Introduction

My name is Shikhar and I come from a small town in north-central part in India called Rae Bareli, which is around 500 km from the national capital New Delhi. Growing up in a small city, I was surrounded by a rich tapestry of traditions and a love for learning that has greatly influenced my academic pursuits. After finishing high-school, I decided to study Information and Communication Technology (Computer Science) in the western part of India at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute for Information and Communication Technology in Gandhinagar, some 1500 km away from my hometown. In my undergrad years, I developed an interest in programming and chose to major in Computer Science. Coding and software engineering suited very well with my analytical mind, and I envisioned a future where I would write detailed lines of code as a software engineer. However, life has a way of surprising us. It wasn't until I embarked on a series of internships that I realized software engineering wasn't the path for me. Rather than feeling disheartened, I saw this realization as an opportunity for growth and exploration. I underwent a journey where I transitioned from software engineering into the fascinating intersection of Computer Science, Biotechnology, and Bioinformatics. It was during this transition that I discovered the incredible potential of applying computational skills to the life sciences. The decision to shift gears wasn't an easy one, but it was guided by a passion for exploring the cutting edge of technology and its applications in the biological sciences. I found a new purpose in utilizing my coding skills to unravel the mysteries of bioinformatics, contributing to advancements that could impact the healthcare industry and beyond. Following my realization that software engineering wasn't my calling, I immersed myself in elective courses such as Introduction to Biotechnology and Introduction to Natural Computing. For my undergraduate thesis, I took on a challenging project – the development of a CAD software tailored for biochemists. This innovative software allowed them to design intricate 3D shapes using synthetic DNA. To my delight, this project gained recognition and was accepted at a prestigious conference in the field of DNA Nanotechnology, marking the beginning of my journey into bioinformatics and biophysics. Building on this foundation, I pursued a master's degree in Biophysics at Technical University of Dresden, Germany; with a strong focus on computational biology and bioinformatics. The academic rigor and hands-on experience during my master's studies honed my skills and deepened my understanding of the intersection between biology and computational sciences. Post-masters, I embarked on a fascinating chapter of my career as a Research Scientist at the Institute for Soft Matter Physics in Leipzig, Germany. In this role, I delved into the intricate mechanisms of action for bacterial proteins. This project demanded a diverse skill set, requiring proficiency in bioinformatics, data analysis, analytical chemistry, and computational biophysics. This phase of my career not only allowed me to contribute meaningfully to scientific understanding but also provided invaluable insights into the interdisciplinary nature of research. Currently, I find myself in the vibrant city of Boston, wearing dual hats as a Systems Integration and R&D Engineer at Volta Labs, along with serving as a Bioinformatics Fellow at Open Avenues Foundation. This unique intersection allows me to bridge the gap between technology and life sciences, applying my expertise to innovative projects that push the boundaries of both fields. I am excited to share these experiences and insights to inspire your own explorations in the fascinating world of technology and life sciences.

Bioinformatics

career options

In Life Science Technology, where biology meets cutting-edge technology, a Bioinformatician's role is crucial. Working in a Life Science Technology company, you apply computational methods to analyze biological data, decode genomic sequences, and extract key insights. Your daily tasks involve contributing to drug discovery, precision medicine, and advancing genetic understanding. In this fast-paced environment, you collaborate with multidisciplinary teams, develop analytical tools, and stay abreast of technological advancements. Join this field where your contributions shape the future of science and technology in a corporate setting.

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Bioinformatician
2
Research and Development Scientist/Engineer
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Systems Integration Engineer
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Computer Vision Engineer
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Biomedical Engineer/Scientist
6
Consulting

Bioinformatics

 skills

What are the main hard skills you use on a daily basis in your current job?

1
Python Programming

My proficiency in Python has been cultivated through a combination of formal education and a continuous commitment to self-directed learning. It started with academic exposure and evolved as I encountered real-world challenges in my role. On a daily basis, Python is my go-to tool for data analysis, automation, and scripting. It empowers me to interpret vast datasets generated during DNA sequencing, extracting meaningful insights. I use Python not only to crunch numbers but also to present the findings in a clear and actionable format to both engineering and biological teams.

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Systems Integration

I honed my expertise in systems integration through hands-on experience gained in various roles within the DNA sequencing industry. Learning occurred in the field, dealing with actual instruments, and understanding the nuances of their components. In my current role, systems integration is at the core of what I do. I work closely with engineering teams to identify opportunities for improvement, seamlessly integrating hardware, software, and firmware components. This collaborative effort results in enhanced instrument functionality and improved overall efficiency.

3
NGS Workflow Optimization

I honed my expertise in systems integration through hands-on experience gained in various roles within the DNA sequencing industry. Learning occurred in the field, dealing with actual instruments, and understanding the nuances of their components. In my current role, systems integration is at the core of what I do. I work closely with engineering teams to identify opportunities for improvement, seamlessly integrating hardware, software, and firmware components. This collaborative effort results in enhanced instrument functionality and improved overall efficiency.

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What are the main soft skills you use on a daily basis in your current job?

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Cross-disciplinary Communication

The ability to communicate effectively across disciplines has been refined through my real-world experiences in teams that bridge engineering and biology. Communication is key in my role. I act as a glue between engineering and biology teams, ensuring that technical information is conveyed clearly and comprehensively. This skill is vital in fostering understanding, collaboration, and ultimately, the success of projects that require the integration of diverse expertise.

2
Leadership (Influence without Authority)

Gained through assuming leadership roles in various projects and initiatives, even when not in a formal managerial position. In my role, leadership is demonstrated through your ability to influence decisions and guide projects. Whether suggesting changes to instrument design or proposing optimizations to workflows, my capacity to lead without formal authority has proven instrumental in driving positive outcomes.


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Adaptability

Developed through exposure to diverse projects and roles, as well as a willingness to embrace change.The ever-evolving landscape of technology and biology demands adaptability. I have learned to navigate shifts in project priorities, changes in technology, and modifications to experimental protocols. This skill ensures that you stay agile in your approach, contributing to the success of projects and the advancement of technologies in your field.

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Shikhar

’s personal path

Tell us about your personal journey in

Bioinformatics

:

Securing a job in the U.S. wasn't an easy feat for me, but persistence and a strong support structure played pivotal roles in eventually landing a wonderful position. First and foremost I started with updating my LinkedIn profile. This included adding an “Open to Work” banner on my LinkedIn profile picture, updating my past job descriptions and adding relevant weblinks to any of the projects that I had done in the past. Next, I created multiple filters in the “Jobs” tab on LinkedIn and enabled notifications for all the types of roles I was interested in. This allowed all the new job openings to arrive directly at my inbox. This was a good starting point for me to start applying for roles I was interested in. Once, I found a job description that aligned with my profile, I proceeded to prepare notes on that specific job, hiring manger’s contact details and about the company details. Once I was confident with my background study, I drafted a personalized cover letter for that job and sent it over to the hiring manager with my CV. I always found that reaching out directly via email is always a better option over applying via a job portal. ‍ I cast a wide net in my job search, exploring opportunities through various channels like LinkedIn, local meetups, asking friends and colleague for a referral etc. Networking became a cornerstone of my approach. I expanded my network both online and in person, attending networking events, and reaching out to past colleagues and schoolmates. This not only broadened my horizons but also provided valuable insights into different industries. The interview process for my most recent job was a comprehensive journey. It involved four rounds of interviews and problem-solving sessions with different individuals within the company. What stood out for me was the opportunity to showcase my past work through a 45-minute presentation. This format allowed me the freedom to express myself in my own words to the interview panel, adding a personal touch to the process. Subsequent technical rounds, bar-raiser interviews, and behavioral interviews rounded out the experience, providing a holistic evaluation.

What would you tell your younger you regarding building your current career?

If I were to give my younger self some advice, I would start by saying that changing major in the later stages of your Undergraduate studies is absolutely fine. It is better to work on projects that ignite passion within you rather than something that feels easy to do. Next, I would also say that you should pay special emphasis to the relationships that you build during your career. It is very important to reach out and network with your mentors, colleagues and classmates and have a lasting relationship with them. Finally, I would tell myself that each rejection is an opportunity to grow. It's a process of continuous improvement, embracing challenges, and trusting that the right opportunity will come along with persistence and dedication.

Final thoughts & tips

Navigating the job market demands resilience and a commitment to continuous improvement. Rejections are not setbacks but opportunities for growth. Embrace the journey, learn from setbacks, and persistently refine your skills and approach. Networking is a powerful tool—both online and in person—so diversify your search efforts. Build a robust professional network, attend industry events, and explore various platforms for job opportunities. During interviews, showcase your uniqueness. Leverage presentations or detailed explanations of past work to set yourself apart. Embrace the holistic preparation for interviews, be ready for diverse assessments, and enjoy the journey. Remember, success often takes time; celebrate your growth, and trust the process. The job search is dynamic, and every experience, including challenges and rejections, contributes to your professional development. Best of luck on your journey!

Shikhar Gupta

Shikhar Gupta

Bioinformatics
Build Fellow
Open Avenues Foundation
Open Avenues Foundation

Shikhar Gupta is a Bioinformatics Build Fellow at Open Avenues Foundation, where he works with students leading projects in the field of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology.

Shikhar is a Systems Integration and R&D Engineer at Volta Labs Inc. where he works on integrating genomic applications on the Volta Labs fluidics platform and develops new automated biochemical workflows.

Before Volta Labs and Open Avenues, he spent 5 years working as a Scientific Researcher at Institute for Soft Matter Physics in Leipzig, Germany understanding the mechanism of bacterial immunity. He holds a degree in Biophysics.

A fun fact about Shikhar: I like to train for long-distance runs, enjoy reading about enlightenment philosophy and innovation and love dancing to Bollywood beats 🙂

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