What spurred you to take up such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
At AIIMS, I was fortunate to be taught by inspiring teachers who all had their own research labs. As an undergraduate, I was able to do lab rotations with them where I got to be part of their research labs helping Ph.D. students with their research. During my postgraduation, I had my own two-semester research project that focused on understanding the role of a brain area in human sexual behavior using functional imaging techniques. These experiences emboldened my resolve to pursue a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. In my Ph.D., my focus was on understanding how the brain is altered after amputation and spinal cord injury.
Following my Ph.D., I moved to the US to do my postdoctoral work that focused on the areas of the brain that makes us seek reward, be it high-calorie food or alcohol. My research focused on the question – what is different in the brains of some people that makes them vulnerable to suffer from addiction issues? I thoroughly enjoyed doing research on this question. At the same time, it inspired me to move beyond lab work to do clinical work with patients suffering from mental health and addiction issues. This led me to pursue a certificate course to treat people suffering from addiction. I have since worked as an addiction counselor, off and on, on the side.
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
I started out by enrolling in a one-of-a-kind undergraduate course at that time, B.Sc. Hons. (Human Biology) at AIIMS, which focused on human physiology, anatomy, and biochemistry. I particularly enjoyed studying human physiology during my undergraduate. That led me to specialize in it for my master’s from the same institute.
In my masters, I was part of a research laboratory that focused on understanding the neurobiology of sleep and sexual behavior. While being part of this lab, I read many research papers in neurobiology. As my understanding of the brain mechanisms that control our physiology and behavior improved, I got motivated to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience.
Subsequently, I was selected as a graduate student at the National Brain Research Centre in Manesar, Haryana. It was and still is the only institute in India that specializes solely in neuroscience research. I was lucky to be the first graduate student of my mentor, Dr. Neeraj Jain, and it was amazing to learn all aspects of research, from doing the demanding animal experiments to analysis to presenting the findings first-hand from him. I learned many techniques there, including brain surgery in rats and monkeys. Some of the experiments were physically challenging as well and involved staying awake overnight for 3-4 nights with a team of people.
After my Ph.D., I was lucky to get an opportunity to work at Duke University for my first postdoc. I got that job as my Ph.D. work matched the research questions that were the main focus of that lab. However, there was a small part of that lab that focused on understanding the neurobiology of taste and how we get motivated to eat salty food. I was fascinated by this particular research topic and decided to pursue it. This also led me to read more research papers on how we get motivated to seek rewards
After a two-year stint there, I moved to the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Utah for my second postdoc. My initial research there was on a fascinating research question – what motivates us to seek high-calorie food despite feeling full? Research has now shown high-calorie food can be addictive for some people. So, my next research focused on understanding the motivation to seek rewards from alcohol use. After four years as a postdoc, I transitioned into the role of a research assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the same university.
All throughout my research career, the most satisfying part has been communicating about my research work. Thus, ultimately, I decided to shift from academics to the medical communication field. I recently made that move in early 2021, and I now work as a medical writer for a medical communication company, Nucleus Global.
This shift required me to do a lot of networking through LinkedIn, and through my network, I was able to get many freelance jobs in the field. These freelance jobs made me competitive enough to land a full-time job in the field. I started with editing manuscripts on a freelance basis for language and content at two publishing services agencies (Accdon and Linc science). After that, through someone I knew in my undergraduate days, I got a freelance contract job offer with a medical communication company, Cadent Medical Communications. I also did some freelance work for a biotech company, Scipher medicine.
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