From Kurla Slums to Virginia: A Young Scientist’s Journey to Success


After publishing research papers in reputed international journals, the scientist from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) received an offer to complete his PhD from the University of Virginia. His hard work and perseverance is an inspiration to all. 

The 24-year-old scientist who previously worked as a researcher at TIFR, stays in a small room in a Kurla slum. The lane leading to his house is filled with potholes and lined with garbage. But this will all change as he will fly to the U.S. to being his PhD at the University of Virginia; a ticket to freedom from a life of poverty. 

Vaidya’s invitation to join the PhD program at the University of Virginia was based on two research articles he published as a junior research associate at the TIFR. These research papers were published in internationally reputed journals, and thus, earned him his invitation to join the graduate program in Virginia. 

His journey began in this one small room in Kurla and has been defined by overcoming arduous obstacles. He was raised by his mother, Nalini, who was later divorced from her husband after being banished from her marital home. As a result, she gave up her clerical job in 2003 to take care of her mother and worked a couple of odd jobs in order to make ends meet. Her divorce case took 9 long years and so she had to juggle courts dates on top of everything else. 

Vaidya and his mother struggled a lot due to the poverty they faced. “We survived on vada pav, samor or chai and bread. There was no such thing as lunch or dinner. When we came back home by the end of the day, we ate,” he described when looking back on his childhood. 

Some of their provisions were provided by a temple trust. Even to this day, both mother and son wear second-hand clothes. Their TV and refrigerator that are crammed into their small home are also second-hand. Vaidya studied in this cramped, 75 sq ft room for school and while earning his engineering degree. 

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“There was never any money. I never went to school picnics, to eat outside with friends, to hang out or for movies. By the end of the month, we had less than Rs 10,” he reflected. His desire to become a scientist was born after watching the Discovery channel in other people’s homes. He then recalled, “There was always the hope that there is the next day; and that the next day would be better. I believed that everything is possible if you are patient, optimistic, and hardworking.” 

Vaidya’s mother reminisced, “I told him he would have a better life if he studied. I routinely got letters from school asking me to pay the fee or they would not show the results.” She then added that the family searched everywhere to seek help from various trusts. Some had pushed her to try to make her son become a driver. But then continuous funds came from the MESCO Trust and the Indian Development Foundation (IDF) that made Vaidya’s dreams of pursuing his studies a reality. To supplement the flow of funds, Vaidya took on soldering work at a TV repair shop while in school and earned Rs 4,000 per month. 

He graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from the KJ Somaiya College of Engineering. During college, he was awarded three national-level and four state-level awards in robotics. This recognition for his ability and skills earned him an internship with Larsen & Toubro. He then joined TIFR in 2016 after graduation and earned a monthly salary of Rs 30,000. 

“I could finally renovate my house. It was infested with insects, the floor had no tiles, and the bathroom was leaking,” he said. He also recently purchased an air-conditioner. 

With his hard earned money, Vadiya was able to take the GRE and TOEFL tests. Despite the fact that the University of Virginia offered him an annual stipend of $23,400 USD, the application and visa process have depleted his funds. In order to manage financially, Vaidya began teaching international students online. He placed a white board above his bed to demonstrate solving complicated equations and perched his phone on a wooden stand that was nailed to another wall. 

Vaidya aspires to find solutions that will help India become self-reliant in hardware technologies. He plans to bring his mother to the U.S. in the next two years as said, “she deserves the heaven.”

“Vaidya’s work over the last three years propelled him for the PhD programme. He is an unusually hardworking person and I have not seen many like him, said Prof Mandar M Deshmukh from TIFRl Vadiya’s former mentor. 

Original Source: MumbaiMirror 

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