Q&A with a Scientist

Dr Rajaram Pandian is the Director of Scientific Affairs at Pan Laboratories in California, USA, which focuses on developing new tests for diagnosis and management of human disease. He has over 40 years of experience in medical testing and laboratory science. He is currently working towards bringing some of the newer medical technologies to India, with a particular focus on making them more accessible and affordable to everyone. He is available as a mentor with Careers Infinite.

Could you briefly outline your career path for us?

I was always interested in medicine. I got into veterinary medicine for my Bachelors. For my Masters, I was fortunate to get into medical biochemistry, with financial aid, at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). I worked very hard and continued my PhD research there in endocrinology. To further motivate me, I was offered employment as a faculty member at AIIMS, towards the end of my PhD. Six months after I earned my PhD degree, I got the opportunity for a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology in the US. I have been working in the area of medical diagnostics since.

After completing your bachelor’s degree, did you consider pursuing research in veterinary medicine?

Not really. At that time, there wasn’t much research going on in the veterinary field. However, the scene at AIIMS was quite different. All the laboratories were well funded and equipped. The environment was very energetic and motivational!

How many years does it take for one to “settle down” in your field?

These days, to get into a good position, one would need a PhD or a very good Masters in a highly ranked university along with a lot of work experience. But, in order to make a lot of money, one has to be ready to take risks. It could be starting a company or trying to invent something new. It may be a risk, but it also is an opportunity.

Can you suggest three professional skill sets required to succeed in your field?

From my experience, I have learned that most of us have a fear of rejection. We always hesitate doing or asking things because of the fear of being rejected by others. My supervisor during my Postdoc told me that it is important to prepare yourself to hear a “no” when asking people for things. His point was not to discourage me, but to help me take the “no” in the right spirit.

When I was new to the US, I was also hesitant to talk to people because of my accent. I was not sure if I’d be heard and accepted. But a friend saw the same accent as an opportunity. He told me that it was a gift because now people will listen more closely to what I say in order to understand me. So, I learned to always try to turn my talents into opportunities to get ahead.

I also believe that, to be confident and talk boldly, it helps to think that you know better than the people listening to you. This is not to suggest that you know best and others know nothing. It is just a tool to boost your confidence in situations where you have to talk to a number of people.

Please share with us, some of the challenges you faced in your career.

Since I was brought up in a conservative environment in India, I was taught to always address others with respect. But in the US, one addresses colleagues and even bosses by the first name. The environment is more informal and friendly. It helps us develop self-confidence and inspires us to work harder. I find that students who come from India to the US are calm and patient and always listen, making them more receptive to suggestions to improve themselves. They are bright and hard-working, which are ideal for the work environment here.

What are you currently doing?

My wife and I have our own lab for medical diagnostics. In fact, she is my boss. So, it helps me spend more time with her. My goal currently is to spend more time with family. I also visit Delhi, where I am part of another lab. I am trying to take some of the newer technologies home to India. I am also working on the affordability of and accessibility to medical testing for Indian people. We are slowly but steadily progressing in that direction.

What do you do for recreation? Does your career offer work-life balance?

I love to travel and visit new places. I have traveled a lot with my wife. All through my career, my wife has been very accommodating and supported me in working harder and concentrating better at work.

What is your advice to students in the field of life sciences?

It is very important to have a clear idea of what you want to do. Try to be aware of the circumstances around you and set appropriate goals. Be prepared to work hard. If you wish to work outside India, learn about the work permit processes and get the necessary paperwork done. Most importantly, do what you like best. If you find yourself in a field you don’t like, you will not give your 100% to that job, and you are never recognized for your work. So, if you have the opportunity to change your field of work to one that you love, it’s never too late.


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