My Journey From Pharmaceutical Science to Engineering and Biology

Suchitra Sankaranarayan reflects on her experience in Northwestern's Master of Biotechnology program (MBP) and how it prepared to succeed after graduation.

Suchitra Sankaranarayan is set to graduate from Northwestern's Master of Biotechnology program (MBP) in the coming days. As she prepares to receive her diploma, she took a few minutes to look back at her two years in the program, how it built on her prior pharmaceutical training in India and how it helped prepare her for a future career in biology and bioprocess research.

What was it about MBP that first appealed to you?

During my undergraduate studies, I discovered that I wanted to refine my focus on biotechnology and pursue a career in the industry. The core MBP courses, flexibility to choose from innumerable electives, the possibility of doing research at the Center for Synthetic Biology and the industry affiliations all were important aspects that appealed to me.

How would you describe your MBP experience?

It's been terrific, in a word. I am graduating in a few days and looking back, I realize how much I have learned and grown as a student and a scientist. The program offers great opportunities to take interesting classes and pursue exciting research. The people I have had a chance to interact with have taught me life-long lessons and on the whole, I cherish these two years in the program.

How do you think your pharmaceutical background helped you in MBP?

For one, it gave me the foundation in science-based courses required for pursuing higher education. My experience in India also helped me understand aspects of the biopharmaceutical industry and has been valuable for fostering connections with people in the industry here.

What role did BIOTECH 301 and 302 have in your professional growth?

These courses laid the groundwork for understanding MBIOTECH 476 and 477, and together, all have been useful in developing my technical prowess in bioprocess engineering. MBIOTECH 301 and 302 are well-structured courses that gave me enough time and resources to study engineering basics and apply them to biology. I also wish to pursue a role in the industry in bioprocess research and the coursework has been beneficial in building my technical knowledge.

What is your research focused on?

My work in Dr. Josh Leonard's lab involves engineering and validating cell lines that will be used in a CRISPR/Cas9 genomic screen to elucidate negative regulators of the Toll-Like Receptor 4. We hope to understand how inflammation in various diseases could be regulated.

What were your favorite parts of your MBP experience?

The people! The journey is more than just MBP; by taking the Northwestern direction, I have had a chance to meet really amazing folks - my cohort, the professors, alumni, my colleagues in our lab and other students at the university. There are loads of events by various societies that give you a chance to learn new things and network. There is so much diversity here, it has been a lot of fun meeting people from all over the world and learning about their experiences. I also enjoyed attending various seminars in these two years. They have been super informative about current trends in biotechnology.

What are the two or three most important things you've learned in MBP?

I can say that I have become a lot better at communicating with people which has helped me network with professionals in the field. I also had the chance to work with many groups for different projects/assignments that greatly improved my team building skills. In retrospect, these two takeaways have been important for working amicably in any setting.

What did you learn during your internship with Amicus Therapeutics?

I worked in the upstream cell culture process development at Amicus. Industrial research is done differently than in an academic lab. It was good to learn about how a biopharmaceutical company functions and improve my research and interpersonal skills.

What would you say to a prospective student with a science background who is considering MBP?

MBP and Northwestern University offer more opportunities than you can imagine, so don't be hesitant to explore and make the best of it. It's a great place to be at to pursue whatever interests you about biotechnology, whether it is research, regulatory affairs or the business side.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Take advantage of facilities and activities at Northwestern University, be it electives in different schools, the sports center or the libraries. There's more to the MBP with all these opportunities.

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