Quantum Leap to Success – Maharshi Dey’s Inspirational Journey from a Chilly Remote Town to a Senior Scientist in Los Alamos
(This article is a narration of Maharshi Dey’s life in his own words)
Maharshi Dey’s journey from a student in India to a Senior Scientist in the US is a tale of resilience. Facing funding challenges, harsh climates, and visa uncertainties, he excelled in materials science research, leading to a successful R&D career at UbiQD, Inc. His story is an inspiring example of overcoming adversity.
Research involves a lot of uncertainties. The path to obtaining a doctorate degree is where you get trained to be an expert for juggling with these uncertainties. Creating more of a challenge, setting forward with this path in a foreign country, adds more complexities to the process. This includes getting funding renewed annually, maintaining good GPAs and somehow balancing the uncertainties of VISA and other immigration issues. With these consistent challenges as the foundation, there are the typical worries of a student life to layer. Finding roommates, being financially stable, to things as important as getting balanced food every day, still plays their part in the everyday life.
My journey in graduate school was also quite challenging. While growing up in India, I have lived in the highest temperatures of about +40 degrees celsius (104 degrees F). For 6 years during my graduate school, I have experienced lowest windchill temperatures of about -40 degrees (-40 degrees F) and even lower, in the second coldest town of the US and later moved to a town with a moderate temperature, above 7300 ft elevation. The uncertainties were always a big part of this path. I was born in Kolkata, India and have ever since lived in different towns and cities all over India for my high school, undergraduate college and later for work. In 2016, with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, engineering work experience of about 1.5 years, and flight money from a call center job, I moved to the US. Initially, I did not have funding for the Master of Science (MS) course I had enrolled for at a school in the state of Missouri. A bank loan from India could partially fund my education. Although helpful, securing full funding was very crucial to my success, despite its uncertainties. During my first semester in Missouri, I contacted several professors and research groups of my interest on sleepless nights, after long hours of classes and part-time work (mostly dishwashing).
I was one of the lucky ones to get full funding to work in a prestigious research group for materials science research. Next semester, in 2017 Spring, I drove over 900 miles to Grand Forks, North Dakota for my MS and PhD at University of North Dakota. For the next 6 years, constant freezing temperatures were quite a thing in my life. However, great curriculum, high impact research, good people and co-curricular activities made everything much better. In last 7.5 years of living in the US, I could only spend 3 months in total at my home during 3 different trips. However, the rewards I’ve received for my sacrifices have been immensely motivating. During these years, I presented my research in several international conferences, including an in-person presentation at National University of Singapore (NUS). Additionally, I was fortunate to work in several US government funded projects, leading to more than 15 peer-reviewed manuscript publications, patent applications, collaborations with various researchers from diverse fields and countries, opportunities to mentor other students and so much more. I believe I found my happiness and passion in the midst of those frosty days.
After hundreds of rejections, position closures due to sudden major layoffs in the second half of 2022, countless interviews, and huge ton of self-doubting later, I secured a R&D job. The job at UbiQD, Inc. started right after my graduation and is in Los Alamos, New Mexico (Yes, where the “Oppenheimer” movie is based off of, also the town with highest per capita PhDs in the US). Currently I am working as a Sr. Scientist within the same company. I work for materials R&D for products that are deployed with Quantum Dots, a fascinating nanomaterial. Solar windows, agricultural films for boosting crop-yields, security inks and other innovative products are being researched and produced, in a lot of cases partnering with different well-known big companies. With the remunerations I receive, I was also able to financially sponsor a two-way trip for my parents to visit the US for the first time. The year 2023 has undoubtedly been the best situation I could have ever wanted to be in, so far in my life.
You might say that my transition from academia to industry R&D is quite a dream. For me however, every step thus far was a dream. There remains the unfilled dreams that sometimes keep me awake. And if I could dream and work towards getting it, you can too! The most important thing is probably to be able to get out of the comfort zone and being comfortable in the uncomfortable situations.