My Career: I am Indian at heart and Irish by soul

Dr Lekha Menon Margassery features in our My Career section in WoW!
My Career: I am Indian at heart and Irish by soul

Dr. Lekha Menon Margassery. Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.

Name: Dr Lekha Menon Margassery, PhD, PGCert Teaching & Learning Director of Aatma Indian Dance Troupe, Cork President of UCC Indian Alumni Community & World Malayalee Council, Cork Board Member of UCC Alumni and Development EDI Ambassador, School of Microbiology, UCC

Job title: Part-time Postdoctoral Researcher and Lab Demonstrator, School of Microbiology, UCC

Education background: PhD Microbiology

Hobbies: Voluntary work for local charities like Cork Penny Dinners and Cork DAWG, Dance, Cooking, Listening to music, Watching: Kdrama series, cooking shows.

Describe your job in five words: Professional, innovative, inquisitive, teamwork, dedication, Studying Social work: Serving (the community), satisfaction, networking, learning, passion

Describe yourself in five words: Researcher, social worker, dancer, poet, creator.

Personality needed for this kind of work? Professional career (as a researcher): The person should be dedicated and be able to collaborate with others and accept mistakes. They must be honest and also willing to learn new techniques in the research field.

Director of a dance team: Disciplined, strict, be organised, ability to understand others’ difficulties and also be flexible when circumstances demand.

Team Lead: As a leader, be competent, be creative in giving ideas to organise events, be a good leader and not just delegate but also work with the team.

How long are you doing this job?

Researcher: I am in the research field since my Masters in Biochemistry (2001) at PSG College of Arts and Science, Coimbatore, India. Obtained Gold Medal from the department and then, after working for a while, in 2008 I joined University College Cork at the School of Microbiology for my doctoral studies. I have never left research since then.

Founder & Director of a Dance troupe: I am a classical Bharatanatyam dancer from India and have been learning it since the age of four. I wanted to create a platform for the Indian dancers and also to break the misconception that Indian dance is only Bollywood dancing, I started ‘Aatma, Indian Dance troupe, Cork’ for the UCC graduates and students in 2018.

When the troupe started, it sparked interest not only within the Indian community at UCC but also amongst hidden talented dancers of both the healthcare and IT sectors. The troupe currently consists of dancers from all over India who aspire to articulate their culture through different dance forms and music across classical, semiclassical, folk and even Bollywood.

We were the winners of multicultural dance competition in 2019 held in Cork and also the finalists of the multicultural dance competition in Dublin. Though we started in 2018, we were unable to reach out to other lovers of dance, and so the team put together our launch event on July 9, 2022.

Volunteer/Social worker: I have always loved helping people and decided to step my foot in volunteering for charities. My little one (who I adopted) was rescued by Cork DAWG and since 2015 I have been volunteering for them (either helping them at the stands or organising a fundraiser by selling cards and calendars at UCC).

I came across another wonderful charity which is close to my heart, Cork Penny Dinners. 

Catriona Twomey is such an inspiration to me. I organise fundraisers for them and occasionally go there and help out. I participate in Candle of Hope organised by UCC Cancer Society where all funds are raised for Irish Cancer Society. Since 2018, I have been participating as it is for such a noble cause.

President of UCC Indian Alumni Community (UIAC) & World Malayalee Council: UCC Indian Alumni Community was founded in 2017 with the aim of connecting Indian students with their peers. Since then I have been leading the team and we have helped out the Indian students in helping them to connect with their peers, CV workshops, helping to find accommodation, and during the pandemic helping the students with the basic needs with the help of SVP (St Vincent De Paul, Cork). UCC Indian Alumni Community was awarded ‘Enhancing the Student Experience Award in 2020’ at UCC Staff Recognition Awards for the voluntary and social work done during the pandemic, not just for Indian students at UCC but also for the international students. We also helped students from CIT (now MTU) and also Griffith with grocery vouchers during the pandemic. We are helping professionals coming from outside Ireland with accommodation as that is something which has always been an issue even for the locals.

For all the voluntary work I am doing, I was awarded an ‘Exceptional Citizen Award’ by the UCC Staff Recognition Awards in 2021. Recently, I was also recognised by Love and Care for People (LCP) for the ‘Diversity Awards 2022’, which was warded in recognition of my contribution to promoting integration and social inclusion in Ireland.

President of World Malayalee Council: Being recently elected as the President of WMC, Cork, my aim is to promote Indian culture, especially the rich and cultural heritage of Kerala. As WMC President, Cork Division, I would strive to be inclusive and help in not just promoting our culture but also learning from other communities.

Dr. Lekha Menon Margassery. Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.
Dr. Lekha Menon Margassery. Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.

How did you get this job? I always wanted to be a doctor by profession but then, due to unexpected circumstances, I joined biochemistry back in India. I did not regret it a slightest bit as I was still pursuing something which would help mankind. Being a gold medalist in my masters (PSG College of Arts and Science, Coimbatore, India), I joined as a guest lecturer. I loved teaching and educating students though I did not know from the start that I had the potential. Then, I moved on to Bengaluru to teach vocational courses. But I had always dreamt of doing a PhD.

When my husband got a job at UCC, Cork, I decided to continue my studies after a gap of five years. I booked appointments to meet the supervisors at the School of Biochemistry and Microbiology. Six months passed by and I was starting to lose hope. Being a non-EU in 2008 has always been a hurdle. As I had a paper published when I was in Bengaluru, I was selected as one of the eligible candidate to do the PhD at ERI, UCC. I joined my PhD at 2008 where I was the only non-EU in the team. I did not feel alienated as the team was very friendly and I was one among them. I completed my doctoral degree in 2013 and then took a break for a year in my home town, Palakkad, back in India. During my PhD, I received the ‘ERI Researcher of the year’ Award in 2012.

I joined as a Postdoctoral researcher in 2014 at UCC at the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences. Since then I have been a researcher, exam invigilator, lab demonstrator, scientist in a company, technical officer at the School of Microbiology for a year (2021-2022) and currently I am back into research. Publications lists are on the website:

Do you need particular qualifications or experience? Doctoral degree.

Describe a day at work: My work has no set duration like 9am to 5pm. I start off my day with not just being a researcher but also as the team lead for UIAC and WMC and director of a dance team, I try to organise and schedule my work. Being a researcher, I have to go check if my bacteria is healthy and growing. My work involves identifying marine bacteria from sponges which are able to kill fish pathogens. So, if my bacteria is not growing, I will have to investigate the reason then solve it. If one of the machines I am using is not working, I analyde the problem, ask for help and try fixing it.

If I have any results, I become an investigator and become inquisitive to check out if my bacteria has killed any fish pathogen. That brightens up my day.

Then time for a coffee as my brain needs caffeine to work. During my break time, if I get a request from a student or an alumnus about visa, medical or accommodation issues, I guide them by sending a voice message in WhatsApp.

I put on my creative mode on and think about dance performances which can be showcased for the events in the future. Break over and time for work. It is time to organise for lab work required for the next day as some of it requires sterilising.

In between certain days, I go for classes (Irish Sign Language, recently joined) and meetings (to listen to sessions which I have to teach).

I have lunch and if I get requests from the Indian community, I help them out. After lunch, I go straight to the teaching lab and demonstrate lab classes to the students. Once that is completed, I come home and plan out for events (for both UIAC and WMC) and also check with my dance team on what’s happening.

On alternate Tuesdays (if I am free), I attend the UCC Staff and Social Gaming online which helps me to learn new online games and also connect with the UCC community.

On Fridays, after the labs, I learn Indian classical dance called Kathak from Aatma’s choreographer, Manasi Nadkarni, who is a Kathak exponent.

On weekends, Aatma practices for various events on Saturdays and if I have any lab work, I also include that as well. If I am invited to be a speaker for events during weekends, I go for those as well. Most of the committee meetings of both WMC and UIAC, it would normally be on weekends so that I can help out with creative ideas so the events can be more successful. That sums up my day and week :).

How many hours do you work a week? 40 hours (as a researcher), 40 hours (as a team lead)

What do you wear to work? Jeans and tops, Indian attires like churidhar and sare.

Is your job stressful? How? Rate it on a scale of 1-10: 5. It is stressful as research jobs are all contract jobs and so once it is almost the end, the fear of getting another one sinks in.

Do you work with others or on your own? My work includes both individual and collaborative work.

Best bits: When someone recognises your work and appreciates you for it. As a researcher, the best part is when your work gets published. As a demonstrator, the best part if a student understands the technique you teach and follows the same, which gives us a satisfaction that we have a done good job. As a team lead, if my team performs well and also brings the best in them and works hard, that satisfies me.

Being the director of a dance school, the best bit is when my dance team performs well and the audience enjoys every bit of it. The joy of watching that performance is unexplainable.

Worst bits: As a researcher, when the results of the experiment are not what you expected. When you apply for a job that you are most suitable for, capable, and you feel you are the most deserving candidate, and you are not selected, that is worse. When you get to know the reasoning for not getting it, it becomes the worst bit. You might be qualified, have taken certifications, but one rejection can make you think that you need to excel more. I always consider this phase as a learning curve and try to learn more.

If you are not accepted in the lab and if people don’t respect you as not just a researcher but also as a human being, then the consequences are worse. You will lose the confidence as a researcher and also will doubt yourself in all the fields of life (especially when you are a migrant).

As a director of the dance team, if my team performs but not to the best of their ability, that is the worst bit as a director. As a team lead, if my team doesn’t give their best to make it a successful event, I consider it as my failure as being a team lead I was not able to lead them.

I am one of the support group members in the Indian community in Cork, which was established during the pandemic by the former Indian Ambassador to Ireland to help people with the crisis. I used to receive panic calls at 12am from India from parents asking how their children were doing here. All the support group members were working so hard and all work was voluntary and also social service to the community (a letter of appreciation by the former Ambassador of India to Ireland was sent to all the members).

Advice to those who want your job? Be patient, honest, diligent, disciplined, respect one another, accept failures and turn it to something more positive, learn to accept others (be inclusive).

Any other comments? Whatever curve ball someone throws at me, I will continue to be the person I love to be and am meant to be. As I always say, “I am Indian at heart and Irish by soul”.

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