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Autobiography and goals

By Seithikurippu R. Pandi-Perumal

While growing up, my interests were strongly influenced by family members and friends, several of whom were physicians or scientists, who instilled in me a curiosity for biology and the life sciences. Through the guidance or life examples of these early mentors, I was inspired to view learning and research as my first goal in life.

After finishing my public-school education, I enrolled as an undergraduate student at the American College (attending a “fancy college”), Madurai (affiliated to the Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, India) in 1981 and subsequently completed my master’s program in the same college during 1988-90. My studies were interrupted between 1984 and 1988 as I had to support my family. I went on taking up jobs with two major pharmaceutical companies (Aristo and Cipla) as a medical representative and as a sales officer respectively.

I was not an academic star so to speak. If I were to quote Einstein (‘I am not exceptionally clever, only incurably inquisitive’), I believe that it was this single most attitude that characterized the best scientists. These were qualities that I thought that I possessed, and which drove me on throughout my scientific career.

Following the completion of my master’s degree, I developed an interest in the field of sleep medicine, a choice that I attribute to my experience working in sleep laboratories, and additionally to having the opportunity to carry out sleep-related research. Ultimately, the science of sleep was a topic that was close to my heart, and for the rest of the years, I decided to spend researching it. I was also fortunate to have had gifted and inspiring teachers in graduate courses in sleep and chronobiology which I took at the University of Toronto and elsewhere. These experiences have molded me, and consequently, I look forward to continuing my career in sleep research.

Since the 1990s, there have been several academic and research opportunities that have helped me to further define my interests and research objectives. As a postgraduate research student, I worked under the guidance of Colin M Shapiro, B.Sc., MBBCH., PhD., MRCPSYCH, FRCP(C)., of the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry, who suggested that I work in clinical areas of sleep medicine in his sleep research laboratory at the Toronto Western Hospital. During that period, I worked in close collaboration with Leonid Kayumov, Ph.D., RPsgT, ABSM (Kayumov et al., 2000a, b). As a result of this experience, I learned the core skills of clinical sleep medicine, including how to deal with patients and research subjects, as well as the most technical requirements of scoring and analyzing poly-somnographic recordings, diagnosis of sleep pathologies, and report writing. I enjoyed my time working with Prof. Shapiro and his truly international research team.

During the same period, I also worked with Martin R. Ralph, Ph.D., at the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychology, who exposed me to several areas of biological rhythms during my graduate program at the university’s Institute of Medical Sciences (Pandi-Perumal et al., 2002). Later on, I joined with Mircea M. Steriade, MD, DSc, Director of the Laboratory of Neurophysiology, University of Laval School of Medicine, Quebec, and continued to work on the neurophysiological investigations on the behavioral state regulation in an animal model using cats. This experience allowed me to work on fundamental problems for understanding sleep at the molecular and cellular levels. I have participated in the research on the role of Cortical Ih in the generation of paroxysmal activities and the role of the higher propensity of association vs. primary visual cortices to the genesis of slow sleep oscillations (Pandi-Perumal et al., 1999; 2000).

More recently, I worked with preeminent scientists such as Michael H. Chase, Ph.D., Department of Physiology and Brain Research Institute (1999-2000), UCLA School of Medicine, and Rosalind D. Cartwright, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology, RUSH University Medical Center, Chicago, USA. In my work with Prof. Chase, I researched the intracellular study of excitability changes in hypoglossal motoneurons during naturally-occurring active sleep (Fung et al., 2001a, b). My experience with Prof. Cartwright involved participation in an N.I.M.H. sponsored research on sleep pertaining to untreated depressed subjects (Cartwright et al., 2003).

One major factor in my academic success, in addition to my sound training, was undoubtedly the relationship between me and my stimulating mentors who provided an exciting scientific environment, which was the launch of a life-long scientific collaboration. Their friendship continued and I remained in contact with many of these scientists that I met throughout his life. My network kept growing. I am known for my enthusiasm that brought to these fruitful collaborations, for the pleasure I got, and gave, from the successes of others, and my generosity of spirit. The national and international research community played a major part in my social sphere as I constantly communicate with them for various reasons. However, in my private life, I was strongly attached to my family and spent much time with them. My home was my citadel and refuge.

Concurrent with my clinical and laboratory research activities I became a scientific editor with Landes Bioscience and Springer Verlag, USA (2003 to present), an experience that has served to broaden my understanding significantly of the strategy of reporting and presenting research.

During my five-year association with various publishers, I have had the opportunity to edit more than 200 scientific papers dealing with sleep medicine and chrono-biology and have made many good friends among scientists around the world in the fields of sleep and biological rhythms research. I have also had the opportunity to review journal articles written by leading scientists as a regular or as an ad hoc reviewer for the journals.

Over the years, I have edited several volumes related to sleep and biological rhythms and editing a volume is not easy. In a job like this, even when it is finished, there is always one more thing remaining to be done. Book reviews for the volumes I have edited have appeared in various international journals.

Over the years of my decades-long academic career, I am now attempting to reach a wider audience with the publications of two of my children’s books: The title of the books are, ‘Alice is sleeping’, which will be published in English and ‘Alice and the Sleeping fairy’ which will be published in Japanese; publishers for both of the books are yet to be decided.

Over the years, I have acquired and developed a basic understanding of key issues in the field of book publishing as I was responsible for various aspects of publishing the scientific volumes I was involved with.  I have demonstrated skills and experience with the review process as an editor and/or as an author (or co-author) and was able to conduct the entire peer-review process independently and without direct outside supervision. I have the necessary skills include professional and scholarly competence in all of these areas: (I)making sound scientific judgment, (II)dedication to both current and emerging standards for ethical peer review, (III) fluent communications skills, and (IV) an ability to work with specific deadlines.

With the publication of my first children’s book, I am dedicated to increasing awareness of how sleep and health are closely related. This book is the result of that aspiration. This innovative story entitled, ‘Alice is sleeping’ is best suited for children in the 4-8 age range. The goal of this picture book is to provide a look at how advocating a simple idea such as the pivotal need for adequate sleep in children can not only improve the medical and mental health of the child but likewise can lead to better adult (healthy sleep) habits. Such a positive lifestyle, in turn, can help to transform the health of the nation/world.

As to summarize, I believe that my overall background will enable me to make a significant contribution to the scientific field.

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