From Chaos to Cosmos:

My Unexpected Journey at the India Science Festival

– By Micky Dahiya

Forget the slow, coffee-fueled ease of a typical internship. Stepping into FAST India’s office felt like boarding a rocket ship three weeks before the India Science Festival (ISF) 2024. The air crackled with electrifying chaos, and any hopes of a gentle onboarding were thrown out the window. I was immediately thrust into the heart of the storm, tasked with logistical wizardry and assisting with the communication bridge between FAST India and key event participants. It wasn’t the ideal start, especially with a pesky illness clinging on. But the commitment I’d made to the team members during the interview kept me going.

Interest in technology policy was what had initially drawn me to FAST, but before the interview, the acronym itself was a mystery to me. I am going to be honest; I was more interested in Pune’s social scene than science seminars. Turns out that the universe (or maybe just the festival organisers) had other plans. Who knew spreadsheets could be so exciting?

This journey stood in stark contrast to my high school experience. Once captivated by the mysteries of astrophysics, my enthusiasm was slowly choked by the relentless pressure of rote memorization for exams. Science became a dreaded subject, and leaving it behind after 12th grade felt like the only escape. 

For someone who once cringed at the mere mention of science, the ISF was a revelation. The excitement of the attendees was infectious; their eyes sparkled as they waited to meet and interact with their scientific heroes. 

Witnessing these interactions firsthand became a privilege. Working with the venue managers for the “Curiosity Field,” Umang and Utsav, allowed me to witness the magic firsthand. A teacher’s heartfelt request for guidance on astrophysics education for her students resonated with Mr. Somak Raychaudhury, the Vice-Chancellor of Ashoka University, who readily offered to connect her with the right people. This simple act embodied the very essence of the ISF: fostering connections that could change the trajectory of different lives. Witnessing it unfold filled me with a quiet pride, knowing I had contributed, however small, to someone’s potential journey.

Speaking of epic encounters, this memory still dances in my mind: sitting across from Dr. Annapurni Subramaniam, the esteemed director of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, flipping through slides filled with complex data and intricate diagrams. Amidst the whirlwind of scientific jargon, she paused, her eyes meeting mine with a gentle curiosity. “Do you understand? As someone from a non-STEM background, can you follow what I’m trying to explain?”

It was a simple question, yet it resonated deeply. Here was a woman at the pinnacle of her field, leading a renowned institute, yet her concern wasn’t about her own brilliance but about ensuring someone on the outside wasn’t left behind. That moment etched itself onto my memory, a testament to her leadership that transcended mere intellectual prowess.

Every speaker I interacted with radiated a contagious passion for their subjects. What struck me most was their genuine love for their work, evident in the way their eyes lit up as they explained these concepts. It wasn’t just about disseminating information; it was about igniting a spark, a shared passion for unravelling the mysteries of the universe.

Oh, and let’s not forget the breathtaking pink skies over Pune, a surreal backdrop to the bustling atmosphere of the IISER Pune campus. The beauty of those skies became a source of inspiration amid the hectic festival preparations.

We all became marathon runners, fueled by protein bars, making sure our teammates’ around us had something to eat. The shared moments of exhaustion and laughter while running around added a unique flavour to the overall experience.

The last-minute changes to presentations, the nervous anticipation of whether the internet would cooperate for Mentimeter to work – these were the real-time challenges that added an extra layer of excitement and unpredictability to the experience.

One indelible memory involves Mr. Thomas Barlow whose dedication went above and beyond. He had a mere five minutes to dash between packed sessions in separate venues. Knowing the tight timeline, I ventured to the other hall to usher him out, navigating a crowd eager for his insights. When I explained the urgent need to leave, he didn’t hesitate. Without a beat, he broke into a run, prompting me to chase after him. Watching his determination to reach the next audience on time, despite the logistical hurdles, was both heartwarming and slightly humorous. His commitment to his craft and respect for his audience has left a lasting impression on me.

But the true heart of the ISF was the organising team. Their united passion for bringing people together to celebrate science was palpable and exhilarating. 

This internship wasn’t just about completing tasks and managing logistics; it was a personal metamorphosis. From a science hater, I became an advocate, empowered by the ISF’s spirit and the dedication of the people behind it. Witnessing the impact on attendees, the connections forged, and the sheer joy of scientific exploration reignited a passion that had long been dormant.

I wasn’t just an intern anymore; I was a part of something bigger, a catalyst for igniting scientific curiosity in others. The experience has definitely left a mark, a reminder that science isn’t just about equations and formulas; it’s about exploration, connection, and the power to inspire the next generation of dreamers.

As I step away from the ISF, I carry with me not just memories, but a renewed purpose. I will continue to advocate for science communication in my personal life, to bridge the gap between complex concepts and curious minds, and to empower others to embrace the wonder and excitement of scientific exploration. The ISF may be over, but the journey it ignited has just begun.