Plant biologist Neelima Sinha was 30 years old when she entered graduate school in botany at the University of California, Berkeley. “It doesn’t seem terribly old now, but I was a lot older than the other students around me,” she recalls. Although Sinha had “desperately wanted to do research and get a PhD” after receiving her master’s in botany from Lucknow University in India, her own practical inclinations and her mother’s guidance steered her to take the civil service exam to explore her career options. “My mother wanted me to be independent, and I think she thought that doing a PhD was a long road and that I would need someone to support me in order to complete it,” she says.
So Sinha worked as a bank manager for nine years, earning a good living and achieving the independence her mother had envisioned. On the job, she met her husband, Ranjan, who had an engineering degree. Ranjan, like Sinha, was increasingly disenchanted by his job in finance. “Suddenly, we both decided that we wanted to go back and pursue PhDs. We had money saved up and started to prepare, studying for the GREs and applying to schools at night after work. I was studying for the GRE biology subject test and thought, ‘This is what I want to be doing,’” Sinha says.
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