Q&A: The Importance of Mentorship at API


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Featuring Dr. Rakesh Bhat, Director of Laboratory Science at API and Post-Doctoral Fellow Dr. Archana Koul

Dr. Archana Koul, Post-Doctoral Fellow at API

Tell us a little bit more about yourself. Where did you study previously? And do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work? 

I hail from the extreme north of India, from the very cold and snow-clad valley of Kashmir, where we also have maple trees and almost similar weather to here in Canada. I did my schooling  – graduate, post-graduate and PhD in India. Prior to joining here at API, I was working as a post-doc at the University of Guelph. My hobbies outside of my profession are reading novels and learning yoga and meditation.

What has your experience like been so far working as an API Trainee?

It’s been an amazing learning curve for me. I like the work culture and challenges it throws. Personally I have been learning so much on the front of how to strike a balance between personal and professional life and I think the platform that API provides goes a long way in helping with that.  

What has it been like working with Dr. Bhat as your mentor? What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far? 

Dr. Bhat is truly a great and accomplished scientist. He is a perfectionist and very hard working. Besides being versatile, he is always very helpful. As a mentor, he is very diligent and meticulous about meeting the project goals. One thing I would like to highlight here is that I am certainly trying to learn from him, as to how to stay focussed and how to be a multi-tasker.

Can you tell us more about the COVID-19 project you’ve been working on? What are you hoping to accomplish?

We are trying to develop a simple, robust, rapid, convenient as well as cost-effective saliva-based testing method for the detection of SARS-CoV-2. Hopefully, we will be able to come up with the best buffer system that allows high-throughput, rapid, and repeat testing of large populations for the detection of SARS-CoV-2. 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

Godwillingly, five years down the road, I would like to be a good scientist or a professor or professional at a good research firm like API. Ultimately I want to work in a way that not only yields results, but it also beneficial for greater humanity too.

Dr. Rakesh Bhat, Director of Laboratory Science at API

Why do you feel it is important to mentor trainees? Did you have any mentors that inspired you in your career? 

Nobody comes with a vast knowledge and answers in the field they are working in. We need someone to guide and teach us. The mentor-trainee relationship is a two-way road going in the same direction instead of the opposite direction. Mentees help you to reinforce what you know, which opens doors for new learning for mentors too. The whole purpose of mentor-mentee programs is to advise, gain knowledge, encourage the other to grow, enhance CVs, and benefit society in the long term. Mentors help trainees by connecting them within their professional network for new job opportunities and possibilities.

Everyone needs a mentor in life, and I am no exception. I have had a couple of mentors in my life. My dad was one of my first and most impactful mentors who taught me to never give-up. My supervisors Prof. Stefan Berger and Dr. Michael Houghton have been pillars in the progression of my career. Although these relationships did not start through a formal program, I still realize how fortunate I have been in having such great mentors.

How has it been working with Dr. Koul so far? 

It has been great working with Dr. Koul. It is important to mention here, that Dr. Koul comes from a plant biotechnology background and she took the challenge and risk to learn the totally new field of human-pathogen interaction. With some help and guidance, she was able to secure a MITACS fellowship for herself. This is where I was able to give her guidance in grant writing as well as teaching her the new techniques necessary to succeed in the project.

Why do you feel that trainees are important for API and the life sciences community? 

Trainees are very important for any research ecosystem and API is an important part of this ecosystem. We here at API train the next generation of researchers and scientists in multi-disciplinary areas. There is no one who gives new researchers a chance to get some real industry experience. We are trying to be a stepping stone for them to learn and move on to their next big dream job while serving the community.

What’s the number one piece of advice that you would give to a trainee, or someone who is thinking about working as a researcher? 

Never give up. There will be a lot of roadblocks, you will fail many times, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The trainee period is a learning period. Never lose faith in yourself.