Getting to know: Graduate student Subhendu Pandit to pursue R&D work after his PhD

Date

11/30/21

By Tracy Crane, Department of Chemistry


Working last summer as a research and development intern with Mediomics, a small biotech start-up company in St. Louis, graduate student Subhendu Pandit discovered how much he enjoys research, design and development as a chemist in the industrial sector.

An international student in the Chemistry at Illinois PhD program, Pandit said he and other international students can be reluctant to explore job opportunities and internships in industry partly due to Visa restrictions. But, he says, the idea should not be dismissed without seeking opportunities that might be available.

“There is a broad misconception that going into industry would be a mundane path of mostly routine jobs and nothing too exciting. In face of all these, my experience has been starkly different, and I realized doing research, design, and development in a commercial setup is something I would like to pursue in the future,” said Pandit, who is from a small village in West Bengal, India, named ‘Khusiganj,’ which means ‘the joyous market-town’ in the Bengali language.

Growing up in India, he became fascinated with chemistry for its “central science” nature and how chemistry connects physical sciences with life sciences and applied sciences.

In choosing a PhD program, Pandit wanted to apply to the top chemistry graduate programs in the U.S. and was excited by the research at UIUC. He traveled all the way from India to Champaign-Urbana for a Chemistry at Illinois graduate program recruiting weekend.

“I loved this small-town spirit with one of the best Chemistry graduate programs in the country,” he said. “I was interested to work at the intersection of chemistry, biology, and medicine and the research work of multiple faculties in the department was immensely impactful and cutting edge on that front.”

Pandit is now in his final year as a PhD candidate in professor Shuming Nie’s lab, where he has worked on developing nanoparticle-based contrast agents for image-guided cancer surgery.

“We are trying to make cancer tumors glow in the dark so that the surgeons get some guidance about where to make a cut to precisely remove a cancer tumor. It is like building a GPS guidance system for the surgeons to perform precision cancer surgery,” he said. “If you love research and innovation, there is no better place to be. Here (UIUC) you will be right in the middle of exciting research in a very supportive environment and contribute your invaluable share.”

Pandit said many of his fellow international graduate students are reluctant to leave the academic path and fearful of exploring different options in a new country.

“I feel in most cases, it is not entirely by choice, but by the lack of exploring other avenues to make an informed choice,” he said. “I wish I had some international students from the department to look up to and be more confident in taking an unusual step out of the familiar path, which has turned out to be one of the most fulfilling research experiences I have ever had.”

At Mediomics, Pandit primarily worked on developing fluorescence-based imaging agents for sequence-specific imaging of m6A RNA modifications using a proprietary assay development platform of the company, funded by a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health. He also worked on other projects, including establishing an Oxford Nanopore sequencing facility.

What he loved most, he said, was the immediate and direct clinical impact of the work.

“It was very gratifying to see my work could get out there as an actual product in a matter of months,” he said.

Research goals and other factors may not make an internship feasible for all doctoral candidates, but Pandit encourages fellow international students to explore the idea of working as a chemist in private industry as a future career option.

“One should be on the lookout for the available opportunities to broaden their experience and explore alternative career choices,” said Pandit, who anticipates graduating with his PhD in summer 2022 and seeking an R&D opportunity in a lab at a small biotech company.

When he’s not doing experiments in the lab on campus, Pandit enjoys experimenting in the kitchen, and also enjoys lifting weights in his free time. He has been a member of the Joint Safety Team (JST) in Department of Chemistry the last two years and is also an active member of the East and Central Illinois Bengali Association (ECIBA).

Immigrating to a different part of the world can be a very daunting and stressful experience, Pandit said.

“But I felt right at home here at Illinois, thanks to the warm, welcoming and inclusive environment we have here,” he said. “It is a very intellectually stimulating environment here. You get to interact with the most creative minds, making you think beyond what is currently perceived as possible in the field and push the boundary. Apart from that, the department has been very supportive to me, not only on academic issues but also with mental and financial support, which has helped me get through difficult times.”

 

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