Sustainable Technology is all about looking for biological answers to provide synergistic benefits that help develop better cleaning products with lesser or no harmful chemicals !

Ashima Sharma, our next pathbreaker, Research Associate at Novozymes, works with natural enzymes that have huge applications in the Household Care industry where they can enhance the performance of laundry & dishwashing products.

Ashima talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about always wanting to know more about FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) products from childhood and doing her masters in Organic Chemistry to pursue a career in FMCG Research.

For students, education can only take you so far ! But the curiosity to understand the fundamental reasons behind why and how things work will hone your subject matter skills in your area of interest !

Ashima, tell us about Your background?

I was born and brought up in Gurugram, Haryana, the Cyber City of India, in an upper middle class family with three other siblings. My father always encouraged us to dream big in life which led me to excel in studies and extracurricular activities throughout my schooling. I was awarded for being among the top scorers in Haryana state from 8th to 12th standard.

What did you do for graduation and post graduation?

I was very much interested in science because it helps us to understand the fundamental reasons behind why and how things happen. Chemistry piqued my interest because I could see and correlate chemistry with what I learned from my surroundings. I earned an Honors bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, from Hindu College, Delhi University, one of the most renowned knowledge pools for this subject. And to further hone my grasp over the subject, I did my masters in Organic Chemistry from the same college.

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

Right from my childhood, I was very much interested in knowing more about the products that we use in our daily routine, as we call it FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods). I was fascinated by the processes that lead ultimately to the final product that we get, the stages involved before the product comes to the market and how packaging plays a role in making a product and selling it !

I loved and still love to read pack labels to know more about the products. I liked to watch shows like “Food Factory”, “Mega Factories”, “How it’s made?” etc on NetGeo and Discovery, which made me more inclined to pursue a career in FMCG Research.

Tell us about your career path?

After consulting relevant people, I realized that in order to fulfill my curiosity to know and understand how our everyday products are developed, joining a research team in an FMCG organization would be the best route to follow.

I started looking for jobs through various online platforms like Naukri and Indeed, targeting only FMCG R&D Departments across India. I received various offers in different roles like QC, QA etc which I refused because my prime focus was to join R&D.

Dabur being my first employer gave me an opportunity to groom myself as an analytical scientist where for the first year I was doing my bit in Herbal Healthcare Research. Since I had already studied Natural Product Chemistry during my Masters, it helped me a lot to understand the concept of herbal actives & their corresponding physiological actions. I got introduced to various product formats like tablets, capsules, syrups, pain relief gels & sprays. I was working on the development of methods for the estimation of active compounds in nutraceuticals & other herbal healthcare products for diabetes, geriatric & general wellness. I was awarded ‘Rising Star’in my very first year there for my extraordinary performance. 

Then I got an opportunity to shift gears & focus on personal care products(skin & hair) where my job was to jointly work with the product design team to develop personal care products.

My never ending curiosity for product development helped me grab various projects where I had to evaluate the key performance characteristics of personal care products like penetration efficacy of various hair oils into the hair fibres or harshness/mildness of a liquid handwash to name a few which were ultimately used to substantiate claims. 

After working for 4 years with Dabur, Novozymes South Asia gave me an opportunity to further explore another product category in FMCG industry, Household Care, Laundry detergents & dish wash products.

How did you get your first break?

My profile was shortlisted from for the position of research scientist by Dabur India Limited.

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

Fortunately, I never faced any challenge in my role as a research scientist. I believe the prime reason for this was that I was doing all those things practically which I always wanted to do. Whether it was reading books, journals or interacting with peers to gather more knowledge; everything seemed to fall in place eventually.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your role at Novozymes

I am currently working with Novozyme South-Asia Pvt Ltd as Research Associate. Novozymes is a B2B Biological solution provider which helps other organizations to improve the performance of their products while preserving the planet’s resources.

Here I work with enzymes derived from natural sources like microbes. These enzymes have huge applications in Household care industry where they can enhance the stain & odour removal performance of laundry & dishwash products. We also select & incorporate enzymes to achieve benefits like whiteness, color maintenance & prevention of wear & tear of fabrics so that they look like new ones even after multiple washes. 

What skills are required for your role?

The most essential skill which is required to perform my job effectively is the understanding of inter-play between the chemical components and biological enzymes. We need to understand how the enzymes that are selected for delivering a specific attribute to a laundry or dishwash product interact with the other chemical components in these products. Then we design the product in such a way that enzymes can coexist with other chemical components and provide synergistic benefits like stain/odour removal.

Also, since my work involves promoting incorporation of enzymes in products across different geographies, I need to be aware of the market trends, consumer insights and general practices of regional consumers regarding laundry and dish washing.

What is a typical day like?

A typical day for me involves performing different experiments, analyzing the data generated and interacting with various stakeholders. The thing that I love the most about my job is that we find biological answers for better lives in a growing world.

How does your work benefit society?

I am working towards the development of sustainable household cleaning products that reduce the use of chemicals by replacing them with enzymes.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did, that is much closer to you?

While working for Dabur, I got a rare opportunity to lead a multi-faceted project where we were looking for a very specific biological activity in Hair Oil. The activity we were exploring was never thought of before for a product like oil. This unique opportunity provided a platform for me to grow as a leader, a scientist, a learner, and an explorer at the same time. Working on this project, I felt that I was at the right place doing the right thing– “Curiosity well fed!”

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Never settle for one. Keep exploring all your curiosities and interests. Take as much time as you want. This will surely land you to a career you are passionate about.

Your future Plans?

To be a lifelong learner, exploring new horizons.