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Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics Meet Niyant Shah

Niyant Shah, Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics Student


Hometown: Sayreville, NJ
Undergraduate: University of Connecticut, BS in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Class of 2008
Graduate: Drexel University College of Medicine, MS in Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics, Class of 2012


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

Before I came to Drexel, I was working for a year at a small biotech company in Northern New Jersey. This was my first job in the industry after graduating from undergrad, and I'll admit it was pretty awful! The experience made me quickly realize that if I was going to get anywhere in the field, I would need to pursue a higher degree.

Aside from that, I was a normal kid coming out of a four-year undergraduate education. After graduating, I moved back in with my parents, which was nice since I got to be close to my girlfriend (now wife). Prior to that we had suffered through a long-distance relationship while I was away at school, so being closer to her was huge. Being in a relationship like that, which I knew was long-term, further strengthened my resolve to pursue a higher degree and become truly successful in the industry. I wasn't just doing it for myself and my family—I was doing it for her as well!

Why did you choose to apply for and attend the Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics (MCBG) program?

Being that I had obtained a BS in Molecular & Cell Biology, it only seemed natural to pursue an MS in Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics! Honestly though, I've always been fascinated by science and, in particular, biology; how cells function on a molecular level and come together to create life is quite amazing! More so, how things can go wrong at a molecular level to become disease, and what we can do to fight that, is something I've always been passionate about.

In terms of choosing to come to Drexel, the school was on my short list of places to go for a graduate degree. I wanted to stay close to home (central Jersey) while still getting into a reputable program. After visiting for my interview, getting to meet members of the faculty and seeing what Philly had to offer, I knew the College of Medicine was my top choice.

What was your experience like in the program?

The biggest thing I would say is how eye opening it is to realize how little my undergraduate education prepared me for grad school! Nothing against UCONN or the faculty there, but I quickly realized the graduate school environment was much more tailored to the type of education I needed. The classroom setting was smaller which made the faculty more approachable. The exams were a lot more theory and interpretation based, which was also better suited to my way of thinking. And of course, the research was something that I enjoyed and had been looking forward to ever since I decided this was the right path for me.

What was your relationship with the faculty like?

My relationship with the faculty was quite good. There were some faculty that I knew better than others, and there were a few members that I felt I could really go to for advice or guidance, my principal investigator (PI) Eishi Noguchi, PhD, included.

Overall, I felt that the faculty really enjoyed their positions, getting to lead and conduct important research while also educating the next generation of scientists. I felt that they had an invested interest in our success and they really wanted to be there, not just out of necessity but because they really cared and wanted to see us succeed.

What was your relationship like with your classmates?

My relationship with my classmates was also quite positive. I made many friends during my time in the program.

I came into the program with the intentions of obtaining a master's degree (thesis track); however, I was in the same cohort of students that were pursuing non-thesis master's degrees or PhDs. Despite the different degrees being pursued, we all attended the same classes and all felt like we were at the same “level.” Every now and then one of my classmates would ask me if I was sure I didn't want to go for a PhD, but in the end they all understood my decision and supported me through my time there all the way until my thesis defense.

Can you tell me about any research you did while in the program?

A lot of the research I did is published, so I don't see why not!

My thesis work was conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Noguchi, which specializes in studying diseases associated with DNA replication and repair. Specifically, I investigated an enzyme called ChlR1, which is involved in ensuring replication occurs smoothly at the replication fork. Through my work, and others, we found that loss of ChlR1 function can lead to improper repair at the replication fork, which may lead to certain disease states.

What skills did you develop during this program?

I would say I developed a whole gamut of skills during my time in the program. The most obvious skills would be the ones I developed at the lab-bench. Prior to my time in the program, I had very little lab-bench experience; afterward I felt I could confidently work in any molecular biology lab. Aside from those skills, I feel I developed “soft” skills like learning how to plan and multi-task, how to engage with others in scientific conversation, how to present my work, and how to think about the work I'm doing and the science behind it. My time in the Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics program not only made me a better scientist but also a better professional.

What do you do for work?

I am currently a Senior Scientist at GlaxoSmithKline working on drug discovery within the oncology therapeutic area.

Did the Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics program help prepare you for your job?

Absolutely! There's no way I would have gotten to where I am now without the experience I had in the program. As I've said already, going through the program helped shape me as both a scientist and a professional; while I didn't land a job at GSK straight out of school, I wouldn't have made it this far if it wasn't for the Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics program at Drexel . Additionally, I use many of the skills I developed back then to this day.

What advice would you give to future and current students of the Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics program?

A few things: attend and pay attention in class, don't be afraid to engage in discussions and ask questions, and figure out the kind of research you want to do. The last part may be more challenging due to funding issues, especially if you're pursuing a PhD, but it helps to be doing research if you are interested in the work.

A Molecular & Cell Biology & Genetics program graduate student working in a laboratory at Drexel University College of Medicine.