“My life has been full of unexpected turns and serendipity has played a role both in my research in bringing me where I am now,” says Suresh Subramani. At 61, he is the executive vice-chancellor for academic affairs and a distinguished professor of molecular biology at the University of California, San Diego. Yet, when in the 1970s, he applied as a PhD student to the biology department of the university—which counts three Nobel laureates as its alumni—he was rejected. “Today, I serve as the chief academic officer of the campus. These are the twists and turns in life that make it so enjoyable,” says Subramani. Such twists and turns have often followed Subramani almost right from the beginning of his career. He was interested in biochemistry from the time he was in high school, perhaps because his uncle, Dr J. Ramachandran, was a professor of biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco. However, his first choice was to go to the Weizmann Institute in Israel for, among other reasons, the fact that it was closer home. “But my visa was delayed, so I decided to go to Berkeley.” Subramani’s formative period and initial education were all in India. He did his BSc in chemistry from Ferguson College, Pune, and then did his MSc from IIT, Kanpur.
“When I’d applied for a PhD at the university I serve as chief academic officer, it rejected me. Such twists make life fun.”
Despite his impressive achievements, Subramani is most reluctant to talk about himself or his work. At family gatherings, most relatives recall how he is more interested in knowing what others are doing rather than talk about himelf. He has a keen ear for Indian classical music, both Carnatic and Hindustani, and loves to travel. “When he visits India, he makes sure that he has time to travel to two to three new places,” says a niece of his. His only lament: “I wish I had more time to read.”