Biochemistry Alum, Chakravarty
Graduate school is full of challenges and obstacles. Biochemistry alumnus Arijit Chakravarty knows this as well as anyone. During his fourth year at Dartmouth, after running “yet another [protein gel] that should have been done six months ago,” Arijit realized that his passion for performing experiments, referred to as bench work, was gone. He went into advisor Professor Duane Compton’s office and said that he was “done with it. Done with science.”
According to Arijit, Professor Compton’s response was that while he may be done with the bench, it did not sound like he was done with science. Together, he and Professor Compton developed a computer-based project investigating mitotic spindle formation in dividing cells, and Arijit completed his PhD. During this project, Arijit, whose undergraduate degree was in engineering, realized that he still loved science and the intellectual aspects of it. Thus he decided to continue with science (and eventually returned to the bench later in his career). Arijit credits Professor Compton’s commitment to his success as a critical component of his time at Dartmouth. When reflecting on his first year rotations, he acknowledges that he did not have a lot of scientific experience and did not have a specific project in mind. However, he knew he wanted a “prof [sic] that I could talk to, who was approachable. There are many people who I would have done a PhD with, where I would not have graduated. Duane really made it possible for me to stay in science.”
Upon graduation, rather than staying in academia, Arijit wanted to look for work in the biotechnology industry. After applying for industry jobs and receiving no offers, he started a short postdoctoral fellowship with Professor Bob Gross in biology. This period was extremely productive; Arijit managed four people and had five manuscripts submitted within the year. His postdoctoral position had begun in October, and by the following August, Arijit had accepted and started as a scientist at Millennium, a pharmaceutical company in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
At Millennium (now known as Takeda) for 10 years now, Arijit has been a group leader in a number of different departments including computational biology, pharmacology, and cell biology. He is now the Director of the Modeling and Simulation function at Takeda.
For current students who are interested in an industry-based trajectory, Arijit offers a number of tips. First, he says that while an academic postdoctoral position is not necessary, a good publication record matters, since “if you know how to write a good paper, you know how to structure a line of scientific inquiry.” Furthermore, interdisciplinary work is very important, and Arijit advises to “switch disciplines if you can. Every discipline teaches you a different way of looking at the problem.” Also, “keep learning, keep training.”
In particular, Arijit advises current students to:
1. Network: Get out and get to know people. You cannot network sitting at your bench in lab. The New England area is rich with opportunities. Come down to Boston and go to Biotech Tuesday, for example. Collect business cards, and connect with people on LinkedIn.
2. Do a Gap Analysis: Identify the types of jobs you are interested in, and make a list of the skills employers want in an entry-level position. Ask yourself the question, “How can I prove that I have this?” It’s not enough to say “Hey, I’ve got that.” You must be able to prove it on your resume. Often this involves a cycle of learning something new, and then applying it to a project.
3. Recognize there are big differences in demand and supply for different roles: For every biology or biochemistry job opening, employers receive 100 resumes. For an in vivo pharmacology job opening, employers receive 10-20 resumes. However, for a position requiring good computational skills and a bench background, they receive only 5 resumes—if they are lucky. For fields where demand exceeds supply, you have to work much harder to get promoted and hired due to competition.
Finally, Arijit says to remember that the “path of least resistance leads you downhill.” He continues that career growth, especially in the first years after graduate school, requires energy—“it’s like hiking, if you’re not sweating, you’re not getting close to the peak yet. At some point, you’re going to be short of breath.”
by Jeanine Amacher