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Abhigya Mookherjee

Senior Fellow, Department of Medicinal Chemistry, University of Washington

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Believing in one's abilities is of paramount importance. And don't forget to find some good mentors.

WHAT DO YOU DO?

The constant in all my research endeavors has been to solve real-world chemistry problems. To accomplish this, I first chose to build the muscle required by training with one of the pioneers of the all-ubiquitous mass spectrometry (MS) technique. My PhD work with Dr. Peter Armentrout comprised of using MS to study gas-phase fragmentations of protonated peptides, where I measured the least amount of energy (aka bond dissociation energy) needed to break bonds like peptide bonds. With the Kevlar of fundamental chemistry, I switched gears and moved to University of Washington (UW) to attack applied problems in the area of glycomics. One of the Napoleonesque goals is to resolve and determine structures of isomeric glycan fragments commonly observed in typical glycoproteomics experiment by using a combination of MS-based tools like ion mobility and gas-phase hydrogen deuterium exchange.
Because of my interest in business development, I have taken on an additional responsibility by helping Technology Transfer office called COMOTION with assessing commercialization potential / patentability of innovations of UW scientists. This gave me firsthand experience on what it takes to take a research idea to market. Outside the lab, I am the co-organizer of Science-on-Tap to help with science outreach and communication.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I chose chemistry and later mass spectrometry because:
1) I found a very good mentor in my high school chemistry teacher who galvanized my interest in chemistry
2) I was particularly interested in physical chemistry & I had the opportunity to train with some of the best physical chemists, both theoreticians (for my Masters) and experimentalists (for my PhD).
3) After having performed both theoretical and experimental chemistry, I found that I wanted to solve real-world chemistry problems by making use of my expertise in mass spectrometry (MS) and I also wanted to work with diverse collaborations which would enable me to learn new skills. Thus I switched gears from fundamental MS to applied MS after finishing my PhD.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

If I had to pick only one achievement then that would be my getting out of my comfort zone, because I trained as a Physical Chemist but now I work with biochemists, bioengineers, hematologists to name a few. At the beginning when I started looking for positions, it seemed quite daunting because there were quite a few rejections before offers came in. It is not everyday that PhDs train in a particular field but then go on to work in another. Though career switches may seem daunting, I believe that putting some thought in to the why (have a clear plan(s)/ road map) and what (motivation) of such a change ultimately helps along with resilience. Moreover not getting disheartened by the initial setbacks is key as they are stepping stones to success.

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

I enjoy working in STEM because there are so many questions waiting to be answered and also because I get to work with many talented scientists.
One constant motivator that enables me to do what I do is the thought that the outcome of my research will solve problems and has the ability to impact others.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

Being a female scientist, I found that believing in one's abilities is of paramount importance. And don't forget to find some good mentors - because they will support you in your good and bad times for we all need cheerleaders and advocates.

INSPO / FUN FACT

“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.”
― Rabindranath Tagore