July 2011

The key to success: Believe in yourself

An interview with Saurabh Sen, a research scientist at Lucigen Corporation. 

Saurabh Sen was born and raised in India. He received a masters degree in biotechnology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. In 2000, he started his doctoral research in the Goldman lab at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and earned his degree in 2005. He then did postdoctoral fellowships at the Washington University School of Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He currently works at Lucigen Corporation.

Getting a job offer in industry is pretty hard during these tough economic times, which makes getting three offers a very impressive feat. However, Saurabh Sen was able to do just that after completing a postdoc at University of Alabama at Birmingham. He finally chose to work for Lucigen Corporation, a biotechnology company delivering advanced molecular technology, tools and services to life scientists by inventing solutions to difficult problems in DNA cloning, amplification and protein expression. Below, Sen gives some practical advice and talks about his current job. 

ASBMB: What were the key factors involved in your successful job applications?  
Sen: To answer in few words: perseverance, tenacity, thorough preparation for the interview and luck. The combination of these factors helped me to land my job offers. The first time always is the toughest, and frankly speaking, it was not easy for me either. But at the end of the day, when three different employers expressed their willingness to welcome me on board, I was glad that I could present myself in the most deserving manner. The job search is a full-time job, and people get kind of disheartened when replies do not pour in. My simple advice is to keep trying: unless you knock on the door, it won’t open up magically. Also, make use of every networking opportunity that comes your way.

ASBMB: From your experience, do web-based job applications always go straight to the recycle bin?  
Sen: No, they definitely do not. Actually, all of my successful job applications were web-based, and all the offers that I received were through internet-based applications. I know that it’s a common notion, but the cover letter and résumé do not always go straight to the recycling bin when you apply online. The trick is to use key words in your résumé that match the job description. The candidate also should have at least a 60 to 75 percent match with the skill sets listed in the job description. Otherwise, the application probably won’t land on the hiring manager’s desk.

ASBMB: Can you give some tips on preparing for a job interview? 
Sen: Sure. I won’t get in to the dos and don’ts – you can read those anywhere. My suggestion is to just be yourself when you do an interview, be it an initial telephone interview or an on-site interview. Be calm, composed, and show enthusiasm when answering questions. And always think before you speak. No arguments, no controversial statements, be truthful, always have a positive attitude and be yourself. Make a positive impression on the interviewers with your personality, flexibility, adaptability, enthusiasm and resourcefulness. Demonstrate your affinity for teamwork, your leadership skills, your problem solving abilities, your capacity for thinking outside the box and your aptitude for taking calculated risks. Success will be yours if you believe in your virtues and in yourself.

And always try to present something extra that is valuable to the prospective employer – this will make you stand out from others. In my case, I have a unique mathematical formula (see figure) that I use to describe my personality traits and have found that, in the majority of situations, my prospective employers have been amazed by it.

ASBMB: What do you think is the biggest challenge in landing a job in industry?  
Sen: I think the biggest challenge is to find the perfect fit between the candidate and the job requirement, to match the skill sets and to pick the smartest candidate. Thus finding a job that serves as a perfect marriage between the employer and the employee is a win-win situation for both. Apply to jobs where you really are a good fit and not based on assumptions that you might be a good fit. Apply selectively, prudently, and keep an eye on the new openings daily. Be flexible, adaptable and open to new ideas.

ASBMB: Why did you decide to work at Lucigen? 
Sen: That was a difficult decision. The major driving force to choose Lucigen over the others was the challenging project they offered me on G protein-coupled receptors. It is a tough project, but the challenges and uniqueness of the project keep me going.

Having worked with GPCRs during my graduate studies and through my first postdoc, I know how tough these receptors are to deal with. To transform a GPCR project into a success story is my dream. These receptors are the broadest target in the pharmaceutical industry. More than 50 percent of the currently available prescription drugs target GPCRs, making them the most sought-after drug class.

One of the things that I love best about working at Lucigen is the chance to participate in innovative and exploratory research projects, marketing efforts and business development. Being a small company, we are a well-built, cohesive family – all working together to do good science and deliver novel products to the scientific community (and in turn bringing in more value for what we do).

Saurabh Sen’s mathematical formula for describing his personality traits.

ASBMB: Are you still involved in bench work?  
Sen: Of course. I love the bench. People have different opinions about the industrial environment and how research programs are operated in an industrial setting. I devote a significant fraction of my time to cutting-edge experiments at the bench. It’s fun, and that’s what keeps me going.

ASBMB: Was your transition from academia to industry easy?  
Sen: Well, for me it was rather smooth sailing. I had a little bit of industrial experience (nine months) before my graduate studies, and that sort of laid down the foundation for me to come back to industry again. I did not find any significant challenges or hurdles that acted as barriers to my transition. Many people find it difficult to adapt to industry coming from academia, and I believe it is more the mindset that plays a crucial role in the process. One thing is for certain – in an industrial setting, an individual doesn’t have the luxury to do much offshoot exploratory research; the focus mainly lies on the corporate goals and milestones that need to be achieved annually. If you are ready to embrace that, I don’t see any problems with the transition.

ASBMB: Can you describe a typical day at work? 
Sen: For me, a typical day at work involves thorough execution of my planned agendas, and, as always, I am ready to take up new challenges. It includes checking my e-mails and calendar when I arrive at work, looking for any meetings that I may have during the day and planning experiments accordingly. Completion of my planned experiments, data analysis, updating my notebook and planning the next day’s experiment generally is what I strive to accomplish by the end of the day. Coming to work every morning with the challenge of discovering a novel solution for an unsolved scientific problem keeps me on my toes for the whole day.

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