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Every Wednesday, our ‘Away from home’ blog series features one Indian postdoc working in a foreign lab recounting his/her experience of working there, the triumphs and challenges, the cultural differences, what they miss about India, as well as some top tips for postdocs headed abroad. You can join in the online conversation using the #postdochat hashtag.
In our first blog from a postdoc working in industrial research, Shubhra Chaudhuri tells us why industry is a great place to do research and some “serious science”. Shubhra, who did a masters from the University of Delhi, India is currently a postdoc in the toxicology division of The Dow Chemical Company, Michigan, USA.
Can you tell us about your background? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
I grew up in a very academic/science oriented family. My father was a mechanical engineer and my mother is a professor of chemistry. Most of my extended family is into science and just to complete the science loop, I am also married to a scientist! So I guess it was not a very conscious decision; I loved science as such growing up, whereas a fascination for the wonderful discoveries in medicine was the real motivation for becoming a researcher along this avenue. I still remember my mother taking me to a symposium where Prof. Deisenhofer, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry was holding a seminar. How special did I feel to be able to see a Nobel Laureate in person!
What did you study?
After a Masters degree from the University of Delhi in India, I did a Ph.D. in Toxicology at the University of Arkansas in Medical Sciences. During my graduate school, I started developing an active interest towards application-oriented research. My goal was to work in industrial R&D. Dow Chemical has one of the best toxicology laboratories in the chemical industry, with excellent scientists. Industrial postdocs are fewer and harder to come by and I am happy to have get an opportunity here.
Can you describe your work?
I work as a postdoc in the biotransformation/toxicokinetics group in the toxicology division of The Dow Chemical Company. I currently work to insure products are researched in a responsible and effective manner. More specifically, my focus is to develop and use approaches that enhance the company’s ability to make safety assessment decisions about new products, and their eventual commercial viability.
The science is really good and there is a lot of focus on getting external publications (this is a rarity in industry and not many companies do this).The technical leaders are excellent scientists and are great mentors for the younger scientists. Safety and ethics are of the utmost importance here; it is as important as the science itself. The work environment is also very congenial and friendly and my colleagues are great people.
My tip for postdocs: publish or perish?
That is always the mantra. Look at labs that publish consistently and have good funding sources. The “Reporter” database is a good website to find information on NIH sponsored academic funding in the U.S. It is a public domain and is accessible to all. It is also good to choose a mentor who is somewhat experienced in his/her career, since as a postdoc you are trying to make career decisions and someone experienced will be able to guide you better than someone who is a junior faculty. Networking is extremely important and being proactive always helps.
One more important thing regarding choosing a post doc lab is that, it is worthwhile to do something that is different from your graduate research expertise but will complement your existing skill sets. This is an opportunity to develop yourself as a more complete scientist, so make full use of that. Whereas, pursuing research in the same area may have the advantage of a quicker turnover in terms of productivity and publications, it is worthwhile to try and do something a little different, because in the long run, that