Biotechnology as a career has many delightful flavours to it, just like fine wine has ! All it takes is a little patience, adaptability and persistence !

Chetan Arekar, our next pathbreaker, Senior Manager, Desaal wines, manages all winemaking operations, improvisation of wine sensory attributes, and defines new wine brands.

Chetan talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about experimenting with various applications of biotechnology and completing his PhD on tropical fruit wines which led to a career in winemaking.

For students, not all our decisions are fool proof. But we can gain enough knowledge and experience to transform those decisions into fulfilling careers !

Chetan, tell us about your background

Kolhapur, a city of spiritual importance is also known for its foodie culture. I feel very lucky to have been born here. I belong to a middle-class family. My father was a government servant and my mother had a job to nurture us. My family business was to make Ganesha statues. My 2 elder sisters and parents were religiously involved in this work. As a kid, I was always attracted to science. And this interest led me to Biotechnology.

My batch was the first batch to face the objective entrance examination for engineering admissions. As it was announced at the end of my 12th, we didn’t get a chance to study separately for the entrance examination. During those times we were not much updated with the format of national entrance examinations. I learned about it after the closing date. Thus, the state level examination was the only exam I appeared for. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my B.E (Biotechnology) and masters in Biotechnology. I then did my PhD (Food Technology, Fruit Winemaking) from ICT (Institute of Chemical Technology).

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

I got selected for Chemical Engineering at Shivaji University. But I have always been inclined towards biological sciences. The local college staff convinced me to go for Biotechnology. That was a wrong decision. The media propaganda and misleading information from the engineering college staff made me enroll in this course. Luckily I got very good company from my batchmates. There were two important learnings here:

          Never consult a college staff for admission

          Friend circle plays a very important role in your career.                          

Tell us about your career path

The kind of education I was pursuing was completely experimental. Nobody knew what biotechnology was? So every step was filled with new learning. By the end of the 4th year, I got a clear idea about biotechnology and decided to pursue higher education for which i needed some money. I also had to search for good institutions. 

Immediately after BE, I started my first job with Seema Biotech. The pay was negligible, but the opportunity to set up a molecular diagnostics lab was inspiring. I completed the challenge, the lab was ready, all the protocols for PCR based plant virus diagnostics and Somaclonal variants identification were in place. 

After working with Seema Biotech I pursued M Tech in Biotechnology. The research experience with Seema Biotech and M Tech drove me to get into research. Keeping this target in mind I started working with MGM’s Jawaharlal Nehru Engineering College as an Assistant Professor. Teaching is the best way to prepare for the objective entrance examination. I qualified for GATE by getting 99 percentile and got a fellowship for Ph.D. from University Grant Commission, New Delhi. I got an opportunity to work at the Institute of Chemical Technology, Matunga, Mumbai as a Ph.D. Research Scholar under the guidance of Prof Lele. My two earlier research topics had got rejected in the first 1.5 years of my Ph.D. The third research proposal was on tropical fruit wines. It got accepted by the panel members and I also got some funds for the project from Rajiv Gandhi Science and Technology Commission, Government of Maharashtra. This was the third time in my Ph.D that I started working from scratch, but with the new experience. The results of my Ph.D. work were outstanding. I Isolated three new wild yeasts, studied anthocyanin fingerprints of tropical fruits, studied fruit wine volatiles, did an extensive sensory-based comparative study with grape wines, as well as a technology transfer to an NGO, and also finished the project before the deadline.

My work in wine research opened a new door for me, at SULA wines, Nashik. I joined them as an Assistant Winemaker. Here I focused more on commercial production than research. After working with SULA for over 1.5 years I decided to explore the wine Industry abroad. The best way to gain Knowledge is to do internships. I worked with Pernod Ricard Pvt Ltd, California, and got a further recommendation to work with Pernod Ricard New Zealand. I also did some Volunteer jobs while I was in New Zealand, with The Red Cross, Blenheim and Rural Youth and Adult Literacy Trust. Volunteering has its own advantages. You get all the resources and privileges of working for a renowned organization, you build new relations that may help you in developing your career.

What were the challenges you dealt with? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Money

Solution: Do any job, don’t worry about what people will say. Try to have a passive income. Develop a hobby that will become an income source in the future. Look for scholarships. Volunteer work may create some contacts that may help you to get Scholarships.

Challenge 2: True guiding resources

Solution: Make good friends, read books, stay updated, talk to strangers. Sometimes known people misguide you out of jealousy or personal benefit. In such cases, it’s a good idea to interact with strangers or social media. 

Challenge 3: mental stress

Solution: Cultivate a hobby; I started learning photography during my Ph.D., now I am a freelance photographer. I also used to play badminton to get cope with my Ph.D. research stress. Music is an all-time favourite solution. 

Challenge 4: Search for a companion 

Solution: This is unavoidable stress with many activators such as parents, family members, friends, and yourself too. Never waste time looking for true love or something like that. Never follow your instinct in this case. Just wait for the right time.

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do

Now I’m working as a Senior Manager – winemaking division, Desaal wines, Nashik. My job is to manage all winemaking operations, improve wine sensory attributes, and define new brands.

How does your work benefit society? 

The wine industry is growing in India. Farmers are the first to get benefited. In Nashik and Solapur region many farmers have started growing wine grapes due to good money and better security. Now we are shifting to renewable energy from traditional energy, all this ultimately benefits society. 

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

There are many things to share, but one of the most memorable experiences was teaching Immunology at MGM’s Jawaharlal Nehru Engineering College, Aurangabad. I was never interested in teaching, but the students and the HOD Prof. Pople made it interesting. I designed some immunology practical sessions based on the resources available so that everyone will understand practical Immunology. The resources provided were only for one study, but after modifying it I was successful in conducting 4 different practicals. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Always be flexible. Do not stick to a fixed target. There was a time when technology used to change from generation to generation. Now a generation experiences transformation every day. So, get ready for the changes, be flexible, make a good friend circle, try to explore a new country. If you want to pursue higher education then plan for IIT, ICT, NIT, or else go abroad. Do not go for private Institutions. 

This generation is blessed to have a lot of video material for entertainment as well as for study. But still, the best way to find any answer to any problem is to read books.

Future Plans?

Now, I want to focus on wine production and represent Indian wines in the world.