This year it will have been 5 years since Doctor Chirag Sheth, microbiologist specialized in immunology and fungal diseases joined our University staff. So, it’s about time we get to know him a bit better. As academic coordinator of the Dentistry Degree, Erasmus coordinator, lecturer and active researcher, he is always running from one place to another. Luckily for us, he managed to find some time to have a chat.
Chirag moved to the UK as a student, starting with his undergraduate degree in Canterbury. He stayed there till after his PhD, and then decided to move to Scotland for his post-grad in Aberdeen. In between these degrees, he gained practical experience by participating in a work placement: “I took out a year to go and work at GlaxoSmithKline. It is a company that is active in the pharmaceutical sector. I was working on new drugs, more specific, drugs to control chronic pain.” After his post-doc, Chirag worked a year in wine-research and then started to work for the ‘Consejo Superior de Investigación Científicas’. This is a research institute of the Spanish government. “Like so many students with a similar degree, I graduated thinking I was going to be a full-time researcher. I ended up, just like many others, discovering that what you dream of often doesn’t include mundane aspects if life, such as paying the rent.” Chirag never expected to end up as a professor at university, but he has grown to like it. “I like it more as the years pass. It was a challenge at first, but you try and try again. In the end, there are only two options: you either succeed or fail. I feel like I responded well to the challenge, I feel that I will grow to enjoy teaching just as much as I enjoy doing research.” Many of Chirag’s courses are researched-based topics. The more he gets to combine his passion for research with his lectures, the better. But teaching is only a part of Chirag’s responsibilities, there are in fact too many to list here.
One of Chirag’s current projects is writing a book, a guide for students enrolled in the Dentistry Degree. “I realize there are a lot of books out there based on the same idea, but I feel like they always miss certain usability. They’re often either too thick, too wordy, there’s a clunky organization, etc. Now I get the opportunity to create a book that follows my vision.” You could imagine the book to be something like a book of flashcards, a quick reference book for Dentistry students. “My goal is that the students can take it with them when they’re doing practice in the clinic. So they have something to fall back on when they need a quick reminder,” he explains, “You’ll find information on every course, with the necessary images, graphs, protocols, etc.” The interesting thing about this book is that it will not be the professors’ point of view, but also the students. “I am working on this book with a student. I think it’s important that reference books have the information students feel like they need. Otherwise, it’s just another course book and that is not what I want.” Besides his collaboration with a student for his book, he also works with a student on a different project. The student, a fellow intern, is creating a student satisfaction survey. Once the survey has been approved, she will drop by at the end of a class and ask students to fill these in, starting with the courses taught in English.
Another project Chirag talked about is a research project which a colleague, Doctor Salvador Merida, suggested that he might like to participate in; but this one is rather on the backburner. “I would like to join forces with Salva Merida and publish the analysis of the stress-levels of the students throughout the year via a substance, called cortisol, which can be found in your saliva.” When you are stressed, your body produces more cortisol, which gets thrown into your saliva. This ambitious project has not been done by many universities and has never been done by us at CEU. “I know it is a big project,” Chirag admitted, “but it is also innovative and interesting.” Tracking this is only the first step though. Once you have a clear view of the stress-levels of the students during the year, you can start working out strategies on how to deal with it. “These are just some of the projects I have in the near future, there are so many more things I would like to do at some point if I find the time,” Chirag said.
Recently, Chirag was named as a collaborating expert of the European Centre for Disease Control, located in Sweden. “This is an extensive institution that controls the health-outcomes of millions of people in Europe. I am a recognized expert on their panel and this is something I am very proud of. There is only one other professor at the CEU who is affiliated with them, so it definitely sets a benchmark.” When asked what he would like to change about his job, he said he would like to have more time to talk with students. Specifically more time with the students that are enrolled in his subjects: “I’ve been thinking about organizing an external visit for one of my subjects for years now, but I just never have the time. This is something I would really like to do. It’s very interesting for the students and always more fun than a regular lecture.” I am certain that this is something we all agree on.
As a final word, Chirag said: “I would like to say that I think this is a great place to work. Not only am I surrounded by a lot of enthusiasm, which gives me energy to push forward, you will also find an interesting mix of people around here. Often, I have thought-provoking conversations with very bright people, which inspires me in my work.”
This report has been prepared from an interview by Amélie Windels, who is doing an internship from the KH Leuven, Belgium