Ram Mohan Balachandran


As Interviewed by Nina Balachandran, March 17, 2018

Ram Mohan Balachandran: In His Own Words

The [person from elementary school] I remember most was a teacher in third grade, her name was Mrs. Silva Pinto, and she always encouraged me a lot, and I think that was the first time I saw my grades get better, and I started getting higher and higher marks.

My work ethic was pretty good, my mom paid a lot of attention to how we studied, how we did our homework, and she would make sure I understood things, memorized things well, and knew my times tables.

The key factor that changed my life I would think was probably in 8th or 9th grade when my friends and I decided to study for the National Merit Scholar Exam, and so when I took the merit scholar thing I passed and was one of the National Merit Scholars then, and also it got me to a good group of friends.

[The house we stayed in in India] was smaller than the house we live in now, and also there were lots of people who lived around you in an apartment complex who you got to know really well, so it was a lot of good relationships you had, you a lot more friends you could hang out with, whereas now when I see how we live, we tend to interact less with neighbors.

I don’t think I was really looking for success or anything like that, I just found areas that I liked. I found that when got to Brown I had a really great PhD adviser, and he and I discovered some new effects in light scattering and it was a very productive three years.

We got to America, I’d say that my diet changed, so I went from being mostly vegetarian to non-vegetarian, so my diet changed. The people I met and interacted with changed. I found that I got along pretty well with people from all over the world.

I think that most of us got our bed from the Salvation Army *laughs*. We were paid a stipend of about $1000 a month, so we saved some of that money, so I had my clothes. I needed to get a nice jacket, so I spent some money to buy a nice winter jacket, which I think I again bought used somewhere. Then I think we then bought some electronics, but I think that we also bought those used from either the Salvation Army or something like that.

[We would] do a set of experiments where I stayed up straight for almost through the weekend for a period of almost 36-48 hours. I just really enjoyed doing it and just wanted to finish it, so I finished it.

I mean people are- I don’t know; I haven’t really talked about it with many other people; probably when other people hear about it they think it’s pretty cool. The U.S is, I mean in spite of what people talk and make noises of, the U.S is still the most innovative nation in the world, and I think for that to continue we need to look for the best and brightest not just from the U.S. but around the world and we’ve successfully done that over the last several, you know 2-300 years so, I think it would be foolhardy to (stop continuing that).

I don’t know if [the immigration process] would be easier, I think in an ideal world people getting advanced degrees from foreign countries should be automatically allowed to migrate to the U.S., that way you don’t spend a lot of money training people and then having them leave the country.