By Dipal Patel

A decade ago, I remember dreaming of myself as a powerful and independent woman climbing on her scientific career ladder. Influenced by my family members who had successful careers in the U.S., I always wanted to come to the U.S. to pursue an advanced degree and establish a successful career. As a pharmacy graduate from India, I applied to master’s programs in pharmaceutical sciences at different universities.

With limited exposure and thus limited knowledge about various disciplines within the pharmaceutical industry, I chose to advance my education focusing on pharmaceutics and Drug Design at Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY.

My drug design curriculum was very advanced in pharmaceutical product development, but the program provided limited exposure to other pharmaceutical disciplines. I always wondered how the chemical composition in a flask becomes a lifesaving medicine. Of course, there were books, published literature, and webinars to understand the drug discovery and development process, but being a visual person, they did not quench my thirst. Soon I realized that working in the industry was the best option to experience this process.

Since I was still pursuing my master’s degree, working as an intern in the pharmaceutical industry was a very appealing idea. I embarked on my journey of internship hunting by targeting big pharma’s internship programs. When applying online for internship positions did not present me with opportunities, I expanded my efforts by reaching out to HR departments at small to mid-size pharma companies, even though an internship position or program was not listed on their website.

I was skeptical and uncomfortable about this approach since no one I knew had attempted it, but I was determined to get internship experience and not ready to give up. After trying for three to four months, I secured an internship position in a drug discovery, DMPK (drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics) group at a small to mid-size pharma company, that would give me the real-world experience I sought. I still remember how impressed the hiring manager was with my approach and passion in finding the internship.

My main assignment during this internship was based on my master’s curriculum. Once I proved my accountability, I was offered the opportunity to explore and contribute to other scientific projects outside of my curriculum that were part of drug discovery process. I was nervous, but I decided to put myself in an uncomfortable situation once again and take this opportunity to learn how DMPK pieces come together to solve part of the drug discovery puzzle. At the end of my internship, I had gained a fresh perspective on the DMPK aspect of the drug discovery process, which encouraged me to pursue a doctorate degree focusing on DMPK.

Making up my mind to commit five long years to pursue a doctorate degree was not trivial. With the rock solid support of my family, I enrolled in the doctorate program. My dissertation project was focused on formulation development and in-vivo pharmacokinetic evaluation. I always strive to learn even more and look outside the focus of my dissertation. Once again, I started applying for an internship with the broad objective in mind to advance and employ my expertise in the industrial environment.

During the internship application process, I encountered few positions where my skillsets matched only a fraction of desired experience/expertise, but there was an opportunity to learn something new. Since I had found the courage to be in an uncomfortable situation, I was once again ready to face that challenge. Eventually I found an internship where I could utilize my skillsets and explore new science.

From all these experiences, I learned the biggest lesson of my life—that the more I put myself in an uncomfortable situation, the more I explore and learn.  Utilizing this courage on a smaller scale, through applying for internships, helped me to gain a lot of confidence to start my career with the right attitude.

This blog is my first blog article I’ve ever written for a wider audience, and I confess that I’m nervous. But there has to be a first time for everything we do, and this time it was little easier for me to come out of my comfort zone and try something completely new.

Cheers to all who are uncomfortable, yet courageous, while climbing their career development ladder!

Dipal R Patel, Ph.D., a research investigator with the Pharmaceutical Candidate Optimization group of Bristol-Myers Squibb. Her primary research focus is drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics in drug discovery. She received her doctorate in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY.