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Drug Discovery and Development Meet Student Apeksha Khatiwada

Apeksha Khatiwada, Drexel Drug Discovery and Development Program Student


Hometown: Birgunj, Nepal
Undergraduate: Kathmandu University (Dhulikhel, Nepal), BS in Pharmacy
Graduate: Drexel University College of Medicine, MS in Drug Discovery and Development


Can you tell me a little about yourself before you came to Drexel?

I came to United States in June 2016 and wanted to start studying and complete my master’s degree. Prior to that, I was working for a pharmaceutical company in Nepal, and my interest towards understanding the entire process of drug development escalated with each passing day. In Nepal, we were not doing any pre-clinical studies, and I wanted to see how it all begins.

Why did you choose to apply for the Drug Discovery and Development (DDD) program?

I wanted to understand the process as a whole, beginning from the initial step when you only have a concept for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. I was looking at university programs and I found programs in pharmacology and pharmaceutics. However, the Drug Discovery and Development program seemed like the best fit. I looked at the course curriculum and did research on the program, and I could not be happier.

You began the program as an online student, but switched to the face-to-face program. What was your reason for this?

I always intended to do the program on-campus, but it did not start until the fall semester, and I wanted to get started right away. I could start my studies online in the spring and then switch to on campus in the fall. I was interested in being on campus because I love working in research labs. There is nothing that makes me happier than being in lab and working on my experiments. Research is such an interesting journey, and the more I have been involved, the more I enjoy it.

What has your experience been like in the program?

I am so glad that I chose this program. The curriculum is well organized and offers outstanding electives. I especially enjoyed the core course Drug Discovery Development I and II, which is a wonderfully designed course that gives insight to the drug discovery flowchart, what to expect, the trend in industries, FDA guidelines, industrial and academic collaborations, case studies for a number of marketed drugs, and more. Additionally, we got to meet accomplished scientists from different pharmaceutical industries who shared their experiences. I have found those discussions to be incredibly valuable. My experience in the program has been incredible overall.

What is your relationship with the faculty like?

The relationship with faculty is so great that you feel more confident every day. They constantly motivate you to do good work. Dr. McGonigle and Dr. Mathiasen are always there to listen to you and figure out a way to make things easier for you. Their willingness to understand and help each student is commendable. There might be some occasions when you feel overwhelmed with classes, presentations and everything else, but you can go talk to them about how you feel, and they will help you plan things better.

What is your relationship like with your classmates?

We are a small class and it has been a great learning experience. I was a little nervous at the beginning of the programming, but everyone has been so welcoming that I am enjoying every bit of this journey.

Can you tell me about the research you are currently doing?

I find neuroscience very fascinating, and I have been very fortunate to be a part of Dr. Andreia Mortensen’s lab. I joined the lab in August 2017, and I have been performing screening studies of allosteric modulators of glutamate transporters, using overexpressing cells and glial cultures.

What skills do you feel you have developed during this program?

There are number of skills that I have learned through this program. In regard to my research, I got to learn different biochemical assays, cell culture and animal handling, and I am still learning something new every time. Apart from these laboratory skills, I got chance to polish my presentation, communication, time management and group skills. I feel I have become a more confident person now.

You are on track to complete the program in only three semesters. How did you manage to move through it so quickly?

I started in January 2017, and I will graduate this May 2018. It’s a matter of planning well and being honest with your goals. I was doing 17 credits and spending 25-30 hours in lab every week. Even when you are in lab, you can study between your experiments. There is always some wait time, and I made the best of it. I would complete my assignments while I was incubating my cells for an hour. These are small things that you can take care of along the way, which even gives you some free time on weekends to enjoy. I need to be happy in order to be able to give my best, so it was not like I only studied and forgot the other parts of my life. Also, the program directors can help you plan well and provide suggestions to improve.

What do you plan to do after you complete your degree?

In this program, I learned about the differences between the pharmaceutical company I worked for in Nepal and what working in the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. would be like. I am very excited to jump in and gain some industrial experience here. After that, I look forward to getting my PhD.

What advice would you give to future and current students of the Drug Discovery and Development program?

I would advise them to be optimistic and believe in yourself. Getting started with this program means you are already one step closer to your goal. Being determined, adhering to your agenda and not being distracted is very critical. Enjoy the wonderful opportunity you have and give 100% when you are here. Be sure to make the best out of every interaction with visitors from the pharmaceutical industry and from different universities. Learn about their experiences, and listen to how they started. Also, be sure to take advantage of every chance you get to present. I feel your presentation skills matter a lot. One has to be as competent and excellent in explaining their work as he or she is in performing it.