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Crafting Your Career (CYC) | 11 Informational Interview with Debjani Saha — Technical Marketing

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This is the seventh “informational interview” in the season on Crafting your Career in science, where IndiaBioscience speaks with Debjani Saha, a Product Manager at Premas Life Sciences on her foray into technical marketing and the business of science.

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Transcript with Timestamp

Lakshmi Ganesan 0:01

You're listening IndiaBiospeaks, your one stop resource for science news and careers.

Welcome to another episode of crafting your career in science. Today we're chatting with Debjani to learn about her career story. Debjani is currently the Group Product Manager at Premas Life Sciences Private Limited in New Delhi. She works on bringing cutting edge genomics technologies to the Indian market. Thank you, Debjani, for joining us today.

Debjani Saha 0:31

Thank you. Thanks for having me

Lakshmi Ganesan 0:34

Debjani, you did you BSc in biochemistry and a Master's in biotechnology and a PhD in molecular genetics from the Indian Institute of Science. So what sparked your interest in the business of science and what events led you to your current role at Premas?

Debjani Saha 0:48

You know, several years back when I was actually pursuing my PhD, and during the course of the PhD, I understood one thing - while I was confused as to what to pursue next, I was pretty sure about what I did not want to do, I did not want to be lab restricted, I did not want to continue with bench science because even though the science part of it interested me, I somehow couldn't get myself interested in the regular pipetting, the dispensing and the setting up the (biochemical) reactions. So that was what prompted me to think about what are my options after my PhD program.

So, I started talking to people and I started reaching out to people. These were people who had been my seniors who had transition to the industry, and a whole lot of other people who were for example science writers, people at bio-incubators like C-CAMP. We spoke to people who would review projects at DBT, people at the industry etc. I spoke with one of my seniors in Delhi, who was working as an application scientist in one of the companies that was into the genomic space. She said she was quite enjoying the work that she was doing. And that's when I applied for Premas as they had put out an ad in Nature India for an application scientist and a product manager. Although I had applied for the application scientist position, somehow my supervisor who was interviewing me at that point of time, convinced me that, I had a natural knack of dealing with people, and that I was a people interfacing person. So, I believed in him, and listened to what he said in good faith. In the beginning, of course, there was a lot of unlearning that I had to do. Because I was a grad student, was an academic, at the core of my heart. I came with a bag full of inhibitions. There was a lot of learning along the years that I did. That is basically shaped me as a person and a professional.

Lakshmi Ganesan 3:32

Debjani you really brought out very well the steps that one has to take in order to explore and make that transition, especially, networking and connecting with people. And now that you've made that transition as a Group Product Manager Premas, what does your role entail here?

Debjani Saha 3:48

In Premas, I handle two verticals. One is the product management part. And the second thing is, as Group Product Manager I oversee the product management function. And I'll explain in a bit what it entails. So the product management function involves basically knowing the technical ins and outs of the products, the applications, and their extrapolations, and the applied domains in which the product can be utilised. In the genomics field, we deal with products which basically advance genomics research. Essentially, we are working for their market development. There are a lot of Life Sciences researchers who can potentially use advanced genomics tools in the country, but not all of them are aware of the scope of the technology, or the kinds of applications that a particular technology can address. Through my role, I increase that awareness. I get them on board with the technical know-how ahead of them subscribing to it. By doing so, I help create a market awareness and fulfil the business targets. We target to reach out to the life sciences fraternity, the research community and the industry, We would eventually like our clients to subscribe to our technologies / our solutions. Often that happens sometimes that doesn't happen, but then the pursuit of increasing the market awareness about the technologies continues. We also have other responsibilities. We are quite active on social media. We do a lot of events, conferences, seminars or talks, and one on one discussions. So essentially, if I were to sum it up in one line, it would be scientific consulting. You sell to a scientist, and, make them see the possibilities of your technology.

Lakshmi Ganesan 6:34

Thank you, Debjani. I wonder what a typical day looks like for you at work.

Debjani Saha 6:38

A lot of my work involves traveling through the length and breadth of the country because we have pan-India presence. So we essentially have to travel a lot. And at one point of time, I was almost traveling for about 60 to 70% of my time. Travels have reduced as my team has grown, but still, I would essentially put down lot of traveling in my work profile. If I am in Delhi, then I would head to my office, interact with my team. Every day obviously, brings on some new challenges. You try and do the housekeeping work. You also have client meetings, you have conversations with people who would be interested in getting into this business, this genomic space, who would need some kind of insight, or hand holding. So you do a lot of meetings, and, then you're back home at the end of the day to your family. So this is what an average day looks like if I am not traveling. If I'm traveling, of course, then it entails early morning flights, rushing through the airport, barely grabbing a coffee and then wherever your final destination is, you are meeting clients, you're essentially talking to a lot of people about the domain, and sometimes even outside of it. Essentially, it's a very, very dynamic profession where it's not the same set of people that you meeting every day.

Lakshmi Ganesan 8:26

So Debjani, what is the scope for the genomics industry today in India? What are the opportunities for young graduates in this arena?

Debjani Saha 8:35

Genomics as a field has grown by quantum leaps over the last many years. And today, just in terms of revenue, if you just see, it's probably INR 100 million plus industry. It is slated to grow at a combined annual growth rate of maybe 18 to 19%, which is really high, and quite significant. So, it is bound to have employment opportunities. So the typical jobs would for example, in a lot of service labs that are coming up, there would be academic hubs which are essentially genomic setups. Here, you need people who would be running these labs, these instruments, and would actually oversee the scientific proceedings of the laboratory, would have a handle on how the experiment is done and how the data is generated, and so on. So you need laboratory managers, you need people who would take these solutions far and wide and who would essentially need to have all scientific background because you would need to interact with scientists, you would need to interact with Deans of institutes and colleges, or a DBT chiefs or MDs and CEOs of the companies and so you would need to pitch that to all of these people.

You will need to have people who would support the applications end of things. You will need application scientists and you will need to have people who can write about it. So you need scientific writers, you need consultants, you actually need people who can analyse the oodles of data that are coming out. You need to have artificial intelligence experts who can extrapolate a set of data to a number of other samples or situations. You would need people who can do Health Economic Studies, because the way our healthcare needs are growing or the fact that we have such a huge disease burden, we need scientists to collaborate with economists to draw out blueprints which the government can go by and formulate policies for the population at large. This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many, many more additions to this list. So I think this field is all set to grow. It's an ascending graph and there are plenty of opportunities that are there.

Lakshmi Ganesan 11:13

Thanks Debjani, for indicating the plethora of possibilities in this field. You obviously seem to be enjoying. I would like to know what is it that you enjoy most about what you do? What keeps you going?

Debjani Saha 11:22

You know, it's the fact that there is a possibility of doing something new every day. There is a possibility of meeting new people, knowing about new research projects. Like I said, there is a bigger purpose to your work to the work that you're doing. Sometimes you can actually see the difference that something that you've done is creating, whether it's improvement of plant varieties, whether it's having some kind of a significant role in the way doctors treat their patients or some significant discovery in basic research. So the fact that you are facilitating science in India, and you're doing it through the various ways possible.

It is not something which is very structured, it is very amorphous. There are also a number of possibilities to what you can do, the people that you meet and the disciplines that you can cross. So, I think it's the newness of the work every day and the fact that it seldom gets boring, and also the kind of culture that your company has created. It is also the fact that my organisation gives me a lot of autonomy in what I do. Things are not really micro-managed. It is also the fact that we have a very, very young, dynamic and motivated team. So we do these little things at our workplace, which keeps it entertaining. So you actually look forward to working on Mondays and on Sunday evenings, you're not cringing and cribbing that you have to report for the next day. So I think both of those things are important, I think the professional gratification and also the fact that you have some kind of personal touch in your work that keeps you going.

Lakshmi Ganesan 13:37

That's really wonderful to hear Debjani. Finally, are there any words of career wisdom from your journey so far that you would like to leave our listeners with today?

Debjani Saha 13:46

I think it's never too early to start networking. I think that is the single most important mantra that I want to impart to all my young friends. It does not matter if you're doing masters if you're doing graduation, if you're doing PhD, you don't have to go through the motions if you know what are the opportunities that you can possibly explore. So it's very important to have that knowledge to be able to decide intelligently because a career is for life.

At the same time, I would say there is no such point in your life, which is a point of no return. Anytime you feel that you're not enjoying what you're doing, there is always a way out and you should try and explore it. I have friends who are working as program managers and Microsoft, and this is after an entire journey of doing their masters and PhD and everything, they decided to transition into something like a program manager role.

So you should know what you are seeking and what are the available options. It has to be a confluence of what are your strengths, what are your skills, what are you good at, and also what you love and what will obviously pay you because you need to have that money to keep you going.

So please, network. Please be aware of the fact that commercial skills are important. Any opportunity that you get for sharpening your commercial acumen, or sharpening your business skills or business knowledge, I think you should grab it.

It is also very important to tell a good story. Communication is paramount. It doesn't matter if you are an academic or an industry person or anything, or if you're a journalist. But it's very, very important to be able to say a good story, to be able to relate, and convey very coherently what you want, what you know, or what you've done. It's important to sell your ideas through good communication. So communication, networking, business acumen are all very important.

When you realize that you love what you do, then the job does not feel like a job, for sure.

Lakshmi Ganesan 16:56

Thanks, Debjani for stressing that as much as it is important for graduates to be scholarly, it is important for them to be savvy.

Listeners, thank you for listening. And if you want to get in touch with Debjani, I will be adding a link to her contact information in the description section of this podcast. Keep listening to more science professionals talk about their career stories, only on crafting your career in science.

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