Sonal Das, PhD, 2005
After completing her graduate work with Gary Banker in 2005, Das suspected that her career might not be in research at the bench. “I really enjoyed the bench, and my interactions with my advisor and fellow lab members helped me develop my critical thinking skills. But I wasn’t sure it was the right place for me.” A three-year post-doctoral position at the University of Washington confirmed her intuition. But she reports that the postdoc experience was key not only in building on her scientific training and networking skills, but also in helping her come to terms with exploring an “alternative” career path.
During her postdoc, she sat down and re-evaluated her skill set. Regardless of when you do it, she advises, “everyone should take a step back at some point and say, ‘Where am I now? Where do I want to go?’” Shortly before taking the position at the Foundation, an OHSU advisor asked her, what do you want to do—write? Read? Talk? “That was a great question; it gets to the nuts and bolts of your day,” she says. Ultimately, Das feels that her decision to work outside the lab freed her to “think about the problem I’m working on,” rather than worrying about things like the pH of a buffer. “This position is a better fit for me, because it allows me to apply my scientific background and think about the big picture without having to angst about the details of a particular experiment.”
An East Coast native, Das is happy back in the hustle and bustle of New York, but admits she misses the slower pace of the Northwest a little bit. “I miss the greenery,” she says, remembering the “gorgeous” drive to campus each day along Terwilliger Boulevard. She also shared a special camaraderie with her classmates in the NGP. “We would work late together,” she recalls, which might include a trip down to Higgins for a bite at the bar during a long incubation period. “Everyone would push each other, in a good way.” Das and her classmates pursued research projects in diverse areas of neuroscience, from biophysical modeling to control of postural orientation. But they still made time to meet and consult with one another throughout graduate school. That diversity of research, she notes, was one of the great strengths of the NGP. “There were so many faculty members, in every imaginable area from molecular neurobiology to physiology.” Members of the entering class of 1997 remain in close contact today.