Swamy Yeleswaram

One key thing that I focused on was preparation.
Incyte Corporation
Chennai, India
Landenberg, United States
Analysis, Pharmacokinetics, Metabolism & Pharmacodynamics of Labetalol in Pregnant & Nonpregnant Sheep
James E. Axelson & Dan W. Rurak

Where and what is your current position?

As the Vice President of Drug Metabolism, Pharmacokinetics, and Clinical Pharmacology, I am responsible for both drug discovery and drug development. On the discovery side, my group is charged with lead optimization and making sure the compound that is nominated for development is fully optimized and de-risked. On the development side, we are mainly responsible for dose selection and justification, designing drug-drug interaction studies and using modeling and simulation to guide drug development.

Is your current career path as you originally intended?

Yes and no. I did start out dreaming about a career in industry, but it turned out I had no idea about the exact opportunities and challenges that would come my way.

How does this job relate to your graduate degree?

The basic skills needed for my current position are directly derived from my graduate training. I can point to three things that graduate school provided me that enabled my career. First, a solid footing in technical expertise, ranging from analytical skills and working with sensitive animal models to understanding the contribution of pharmacokinetics as it relates to efficacy and toxicity, etc. Second is a tool-kit for research, e.g. how to generate a hypothesis, how to test it, designing experiments, data analysis, interrogating literature as it applies to the topic, writing a cogent research proposal, etc. Third is people and communication skills, e.g. clarity in written and oral presentations, importance of collaboration in research, etc.

What motivated you to pursue graduate work at UBC?

Two factors. A friend that I regarded highly had graduated from UBC, and he inspired me to consider UBC. Second, the faculty were easily approachable. I wrote to many faculty at many different universities, but I got a response from only a few, and none as detailed and personalized as the one I received from Jim Axelson, my advisor.

What did you enjoy the most about your time as a graduate student at UBC?

Excellent research atmosphere, opportunities for collaboration with faculty outside of my department, availability of a research assistantship that saved me the distractions of being a TA, etc. More than all, great people – faculty who became foster parents and fellow graduate students who became best friends. There was something intangible that bonded people from different cultures towards common good.

What are key things you did that contributed to your success?

One key thing that I focused on was preparation – whether it is a routine weekly meeting with an advisor or presentation at a national meeting, I never underestimate the preparation. I think through what I need to achieve coming out of each discussion and anticipate what issues, concerns, or questions the other person may have. Trying to understand the other person has helped me immensely.

What is your best piece of advice for current graduate students preparing for their future careers?

Have patience and perseverance when things do not go according to plan (and that always happens!); it is these challenges that build character. Have an open mind with regard to careers, as it is difficult to know all the possibilities sitting in graduate school (even in this highly connected age!), and often times there are opportunities that turn out to be much better than the ones you may be thinking right now. Be a sponge, soak up everything you see and hear, even if it is outside your core interest – you will never have the luxury of learning so much once you start your career!

What challenges did you face in your graduate degree, or in launching your career?

Life is never a straight line – this is what I learned! Each time there is a challenge, I only have to look back at the challenges I have overcome, and that gives me confidence that I can get through this one also.

What do you like and what do you find challenging about your current position?

In general, I find two challenges that are constant and that keep me on my toes. First, reacting and responding to 'crises' that surface at regular intervals, be it clinical trial outcomes, assay failures, or human resource issues. Rarely do situations exactly repeat themselves; each situation is unique, and therefore the solution is also unique. The second challenge is influencing the teams – authority is highly overrated in this regard; it takes skill, patience, and a bit of luck to gain the respect of people around you and to sell them on the direction/decision/strategy that you believe in.