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Drug Discovery & Development (DDD) Meet Alum Devi Ashok

Drexel Drug Discovery & Development Program Alumn Devi Ashok


Hometown: Kerala, India
Undergraduate: Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala
Graduate: National Institute of Interdisciplinary Science and Technology, PhD in Chemistry; Drexel University College of Medicine, MS in Drug Discovery and Development


Prior to coming to Drexel, you earned a PhD in chemistry. When did you become interested in chemistry and decide to pursue it?

I come from a family of educators. My parents were both teachers. My mom was a high school chemistry teacher. I had always had good chemistry teachers in school. That's probably why I initially became interested in chemistry. Later I found that it's very much connected to human life, too. After my master's in chemistry, I was granted a scholarship by the government of India to pursue a PhD, so I decided to study organic chemistry at the National Institute of Interdisciplinary Science and Technology in Kerala, India.

Where did you do your post-doc?

I worked as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Guelph in Ontario for two years. I worked with Dr. Marcel Schlaf in the Department of Chemistry where we were developing hydrogenation catalysis for converting seed and pyrolysis bio-oils into biodiesel.

What made you decide to pursue the Drug Discovery and Development (DDD) program here at Drexel?

After my postdoc, I decided to stay home to raise my kids, but I always wanted to have a career in the health care industry. I was home for five years, which is a long time. I felt a lack of confidence in putting myself forward for networking and for jobs. I also felt that I needed recent experience and research to re-enter the job field.

I always wanted to work in drug development, so I did a Google search of programs in drug discovery and development. The program at Drexel came up, and I went through the curriculum. I thought, “Okay. This is perfect. This is what I want.” During the interview, I had a chance to speak with Drs. McGonigle, Salvino, and Ajit. After that, I was convinced that this is what I wanted to do.

Once you were in the program, you worked with Dr. Salvino in his lab.

Yes. I worked with him for nine months. We were developing allosteric modulators for the glutamate transporters in the brain. It was a project in collaboration with Dr. Andreia Mortensen in the same department. It was a very interesting project.

What was your overall experience like in the Drug Discovery and Development program?

I like that the courses are taught by people who have real-life experience. We got to network with a lot of people in the industry, so I was actually able to build a good network during the program.

All of the subjects that I studied were really interesting. I had no background in biology at all, and here I took courses like physiology and pharmacology. It was all new to me, and it helped me widen my horizon and gain new skills.

Also, since I was home for a long time, I didn't have any confidence in doing presentations or public speaking. During the program, we got a lot of opportunities to present our work. We'd do at least one presentation a week. Getting the opportunity to present and work on team projects helped me a lot.

What was your relationship with the faculty like?

The faculty, especially Drs. Barrett, McGonigle and Mathiasen, are awesome. They gave us a lot of personal attention. They are very supportive, and their doors are always open. You can just walk up to them and ask them for help. They're really knowledgeable, and at the same time, they're really humble and ready to help. They want to see you succeed.

What was your relationship like with your classmates?

There were five of us in the program. We all came from different backgrounds, and we had very different goals in life and career, too. My classmates were all very good students and good friends. I'm in touch with all of them now. They're all on their way to their respective careers and are doing very well.

Did you do an internship while you were in the program?

I got an internship at Teva Pharmaceuticals during my final semester, and that was through the networking that I did while I was doing the program. Dr. Reynolds from Teva, came here to give us a seminar. Through that I got the opportunity to do the internship.

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

I learned a lot of new skills, but most beneficial for me was the communication skills. We had to write a lot of scientific documents and do presentations individually as well as group presentations. That has really helped me a lot during my internship and during job interviews. This program really helped me to gain experience in what is required in the industry.

How was it transitioning back into being a student? Were there resources to help you?

The transition was the hardest decision I made because I have two small kids. We were all living in Canada, so when I moved to Philly, we sent our kids to India to be with my parents. So I'm here, my husband is in Canada, and our kids are in India. It was very hard. As a mom, it was a hard decision to make, but I'm very happy that I took the risk. Once I began the program, I knew it was the right decision.

I didn't know anyone in Philadelphia. I packed my bags, booked an apartment online, and showed up, but it all worked out very well. The faculty were very helpful, so they made the transition easy. I'm sure that all the international students would say the same thing. You get a lot of support from the faculty, as well as from other students and staff.

What are your plans now that you have completed the program?

The internship at Teva Pharmaceuticals that I got through a connection that I made in the program led to the experience that helped me a lot in gaining this job. I gained eight months work experience with my master's. My new position is going to be Analytical Scientist II, with a company called Quotient Sciences. They are a drug development services organization. The position is exactly what I was looking for.

My husband will be moving to join me in July, and we will be bringing our kids in August. I am really excited to be together with everyone again. Through this process, I believe I have become an inspirational figure for my kids. I hope I can teach them that if you work really hard, you can succeed at whatever you want. When I decided to pursue this degree, I knew I wanted a career in the health care industry in this field. I wanted to accrue these skills. I think the program fulfilled all those things, so I'm really happy.

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

Talk to the faculty. If you're open and if you discuss your priorities and career interests with them, they can help guide you. They are extremely knowledgeable and have years of experience working in the industry. Also, make use of the opportunities to network. There are a lot of resources here. Take advantage of all this program has to offer.