When you have whetted your appetite for exploratory research in college, even a secure and well paying corporate job is not good enough to stop you from doing what you enjoy doing!

Sourabh Mehta, our next pathbreaker, works on the development of Nanoparticles as precise drug delivery agents and ultrasound contrast agents for cardiovascular diseases as a part of the IITB-Monash joint Ph.D. Program.

Sourabh talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about realizing that although he liked computational work in a corporate setting, he loved working in a lab and performing experiments that could create an impact on Healthcare.

For students, explore different working environments through projects and internships to understand what kind of environment you thrive in.

Sourabh, tell us about your background?

I was born and brought up in Pune. My father is a retired bank officer. My mother is a full-time house manager and my sister graduated with a Bachelors in Computer Engineering. I completed my schooling upto Post Graduation in Pune city. In school, I was  average in studies. I enjoyed outdoor sports and  I represented my school in Kho-Kho sport. In school, I developed interest in subjects like science, mathematics, marathi, and I was especially inclined to activity sessions in the labs. I consider myself as an active learner. As a curious child, I would perform random experiments on household plants using available stuff and would observe the effect on plants. My inclination towards science experiments  helped me choose science stream after SSC board.  

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

In junior college, I discussed possible career opportunities with college professors, and decided to pursue graduation and post-graduation in Biotechnology.

After earning an M.Sc degree in Biotechnology, I got selected by Symphony-Teleca, an IT company in an on-campus interview for the role of Associate Engineer in Biotechnology. While working, I realized that although I like computational work, I loved working in a lab setting and performing experiments. Thus, I decided to pursue M.Phil in Nanosciences and Nanotechnology from the University of Mumbai. Currently I am enrolled in the IITB-Monash joint Ph.D. Program.

Apart from the educational interests, I am fond of performing arts. I love dramatics. I used to work in a non-profit theatre group in Pune. In my spare time, I write short stories, drama plays, work on short film projects and do physical activities like yoga, and swimming.  

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?

My parents always said that one gets the greatest satisfaction after seeing his/her work or actions being useful to at least one person, and this was my driving thought in choosing research as a career. Currently, I am pursuing Ph.D. at the IITB-Monash joint Ph.D. Program.

Talking about a turning point, in M.Sc, for the research project, I decided to work in the anticancer field. During this time, I got introduced to nanotechnology. Under the mentorship of Dr. Rebecca Thombre and Dr. Subhangi Damale, I worked on  developing silver nanoparticles and studied their anticancer activity. My journey in this project made me realize that research is something I enjoy, and I should continue on this path. I got all possible support and mentoring from my project manager – Mr. Amit Biagaitkar, at Symphony-teleca, during transitioning from an employee to research student. In M.Phil, I researched the fabrication of paper-based diagnostic devices under the supervision of Dr. Jacinta D’Souza and Dr. Muthurajan. M. Phil gave me a glimpse of the research field. I also understood that with my research I could achieve my goal of doing something useful for patients. Hence, as an initial step towards becoming an independent researcher, I applied and got selected into the IITB-Monash joint Ph.D. Program. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

At the end of my M.Sc. Project presentation I got a strong recommendation from an external examiner for pursuing research. At the same time, I got an on-campus job offer in Symphony-Teleca’s Bioinformatics domain as an Associate Engineer. I took the job as I liked the work offered and wanted to get professional work experience. On weekends, i used to visit labs in my M.Sc college and mentor students working  on nanoparticle projects. The whole process made me realize that I enjoyed lab work more than my role as an associate engineer. Thus, I started looking for a Master’s in Nanotechnology. During my search, I got to know about the M. Phil course offered by the Mumbai University. I applied, and after the interview process, I got selected where I was funded by the University internal scholarship. 

After finishing M. Phil, I got an offer to work as a research assistant for a Pharma Company sponsored project where I worked on developing drug-delivering nanoparticles and methods for manufacturing on a large scale. Meanwhile, I was very sure that I want to pursue a Ph.D., so I applied to various places in India and abroad. I got selected at the IITB-Monash joint PhD program, which allowed me to work in India and Australia. At the IITB-Monash research academy, my PhD project is sponsored by DBT, Gov. of India. 

How did you get your first break? 

I got my first job through on-campus placement. 

What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Wet lab work demands mental and physical fitness. You need to have complete focus and clarity about your present tasks as you will be handling or working around potentially hazardous chemicals at all times. Secondly, you need to be very observant about everything around you. This keeps you updated about all the exciting research happening around you. I am learning to remain focused and physically fit by meditating and exercising whenever possible. 

Where do you work now? Tell us about your research

I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering and Medicine jointly in IIT-Bombay and Monash University.

As part of my Ph.D. research. I am focusing on therapeutic stabilization of atherosclerosis which is a disease of the artery. Atherosclerosis leads to the formation of clots in the artery, which may lead to a heart attack. Hence I am making the nanoparticles to deliver drug specifically for stabilization of atherosclerosis. Further, pinpointed information of the location of atherosclerosis will help medical professionals and doctors decide on the course of action. Thus, I am also working on the development of an ultrasound contrast agent nanoparticle, which can improve the quality of ultrasound imaging. I am also developing a multimodal contrast agent for improving the quality of ultrasound and other types of diagnostic imaging. 

As a Ph.D. student, I have a flexible work schedule. However, I try to be disciplined with my timelines. I start my lab work by 9.30 -10 am and complete the planned work for the day. If I get free early, I utilize my evening time to do activities like swimming, exercise, or meditation. Post dinner, I plan the experiments for the next day and read some related literature. 

I love the freedom to pursue experiments and do research activities. I like every step of my work, particularly analysing experimental results. I also find  the troubleshooting part very exciting. 

How does your work benefit society? 

At the current stage, my sincere efforts are focused on learning how to perform research and get insights into understanding therapeutic stabilization and improving the diagnosis of atherosclerosis. If this works well, this platform and technology can be used for other diseases such as Cancer, Arthritis. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

I am still a research fellow; every experiment, every project and every journey is a new learning opportunity for me, and thus is special for me. I enjoy the journey rather than the outcome of the project. To name the most memorable work to date, my M.Sc project was quite dear to me, as it was my first research experience. It reminds me of how much effort I had put in and the passion I had, and continue to have for research. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

It’s too early for me to give advice, but this is something I told my sister when she finished her HSC— “Write what you like to do next, what are your dreams. Write the plan, how are you going to achieve your dreams’. My advice is follow your dreams, passion sincerely, and you will find your scope in it. 

Apart from this, my advice to student is to read, watch, discuss with your teachers about your dreams, passion and most importantly keep multiple plans ready to reach destination. 

Future Plans?

My immediate future plan is to continue my research journey as a postdoctoral fellow. I also want to learn new techniques and skills regarding medicine, 3d printing, artificial intelligence. 

My long-term goal is to join some Indian research institute as a researcher and help start-ups to translate research into the product, which may help bring a smile on patient’s faces.