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Soman Padmanabhan (PhD Agriculture 1980)


I was born into a lower middle class family in Kerala, India and consistently advised to excel in education as that is the only saviour from poverty. first class in School Leaving exam, first class in Pre degree, first class and Second position in university for BSc and first class and first rank and distinction for MSc, all from Kerala university. With a fellowship from Government of India for Foreign studies came to Reading and took a PhD with Jeremy Elston as my major Guide. I spent 3 valuable years in Reading. In 1980 I left Reading and Joined International Crops research Institute for Semi-Arid tropics as a Post Doctorate. 1981 I was selected as a scientist and continued till 1990 in India and then Moved to ICRISAT West Africa as a principal scientist. Left ICRISAT in 1992 and joined the private sector. I am now with Jain Irrigation Systems Company and have been for the last 14 years. As chief agronomist, I am responsible for field research, extension and training. I am married with 2 girls and my wife also gained her PhD in Language and is a professor.

Why did you choose to do a PhD at the University of Reading?

Reading was well known as a centre for tropical agriculture. I wanted to work in the area of crop water relations and Reading provided an opportunity. After completing my MSc with distinction I wanted to study in a good University. Reading was suggested by peers in India and Professor Elston did not disappoint me by accepting me as a PhD student. It is a GOOD university to do a higher degree.

What was the best bit about living and studying in Reading?

It is a nice place with plenty of opportunity for a serious researcher such as the opportunity to meet several excellent professors. I learned a lot from the multinational crowd as I like people and of different nationalities and Reading was the place to be in. (I still love to come back as a student).

What top tips would you give to students who are beginning their PhD?

Be open minded. Keep a good smile always. (Initially I was misunderstood because of the smile). But there is no other way to win over people. Work hard without losing focus. Enjoy the English country side. On Sundays I used to go for short excursions.

What are you up to now? How did you get there?

Now I am officially retired but the company continue to keep me with more responsibilities. Work hard with a purpose always and learn new things daily.

What would be your top tips for students interested in working in this sector?

Be ready to be in the field (farm) and experiment as books only give guidance. Self-reliance with humility is the best way to go up in career.

How has the University of Reading and the Careers Centre helped in your chosen career path?

An introduction by Professor Hugh Bunting to ICRISAT helped in getting my Post Doctorate position.

What does the University mean to you and what is your favourite memory?

It made me what I am now - bold and full of Ideas. I am a solution provider to farmers. Reading gave me that capability. Before that I was studious but timid. Life in reading gave me strength to face all sorts of situations. It moulded me into good researcher, always curious and learning. As Jeremy said to me on the day of my passing PhD viva,"This PhD is not the end of your research career but only the beginning" I still believe that. Buying grocery from reading town and cooking in Sibly hall kitchen along with 16 other nationalities (in our wing) is a thing I can never forget.

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