There is quite a bit of overlap between academic research and industrial research, both requiring the ability to thrive in a constantly changing environment, a passion to collaborate, and the adaptability to work with people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
Dr Aryadeep Chakraborty (PhD), our next pathbreaker, Senior Scientist in R&D for Procter and Gamble, researches new sustainable materials and improvements in engineering processes.
Aryadeep talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about embracing new opportunities with an open mind that led him to work on different technologies that deliver high quality products for billions of consumers.
For students, challenges in life do not lead to failures, they are just hurdles that come in your way before you find a solution !
Aryadeep, Your background?
A Bengali household enlightened by books and a father who packed bags thrice a year and dragged us through India – that sums up my childhood.
I was born and brought up in Kolkata and was a student of South Point High School. As a child I was always distracted during school and was more interested in pursuing topics that were outside the academic curriculum.
I have always been a prolific reader, some of my favourite authors were J.K. Rowling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Roald Dahl, Rabindranath Tagore, Haruki Murakami. My mother would often catch me hiding novels inside my subject books before exams. I also loved reading scientific articles in magazines. In my early teens I was even writing as a cub reporter in the Telegraph on astronomy and literature. In school, I didn’t have one favourite subject, I was interested in the diverse areas of Physics, some of history and literature. Growing up, I wasn’t the most athletic person, but like any 90s kid spent a lot of time outdoors with neighborhood friends.
Traveling through India, and regular political and social debates at home, fostered critical thinking as well as a curious and open mind. My parents were attentive to my progress but never overbearing. I was motivated to explore different topics and decide until when I wanted to pursue them and move on to something different.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
Following a bachelors in mechanical engineering from India and a Masters in Nuclear engineering from France, I hold a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Germany. Currently, I work as Senior Scientist and Regional Manager in R&D for Procter and Gamble, Germany.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
Looking back there were two key drivers which helped me reach where I am today: mentors, and having fun.
Growing up, I didn’t consciously seek out mentors, but there were certain people I gravitated towards, such as my Physics teacher in school: Ajay sir, my internship advisor in India: Tinku ma’am, and my PhD advisor: Ernie. At the time, I didn’t know that I was choosing mentors and they were shaping my life. But, I always had great admiration and trust in their guidance and had immense fun working with them.
A mentor is an extremely important person in life who can provide you with clarity of thoughts when you are at a difficult juncture. They might be very different from you, but they will understand your passions and can help you make the right decisions. My mentors pushed me in the right direction such as identifying the right scholarship or influencing me to stop my research and take up a new job.
Furthermore, what helped me make decisions was the simple question: Am I excited to take this step and am I going to have fun? Whenever I made a decision knowing that I am pursuing my passion, even if it was a bad decision, I found a way out of it. Even a bad decision for me was a learning experience.
A fundamental characteristic of my personality that always helped me in my life was a yearning to change directions and learn something new. Seeking new adventures is what landed me in many different countries in the world. Every time I tried something new, my excitement overrode my apprehension and fear.
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
Seldom did I meticulously plan out steps in my career. I wanted to study physics, but ended up studying engineering in BESU (Bengal Engineering and Science university, Shibpur) since my scores in the competitive exam (WBJEE) were good enough. My mentor and physics teacher in school advised me to secure a profession that pays well and only then should I explore.
I have been passionate about nuclear physics since I was 10. By the time I was 12, I had finished the chapter on Nuclear and Atomic physics in the high school physics books. During the last year of engineering, I sought out a researcher in Nuclear physics who would take an engineering student under her wing and did an unpaid internship with her in Kolkata. She helped me identify my next step – scholarship and study in France. Hence, I landed in France with a scholarship (Charpak Scholarship) to study a Masters in Nuclear Engineering in Ecole Des Mines de Nantes. This was my first international experience studying with peers from over 10 countries – this opportunity opened new avenues for me.
Early on, I identified mentors in the university who nudged me in the right direction. And I loved French culture and the language – another adventure. So, I learnt the language to an extent that made my life easy. I completed my masters with a very rewarding internship at the French public body of Nuclear safety, IRSN. Nicolas, my advisor, was a true mentor. I loved working with him, and he was the one who proposed a joint PhD with a German research centre.
Here is where life got interesting. A few weeks before my PhD was about to start, I was asked to move to Germany. After 2.5 years in France, I got off the train in Aachen on 6th November 2014.
Since then, Germany has been my home.
My PhD topic was on Nuclear safety – designing a device to improve safety of nuclear power plants in the event of a hydrogen explosion. My PhD supervisor, Ernie, is the strongest force in my adult life. Looking back, finishing a PhD in Nuclear engineering in RWTH Aachen while collaborating with and traveling to France and Japan wouldn’t have been possible without his coaching and mentorship. He made me realize that my passion to connect with others and thrill-seeking personality are better suited in a more dynamic environment; and changed the course of my life again.
By this time, I was discovering my people skills: my passion to collaborate with people and how I felt energized to work with people from widely different backgrounds and point of views. My ex-flatmate during PhD told me Procter and Gamble is a great place for such diverse personalities.
4 years later, I have a fulfilling career as a Senior Scientist where I collaborate with people from across the world working on different domains which capture my interests. With this job, I have lived and travelled across the world. My job has nothing to do with my PhD, but everything to do with the diverse scientific background I come from and the incredible skills I acquired on the way.
Looking back, it was always mentors and the quest for new adventures and experiences that brought me to this point. I embraced every new opportunity with an open mind and optimism. Did I feel afraid? – sure. But when you step into change repeatedly, you become confident in your adaptability and capabilities. I still thrive in a constantly changing environment, where I am learning and pursuing new things in life.
How did you get your first break?
My first break was my scholarship to study in France. Tinku ma’am, my advisor during my internship in India, helped me identify the research lab in France where I should apply. The research lab was embedded in the French engineering school, Ecole Des Mines de Nantes. The French-Indian scholarship program (Charpak scholarship) helped me cover all my expenses.
When all my friends were traveling to the US, I came to France because I wanted to study Nuclear engineering. This is the first inflexion point where my life took an appreciably different path.
My other break was transitioning from academics to the industry. I came across opportunities in P&G through their annual PhD seminar, where 25 PhD students from across Europe come together to learn about the jobs in P&G. After a week of fun discussions, and networking with great leaders, passionate engineers, and scientists, I went back to my PhD life. After a few months I was offered a job in R&D as a Scientist. I wrapped up my thesis and left academics.
What were some of the challenges you faced and how did you address them?
Fundamentally, I have always tackled challenges with optimism. When I am faced with a challenge, I don’t see it as a wall or a failure, a challenge is a hurdle before finding a solution.
When I arrived in a small town named Caen in northern France in 2012, I had no idea that there is a whole world out there where people don’t speak a word in English. I remember the first day in the supermarket I had no idea how to even look for the stuff that I wanted, since nobody spoke English. Since I had decided to move to Europe with conviction, from there on I had only two routes: whine and complain about my daily struggles and make my life miserable or learn the culture and the language. I chose the latter. I immersed myself in language classes and hung out with French students and managed to pickup decent French in 6 months.
Looking for a job in the industry after my PhD was another big challenge. Since my career was so diverse, it was impossible for me to identify where exactly my skillset would best fit. Finding a job in Germany is a tedious process, one must go through many interview stages. I applied to and interviewed in close to 200 companies for almost 6 months before I knew in which industries, I have the best chance to pursue a successful career. With every application process I was discovering something new about my personality. This helped me immensely to identify the right skills and highlight them for a particular job.
In the recent years, I have become more strategic in tackling challenges. I have learnt to prioritize my goals and always guided by optimism I tackle those challenges with patience and perseverance.
Where do you work now? Tell us about your role as scientist at P&G
I work as a Senior Scientist in R&D for Procter and Gamble. My company owns brands such as Gillette, Braun, Old Spice etc., and manufactures consumer products. I work in downstream R&D where I research new sustainable materials and improvements in engineering processes.
When a company is developing a product (for eg. A new formula or a new electronic device) we first develop prototypes and perfect it in the lab. Once we know how to make this perfect product, that technology should be scaled up to industrial production, to make those products at high speed with consistently good quality for billions of consumers. That is where downstream R&D comes into play – where I convert the products that were developed in the lab to industrial scale.
What are the skills needed in your role?
The strongest skills that are needed in this job are transferable skills – communication, problem solving and teamwork. These skills were acquired through a diverse and unusual career path. What I love the most about my role is working at the confluence of different technologies and learning from brilliant people everyday.
How does your work benefit society?
The biggest problem that we aim to solve is how to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment. Plastic pollution is an immense environmental challenge that will plague us for many generations to come. A part of my work involves studying various ways to better recycle plastics and how to incorporate newer sustainable material in the products we manufacture.
Any memorable project?
My PhD was an incredibly memorable project. Transitioning from university to a research lab suddenly made me realize that now I have to make choices and decisions which no one had made before. And I have limited time to make that work. Even though my advisor guided me, as a researcher I was pushing boundaries of science where nobody had been before.
Setting up an experimental facility from scratch, coming up with a new theory to support my research and convincing fellow researchers that my theory is valid – those 3 years were the most taxing but the best years of my life. They taught me that my capabilities are far greater than I had ever imagined.
Although I enjoyed my research during those 3 years, my PhD also taught me that I won’t enjoy a strictly academic role. I like pursuing a diverse range of topics and thrive in a much more dynamic environment. Hence, the switch to a fast moving consumer goods company.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
- Develop people skills early in your life. I believe empathy/emotional quotient is the single most important skill to possess in today’s world. Every successful leader should possess immense empathy for the people they work with. Without those people skills, even having a PhD will not guarantee a successful career.
- Identify early on what you really enjoy and pursue it. Your passions are more than a certain subject in school – be it collaborating with people, debating ideas, or making art. For me it was constantly trying out new experiences. Identify what you love and make career choices around them. The world has evolved outside the conventional professions such as doctors and engineers of our parent’s generation. If you identify and nurture your fundamental skills and passions, you can apply them in almost any career- Nuclear Physics, finance, or literature, and feel more fulfilled doing it.
- Get out of your comfort zone as much as possible, and as soon as you can. By that I specifically mean seek people and place that are different, languages you don’t speak, jobs which are completely different than what you are trained for. Leaving the comfort of home was the best thing that happened to me. It instilled in me unprecedented confidence to pursue new goals.
- Don’t be too hung up on school grades. We get enough chances in life to take corrective actions to get back on track. You don’t have to top all exams in life, focus on being successful in the big ones and have fun. Develop hobbies and interests outside academics. Soon enough you’ll have a successful and demanding career when those hobbies will sail you through your life.
- Lastly, identify your values and live by them. Respecting others as individuals is my top value that helps me be successful. Learn to respect people from different social and economic classes, and opinions which might be very different from yours. The second most important value for me is nurturing a mindset to learn and grow – read new books, listen to music, and seek out new experiences. Experiences help us broaden our minds and explore new opportunities with enthusiasm.