“Everyone makes mistakes and face their own battles. But my advice would be to not let it define you. Let it mould you instead. Sometimes, things are only as big as we make them”
Dr Niveditha Vathsangam is an immunologist by education currently working as a Scientist at MiniFab Pty Ltd to create ground-breaking microfluidic point-of-care devices. She completed her PhD in Veterinary Immunology from The University of Melbourne (2016-2019), in collaboration with Nexvet Biopharma and Zoetis Inc., during which she developed a novel therapeutic antibody treatment option for an equine disease known as laminitis.
Niveditha was born in India but has lived most of her life in different countries of the world. She completed her early schooling in Doha, Qatar before moving back to India to complete her high schooling and engineering based-undergraduation in Biotechnology. During her final year, she was selected for a training program with MIT-Harvard Health Sciences Technology in Boston, Massachusetts.
Niveditha attempted to pursue a doctorate at an early age only to become conscious of the fact that it wasn’t meant for her at the time. After polishing her bench skills in the USA, she moved into an industry role at ThermoFisher Scientific where she was an integral part of the innovation team that developed Superclonal™ Secondary antibodies, currently sold in the market. She was also site lead for antibody verification and validation team. This industry role gave her the foundation to pursue her PhD a few years later, in therapeutic antibody development using analytical and technical skills from molecular biology, protein biology and cell biology.
An active STEMM communicator, Niveditha has participated in various outreach programs such as In2Science and Skype-a-Scientist to mentor peers and students in STEMM. She is passionate about educating the younger generation on possible career pathways in STEM and hopefully debunking the myths that surround the concepts of how to achieve a fulfilling scientific career.
You have worked as a scientist in industry and academia – what skills could be applied to both sectors?
There are some core differences in the way research is processed in academia versus industry, however, many skills are vital for success in both areas. Some of the most common transferable skills I have come across are:
- Adaptability – To help you transition between roles and processes. When you are transitioning between different industries and roles, adaptability to the different processes as well as different working styles, will take you a long way in your career. It helps to portray you as a confident individual, one that is strong in their field yet willing to learn.
- Communication – To effectively deliver your ideas, thoughts and results. This is no surprise in any field. An important skill to develop is effective communication of your ideas and your results. Whether it is delivering your data by a presentation or communicating thoughts through a face-to-face meeting, learning efficacious communication styles will aide in delivering the message you want to convey and, in the style you wish to convey it in.
- Ethics & Integrity – To provide confidence in your conclusions to the scientific community and the public. Today, products and solutions are built on strong and accurate research data. Without responsible conduct of research, any finding is circumstantial at best and possibly life-threatening at its worst. It is vital to maintain research integrity and carry out conscientious research to provide confidence in your conclusions to the scientific community and the public.
- Research planning – To critically question, plan and document/interpret a problem that is important for the society. Research is not just about conducting experiments until you get what you hope to see. It is the ability to critically question, plan and document/interpret a problem that is important for the society. It involves firstly identifying and describing a question that requires a solution. Secondly, identifying and integrating the best methods and resources from published and reliable work (including giving credit where due). Thirdly, possibly collaborating with experts in the field to design a plan based on the appropriate variables and drawing precise conclusions based on the data obtained. And finally, being able to envisage possible solutions for additional problems with available information.
What are your favourite past‐times or hobbies?
I am a very sporty individual and love spending time outdoors. I love to go for hikes and try out different kinds of water sports during the Melbourne summer (kayaking, SUP etc.). I frequently go outdoors for walks and runs around my neighbourhood. I am keen on maintaining a healthy and fit lifestyle as I find that it helps me focus better at work. I also enjoy reading about historical events and understanding the causes of such events. It helps to give some perspective and learnings on how to live a safer and fulfilling life.
What have you learnt during your career to increase your resilience?
For the most part, I attempt to be organised in my own work and reasonably ambitious with deadlines. One of the most important factors I have picked up over the years is maintaining your calm and not emotionally react to situations. Specifically, when there are communication disparities and team challenges, it is important to take a step back and assess the situation in its entirety. Another important tool is to be honest, open and respectful. It took effort, patience and an open mind to understand my strengths and limitations, and ways to harness them for a productive disposition.
What is your strongest attribute(s)?
Determination and consistency. Whether it was a science-related event or prepping for a race, these two key attributes have always carried me to the finish line and very often, victoriously. They haven’t been attributes I was born with, but with practice, it became easier to achieve. You also learn to recognise your strengths and curiosities quicker while helping you prepare for most challenges you may come across. I have always loved the quote by Richard Bach: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” Everyone has to start somewhere.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to women just starting their careers in STEMM?
Failure is nothing but another challenge. It took me a long time to come to terms with this realisation. It is important to recognise a mistake (which can be plenty in the beginning) and learn from it. Everyone makes mistakes and face their own battles. But my advice would be to not let it define you. Let it mould you instead. Sometimes, things are only as big as we make them.
It is also never too late to learn something new.
What has been the biggest barrier you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
After my first attempt at a PhD, I was diagnosed with clinical depression by the second year and that contributed to my departure from the program in 2012. My confidence was shot, I felt like a failure and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to continue a career in science. Ultimately, it was getting back into the workforce and back into the laboratory that restored my confidence and reinforced my skills. The key was overcoming the fear of failure again and at times, the very thing that caused it in the first place could be the solution.
LinkedIn: Niveditha Vathsangam