the last snow of the season. In January, Chandana defended her PhD in molecular biology at the University of Tartu.

Pratyush Kumar Das landed in Tallinn in November 2010. It was -2° C and he felt confused: “I put on one Indian jacket – it didn’t work”. He later learned that if you dress properly, the climate is nice at any time. Moreover, Indian people are adaptive. Pratyush earned his PhD in gene technology.

Sandip Ashokrao Kadam admits that the climate and food are the most difficult in Estonia: “Summer is okay. Estonian summer is like Indian winter”. He arrived to Estonia in 2011 and defended his doctoral degree in chemistry this year.

After his PhD defense at UT, Girinath Gopinathan Pillai found a fulfilling job in India and, regretfully, was too far away to join our conversation. He extended his greetings though (Best of luck to you, Girinath!).

Phinally doneEarning a doctoral degree was a challenging journey for all three: Pratyush and Sandip found the first years of the PhD difficult. “It is quite common that in the beginning the research is not going very well”, admitted Sandip. Pratyush is convinced that temporary obstacles make you smarter. Chandana, a ‘PhD Mom’ as she calls herself, was struggling for each hour, trying to write her first-author paper in pieces: “My son was eight months old and I was afraid that others would publish the results”. Science is competitive: If other people publish, your results go into the bin.

At the commencement ceremony

Listening to the Rector’s speech at the commencement ceremony. Photo by Andres Tennus

All three love Estonian summers. In India, summers are too hot and people prefer to stay inside. In Estonia, you want to be outside during the summertime, as it is the best part of the year and people are in a very joyful mood.

It also appears that for Indian people winter is not the worst part of the year in Estonia. The only bad thing is that it lasts too long and you need to wear too many layers of clothing. However, Christmas feels really special here – Chandana’s family has chosen not to miss it in the past years.

Food is another topic that all three Indian PhDs are passionate about. I learned pretty quickly that Tartu’s best Indian restaurant is in Riga, and the next best is Vaga Mama in Tartu. When Indian people order Indian food here, they ask to “make it as you do it in India”. This is not surprising, as Indian cuisine gets customised for the local taste buds. However, Pratyush adds with a smile that “some Estonians can eat spicier food than we do. These are very special Estonian people”.

Indian people – at least those with a doctoral degree – seem to be very polite. When asked about local cuisine, they answer that yes, they like Estonian food – with Indian spices.

Traditionally, cooking was something that only women did in India. Sandip confessed that before coming to Estonia he never cooked anything: “I only cooked tea”. Well, it was hard to survive on tea. YouTube came to the rescue. Pratyush also praises YouTube and Estonia’s Internet – he likes to cook for his friends.

Listen to the podcast interview with 3 Indian PhDs:


Inga Külmoja is an author and the editor of the UT Blog.

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