For many, education is something that is obtained in the pursuit of gaining higher knowledge. However, to Dr. Mamatha Ballal, education is something that is to be shared among everyone. It is this attitude that motivated her to go back to her roots and give back to the society in which she grew up.
Dr. Ballal has been a part of Kasturba Medical College International Center (KMCIC) for the past four and a half years and is the Head of the Clinical Microbiology and Immunology Department. It was a pleasure to get to know this serene and wonderful scholar, who has a vast amount of knowledge to offer to those around her. Entering her 26th year of teaching and having over seventy international and national publications, Dr. Mamatha Ballal is no doubt an outstanding achiever and is held in high esteem among KMCIC staff.
Abirhami Balakrishnan: What is your philosophy on education?
Dr. Ballal: I was the eldest of three daughters and my father raised me like a son. My father always supported me throughout my academic life. Education is the one thing that builds character. Value for education cannot be measured and it’s a never-ending process. Your hunger and craving for it is everlasting. There is no rich or poor and no high or low for education. A person who is educated is rich with their knowledge.
Abirhami Balakrishnan: How was teaching at KMCIC different from your experiences? Has there been anything significant you have learned from your students in International Center (IC)?
Dr. Ballal: I love teaching my students. I try to read different materials, acquire new facts and give it out at my level of understanding. The style of teaching in IC is different from the one in KMC. I took it as a challenge and started adjusting to this system. Sometimes we have to change our own methods of teaching in order for the students to learn better. One thing I really like in IC is that we have more interaction with the students than in KMC. The students here are a little different as well, but every time I struggle with my class, I think of my own children and family, and learn to love the students. I have always given students a second chance because I know they are still young.
Abirhami Balakrishnan: What was the most challenging discipline problem you faced in the classroom and how did you handle it?
Dr. Ballal: Students walking in at their own time with a cup of coffee or water. Later on however, I thought about it and chose not to be frustrated as the students were used to this back home. Hence, there was no point in scolding them. Having patience with my own children gives me the patience to deal with the current students. Never scold the children, always have the heart to excuse them and let them be. Thinking of my own children makes teaching easier.
Abirhami Balakrishnan: Who was your role model throughout your college years?
Dr. Ballal: My father. He was so supportive and gave me the opportunity to learn. I learned a lot from him, especially being organized. I like to plan everything and not leave it to the last-minute. He doesn’t speak much, but when he does, his words have great meaning. Till this day, he encourages me and still gives me advice. I cannot imagine a world without my father.
Abirhami Balakrishnan: Why have you selected teaching as a profession?
Dr. Ballal: Whatever little I know, I would like to share it. When you learn something, you should not keep it to yourself. You have to spread the knowledge. Teaching is also a learning process. I am still learning and teaching myself new things everyday which help prepare better for my classes.
Abirhami Balakrishnan: Why is microbiology vital to everyday life?
Dr. Ballal: Infectious diseases are the biggest branch in the world and the scope of microbiology is vital to understand and handle. Numerous varieties of microorganisms that were not known before are emerging now. It is a journey that never ends. Students initially find microbiology overwhelming, but they will find it quite beneficial once they’re back home and writing exams.
Abirhami Balakrishnan: You are known to have many publications. Which ones do you see as your greatest accomplishments?
Dr. Ballal: Seventy plus publications, international and national. My main specialization is in enteric pathogens that cause diarrhoea. Five students have achieved their PhD’s under me and that is really rewarding. I also received a fellowship from the International Academy of Medical Sciences. I received a national award as the “Best Woman Researcher”. These awards are the most rewarding accomplishments. I was also selected as a jury for an International Medical Students’ conference in Egypt in 2007.
Abirhami Balakrishnan: If not a Microbiologist, what would have been your other chosen field?
Dr. Ballal: I would have wanted to be a clinician.
Abirhami Balakrishnan: Aside from research and education, what are your hobbies?
Dr. Ballal: Spending time with my family. My husband and I take our kids to their elder relatives’ kids and let them spend time with each other. As a family, we go to the temples and expose them to our culture, and let them know what is happening around them. Family time is very important to me.
Abirhami Balakrishnan:Every student’s goal is to become successful. What advice would you give them?
Dr. Ballal: Medical education in India is a standard one. Our kids have to interact with the teachers. Whenever they have problems with the subject, they should not hesitate to approach the teachers. We’re always here to help them. Our main duty is to educate them and help them become good doctors to serve humanity. They should use the opportunities available to them. As parents or friends, we can understand the students. Let the students come to us. We will give them support whether it is personal or professional.
Abirhami Balakrishnan:Do you have any projects/ideas that you still wish to undertake?
Dr. Ballal: Enteric pathogens are my speciality and it is a field where not much research has been done. I have been acknowledged and published in this area. I will continue my research and do whatever I can to help give to society.
Abirhami Balakrishnan: Many students want to get involved in research during their time in Manipal. Can you elaborate on the significance of research and how to go about it?
A: The class schedule is so busy and it is difficult for even myself to put time into research. I want students to stay back during one of the holidays and spend time doing research. It will reward them tremendously. Just one month and you will get publications which will be added to your credentials. Research is a field where you can get real recognition. This is the right time for youngsters to start and receive credits, which only help them in the end. Students can contact me anytime about any opportunities.
This interview was first published in the First issue of the IC Gazette, September 2010. The interview was conducted by Abirhami Balakrishnan.