Biological Sciences

Amritha Kharidehal

Amritha studied MSc Biotechnology and graduated in 2013.

Name Amritha Kharidehal
Programme MSc Biotechnology
Year of Graduation 2013

Group discussions and presentations were an integral part of all the modules in the MSc course which greatly helped to boost my interactions and performance in my job.

Amritha Kharidehal

What path has your career taken since graduation?

I enrolled in the MSc Biotechnology course at Edinburgh in 2012, after completing my undergraduate degree, B.E. Biotechnology, in Bangalore. During my studies I chose apply for an industry project as I was keen to find employment upon completion of my MSc and thought that this would be a great platform to gain some real-world work experience.

There were 4-5 companies offering industrial projects and I interviewed with a few. I was selected by Ingenza Ltd after the interview and joined as a placement student. I got trained on both technical (lab related) and operational procedures in the first week by Ingenza staff, following which I was able to work in their labs to get started with my project work.

My placement project was based on developing a plate-based assay to detect activity of enzymes in a recombinant strain. Through the 4-5 months of this placement, I setup solid and liquid phase assays to identify the most optimal conditions to assess the target enzyme through a spectrophotometric assay. I also grew to understand the project from the customer’s perspective and aimed to deliver my best.

As an immigrant on a Tier 4 student visa in 2013, finding employment in the UK was always going to be a challenge, especially at a time when the post-study visa was not an option. However, at the end of my placement with Ingenza, I was lucky enough to find a job as a Research Assistant with them. They had a vacancy in the Downstream Processing Lab with the Team Lead of Biochemistry which is where I began my career in biotechnology. I then worked at Ingenza from graduation, for nearly 6 years until February 2019.

I came face to face with the intricacies of research management while also improving my technical knowledge to develop industrially useful recombinant strains. I worked in the DSP lab for about a year and moved into the Molecular Biology team at first temporarily, but subsequently stayed in this team for 4 years.  After 3 years as Research Assistant I was promoted to a Scientist and was commended by team members for initiative. Customer interaction is a vital part of working in the industry and an opportunity that is highly coveted. I was able to participate in a few of these meetings that helped to gain a thorough understanding of customer requirements and where my contribution fits in.

I constantly endeavoured to improve myself to be able work both independently and as a part of a team. Working in an inter-disciplinary research environment, I also strived to be organised, deliver within required deadlines and quickly adapt to the customer’s research requirements to the best of my ability.  In my last few months at Ingenza, I also worked as a Scientist in Fermentation where I gained further exposure to bioprocessing and thus gaining the experience of working in all core areas of expertise in the company.

After 6 years at Ingenza, I moved back to India. I found a part-time telecommute opportunity as a Freelance Editor in Life sciences for six months. I edited manuscripts to be published in various international journals and honed my communication skills in academic writing.

What experiences do you feel helped you get to your current position?

A vast amount of lab experience is required to be successful in research and I believe that this exposure at the academic level in both my UG, PG courses have greatly helped me get my first job. I addition to this, my enthusiasm to learn new skills and adapt to requirements helped me thrive in a highly competitive environment.

During my Master’s course, I also actively participated in eVolve- Edinburgh University’s volunteering society. I went to events involving beach clean ups, helped with refurbishing some of Gorgie city farm and also assisted the elderly.  It was personally a very gratifying experience to be a part of this society and also meet fellow volunteers with a unified goal to help others.

How have you used the skills and/or knowledge developed during your degree in your career?

The MSc course was very helpful in understanding the business of research. Courses such as Economics and Innovation in the Biotechnology Industry; Intelligent Agriculture; Industry and Entrepreneurship in Biotechnology gave a vast exposure to worldwide applications and competition in this field. Patenting and IP development-oriented lectures and assignments based on case-studies were also very useful in my first job to contribute to the company’s business goals.

Coming from abroad, the R&D (Research and Development) lab foundation courses were quite critical to understand the approach to experimentation in a completely new setting. The course on Social Dimensions of Systems and Synthetic Biology shed light on the innovative aspects of biotechnology and surely spiked my curiosity in the numerous possibilities where biotech can make an impact. Assignments which required literature surveys and detailed inquiry helped develop critical thinking and analytical skills to be able to assess research qualitatively.

Technical presentations and discussions in weekly team meetings were a critical part of doing a good job at Ingenza. Group discussions and presentations were an integral part of all the modules in the MSc course which greatly helped to boost my interactions and performance in my job.

What do you think was the most valuable aspect of your time at Edinburgh in preparation for your career?

Edinburgh has a great spirit of innovation and the exposure to the cultures of the world is fantastic. I think this was the best part of studying, working and living in Edinburgh that has given me memories of a lifetime.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in your area of work?

My advice to anybody interested in pursuing a career in Biotechnology would be to focus on enhancing your skills in lab techniques very early on in your education so that you have the confidence to take these up independently. With strong fundamentals (built from learning by doing), one will be able to learn new techniques faster and apply these to one’s advantage – by problem solving, troubleshooting and inculcating a mindset of innovation. As change is the only constant in R&D, the ability to learn swiftly and credibly apply your knowledge is very important in determining the course of your career.

Skills such as good communication (written and verbal) and agility, which are important to fare well in any field also hold good in biotech. Building professional relationships of trust and networking are imperative to enhance the longevity of your career. Furthermore, practising attachment with detachment and mastering networking is key advice I would have told my younger self to focus on a bit more than I did, if I had a chance to.

You live and you learn and the most important part of being successful in what you study or area you work is to seek happiness in whatever you pursue. To make a career out of a job, you have to enjoy what you do and pursue it consistently.

Information given in April 2020.