An interview with Ramya Subramanian
By Ragoo Raghunathan
In our Professional Self corner today, we are featuring an interview with Dr. Ramya Subramanian, a Shrewsbury resident and member of ISW who recently transitioned into a job after a long hiatus. Taking a break in your career path has become quite common nowadays due to various reasons. There is nothing wrong about it. The reasons could be anything from just wanting to take a break, general or mental fatigue, situations in the family, medical reasons or even a paradigm shift in the career track itself.
I talked to Ramya to get her perspective, more so to highlight what one might expect if they were in this situation. If you know Ramya, she is an introvert, and it is not easy to network or socialize if you call yourself one.
Congratulations on your recent transition into your new job after a relatively long break, tell us a little about your background.
Thank you! I am a life science researcher by training. I completed a Ph.D in Zoology from the University of Calicut and moved to the Boston after my marriage. I worked as a Postdoc at the Pulmonary Center, Boston University School of Medicine and published a few papers working there. After working for 7 years, I decided to take a break when I had my first child in 2010. It has been 10 years since, and I start as a Data Scientist at Rancho Biosciences next week!
How/when did you decide you wanted to get back into work and how did you prepare for it?
My intention was only to take a break for a year or two, but it extended to include the birth of my second child and her entry to pre-K! At this time (2017), I was mentally ready to start but my priorities had changed. I wanted to have the flexibility of working from home, working in the Life science field that I love but definitely not deal with animal models or tissue culture!
More specifically, my appetite for lab work had diminished. I explored a few areas like regulatory affairs, but nothing motivated me. Around this time, I came across a paper studying the prediction of Retinoblastoma using machine learning methods. This paper opened my eyes to the world of Data Science/Computational Biology. I had studied programming in India from NIIT. I remembered enjoying it, but not really understanding then as to how it would ever help me as a life science student.
Thanks to my husband, I realized that I had to start off with a strong foundation in mathematics, statistics, along with programming to succeed in this field. All my studies were done completely online. I enrolled in courses from Khan Academy for math and statistics. I also enrolled in many Coursera, EdX, DataCamp, DataQuest courses for R programming, Python, SQL, Statistics, Machine Learning, Exploratory Data Analysis, and Genomic Data Science.
After completing many of these courses, I approached a professor at WPI to work on a project on a voluntary basis with his help as a mentor. He was kind enough to let me participate in lab meetings, and meet other students of data science. To further hone my skills and help me with essential networking, I completed the Data Science Career Track with Springboard. I was constantly working on independent projects and adding it to my Github portfolio.
How did you start preparing for your job search?
The initial step was to start talking to people in the field and attending meet ups of related events. I made a list of companies and the kind of positions that interested me. I used LinkedIn to find people who I would like to talk to. I prepared my resume and obtained feedback on the resume from folks working in the industry. I would apply for at least 7-10 jobs in a week as well as reaching out to 10 people in a week. Starting after a 10 year break, I did not have any connections relevant to the line of work I was seeking and for the most part, at least initially. It was cold emailing through LinkedIn. I subscribed to LinkedIn premium early on. Slowly, as I connected with people from the field, I also noticed that mutual connections would lead to more people who are more willing to connect, instead of cold emailing. I would ask for informational interviews and kept a spreadsheet of all the people I connected with and key things that I learn from the conversations. I followed up on those pointers/conversations. This always led to more ideas to explore – skill wise and job wise. I also kept track of key skills listed for each job I liked and ensured that I obtained those skills.
What are some of the things you learned along the way that you might think would be useful for someone in your shoes?
Things that helped me: Find the motivation that keep you going even when you hear a ‘No’ or any kind of rejection - never take it personally. Always have your eyes on the end goal. Mentally, have that ‘go to’ place that gives you the strength to take the next step and keep moving forward. A clear daily, weekly, monthly plan helped me progress towards my goal. It is especially important to have such a plan when working entirely online or starting as a stay-at-home mom to have this plan and stick to it. Lastly, I never compromised on things that were particularly important to me.
What is your impression of networking and how did you go about networking?
The idea of networking was not very appealing. What I understood about networking when I started was – meet people in your field (absolute strangers) who could later potentially help you get a job/referral. There was nothing genuine about the process (in my mind). It was extremely hard to overcome my inhibitions on networking. It was a big challenge that I decided to overcome in my own way. I read a lot and listened to a lot of people speak about it. I realized that I was looking at it all wrong! Networking is different for different people. I imagined what I would do if someone in my boat wanted any kind of help. I would help! The conversations were amazingly easy and natural when framed this way. The idea that I was “networking” disappeared. I did not ask for a job or a referral from anyone I spoke to. The more I spoke to different kinds of people, it started taking on a new meaning.
What are some common misconceptions of the thought that introverts can’t network effectively?
I do not agree that introverts cannot network effectively. They may take more time than others. They need to plan it, choose their style and time but quality trumps quantity too. If you look at it as relationship building, it is a lot easier.
Lastly what are some tips, suggestions and words of advice you would like to share with candidates looking for jobs now?
There is always something to learn from every scenario. Do not be disheartened by failures. Whether a given scenario works for you or not, there is something to learn from it. During the job search process let it not be just about a job all the time, keep yourself engaged in learning relative to the job (or possibly even something entirely different).
I did not get this job through a referral or through any one directly in my network. But for every interview that I cleared, I felt thankful for the conversations that I had with people in the industry. They built my confidence in my work, my capabilities and they helped me handle technical questions.
Finally, remember - the world’s a pretty big place, you only need one person to say Yes.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my experience with the community. I hope to help others especially anyone who wants to restart their career after a long break or transition to a different field. They can reach out to me through this newsletter.