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Dr. Sourav Sarkar (SS) shares his academic journey with Nida Siddiqui (NS) and describes the factors that led to his transition into the industry. He also provides some invaluable pointers for future “transitioners”.
NS: Could you tell us about yourself?
SS: I am an experienced research scientist with broad knowledge and understanding in cell biology and biochemistry. I did my bachelors (B.Sc.) in Microbiology from University of Calcutta and masters in Biochemistry from Calcutta University, India followed by PhD in Genetics and cell biology from Bose Institute, Kolkata, India. After completion of PhD, I joined University of Warwick, UK to pursue postdoctoral research in understanding molecular mechanism of chromosome segregation in normal and cancerous cells. Currently I am working in AstraZeneca, Cambridge, UK as a senior scientist where my role is to screen different classes of compounds to find candidates that are effective, as well as selective against targets in different cancer types, and to gain a better understanding of the molecular mechanism of action of specific compounds against a target.
NS: What were some of the exciting projects that you worked on during your PhD/Postdoc?
SS: I have mainly worked on understanding the molecular mechanism of chromosome segregation during mitosis and meiosis, and how genetic alterations affect this process in cancer cells.
I have been involved in several projects during my research career and most of them have been very interesting, but if I must choose then I would say that the following projects have been particularly exciting.
- a) To understand the role of fusion gene(s) in chromosome segregation, and its contribution towards development of aneuploidy, and consequently cancer. There is considerable evidence that suggests potential links between fusion gene(s) and cancer, so it is very important to understand the molecular basis of this association.
- b) To understand how cells respond to nutritional status in the environment, and trigger entry into quiescence/gametogenesis program for their survival.
NS: Did you have any dilemma after your PhD, to choose between a postdoc/industry position?
SS: After completion of PhD, I decided to continue my research work in an academic setting. Frankly speaking, I never had any thoughts of moving to the industry after my PhD.
NS: When did you decide it was time to move on and transition to the industry?
SS: To consider moving to the industry was not an easy decision for me. However, successful scientific research is not a product of ideas alone. Other factors, such as research funding play a crucial role, and I have personally experienced research getting affected due to the lack of funds. It was during my postdoc that I realised that staying in academia was not going to be an easy task. There is constant pressure of publishing articles, getting grants etc. and this to some extent I believe led to a situation where “publish or perish” became a harsh reality. Considering all these factors, I thought it would be a good time for me (after my second postdoc) to move to the industry, where I could still be involved in science, and address relevant scientific questions. Moreover, I felt that joining a pharmaceutical industry would give me the perfect opportunity to work more closely with experts from different fields towards a common goal of developing new medicines and improving human health.
NS: What are the skills that helped you crack your current position?
SS: My research experience during PhD and postdoc gave me the invaluable opportunity to learn various technical skills ranging from cell and molecular biology to protein biochemistry. In addition to my technical skills, I also got the chance to develop my inter-personal skills over this period. Interacting with researchers from various fields of expertise has helped shape my research career. The set of skills I acquired from these communications turned out to be highly valuable towards obtaining my current position in this company.
NS: How has PhD Career Support Group (PhDCSG) played a role during your transition period?
SS: PhDCSG is a great initiative and I must thank all the people who are behind this. CSGhas helped me better prepare myself during the transition stage. The vast variety of posts by people from different areas, starting from CV writing to preparing for a job interview etc. are very useful. One learns a lot from CSG as people share their personal experiences on topics relevant to early-career scientists, which to me is extremely valuable.
NS: What would you advise PhD students and postdocs, looking to transition to the industry?
SS: I would suggest few points to work on before making the move.
- First ask yourself whether you are prepared for the move.
- Be honest, be prepared to take risks, and believe in yourself.
- Continue to learn and develop skills in your area of specialization, but also keep your mind open to picking up new skills in other areas, as and when an opportunity presents.
- Understand your subject very well and develop the quality to address pertinent questions.
- Both, technical and inter-personal skills are key during transition.
- Don’t hesitate to interact with people, reaching out to them, and making yourself visible in the job sector.
- Attend conferences, meetings, networking events etc. where you would get an opportunity to meet people from different industries.
- If possible, attend courses on career development.
And most importantly, remember, employers won’t come and knock on your door; you will have to create opportunities for yourself.