Aathavan Karunakaran—Imaging Scientist

Aathavan Karunakaran

Aathavan Karunakaran

1. Please describe your current position.

As an imaging scientist in a small start up (5-10 people) I was responsible for many aspects of an imaging platform for a clinical diagnostic product. (Note: The responses are for a position I held from March 2014-July 2015. I’m presently with another Biotech start up, but the answers below are relevant also for the present position.)

2. How far in advance of your planned starting date did you begin looking for jobs?

In earnestness for about a year.

3. How did you learn about your current position?

Through the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) microscopy users list where the company advertised.

4. Were any resources (inside or outside your university) particularly helpful in your job search?

Yes. Bill Lindstaedt and his team at ASCB’s Annual Meeting Career Center helped put me in the right frame of mind for networking and preparing a CV. There were also some industry visits organized by the postdoc organization. UCSF’s Graduate Student Internships for Career Exploration and other networking opportunities arranged by UCSF were also very helpful. The biggest resource, however, was my network of friends who were knowledgeable about opportunities in the industry.

5. What was your work or educational background before you were hired?

I had a PhD and post doctoral experience in single molecule biophysics. This involved a lot of microscopy and assay development.

6. Which aspects of your background (doctoral training, postdoctoral training, internships, etc.) were required for your position?

I think my general background in microscopy and ability to program were likely the most relevant.

7. How long after your interview did you start your position? Were there any barriers to starting your position when you had hoped (e.g., lack of space or funding available, time to secure appropriate visa or any other official procedures)?

~1 month. There were no barriers for this job, though I did face barriers in the year prior for want of an appropriate visa.

8. How would you describe the interview process and how did you prepare for it? Were there any skills or experiences in your CV that seemed to stand out?

I encountered some technical questions and some compatibility questions during the interview. The latter mostly had to do with the transition to industry when my resume pointed strongly to a career in academia. My preparation involved conversations with friends and mentors as a process of self-examination of my motivations for the transition.

9. Did you pursue any other position or career path prior to being hired in your current position? If so, what factors led to your ultimate job choice?

I worked for a couple of months as a staff engineer at UC Berkeley— building a microscope even as I sought out opportunities in the industry.

10. Has your career trajectory followed the path you had expected when you started graduate school?


11. Is there anything about your current job that you had not expected before you were hired?

I did not expect how rapidly I would go on to wear different hats.

12. Are there any particular skills or experiences you wish you had before you started?

Many things, especially the social aspects—consensus building in a team, negotiating with your boss, etc.

13. How do you spend an average workday?

Some experiments, some dealing with vendors, some programming, some troubleshooting for the team.

14. What do you like the most about your work?

The instant gratification of solving critical problems for the team.

15. What do you find the most challenging about your work?

Estimating how long a particular task could take. This was important to make a long term plan for the company and in coordinating my activities with others.

16. What skills do you think are absolutely essential for your position?

Adaptability—the needs of a start up can change rapidly.

17. Do you think it helps to have a certain personality to do the work you do?

It does. I think start up requires dynamic people with a desire and ability to work with others.

18. At any point, do you repent not having pursued a career in the academic field?

Yes. I went through a period where I second-guessed my choice. With passing time, I gained in certainty that I’ll be happy in this path.

19. What advice would you give to someone looking for a position like yours?

Start planning your career early. It took me many conversations and on site visits to get a feel for what it might be like to work in the industry. And then it took me a long time to find a job that I thought was a good fit.

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