Q&A with Dulmini Barupala, Ph.D., Program Coordinator of WSU Med-Direct
B.Sc. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, 2010
Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Wayne State University, 2016
Dulmini participated in the BEST program as a Phase III intern during 2014-15, exploring the business and industry career track. She completed an internship with Cayman Chemical, a biotech company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is now the Program Coordinator of Med-Direct at Wayne State.
Dulmini says the BEST program gave her the confidence to follow her instincts that pursuing a tenure-track academic position was not the right fit for her. It also gave her insight into skills she didn’t even know she had, such as her ability to connect with a wide range of personalities. Although she initially thought she wanted to be in industry, her hands-on experience with BEST helped her to realize that she was interested in a different career path.
Interviewed by Lauren Tanabe on May 11, 2017
Q. Why did you decide to apply to the BEST program?
I was considering a career outside academia and was participating in various career development sessions throughout the campus to get information. I heard about BEST and thought it was a great opportunity to explore different career paths that a STEM Ph.D. could take.
Q. When did you decide that you didn’t want to pursue the academic track and how did BEST help you in your decision?
It was before participating in BEST. I had the feeling that a tenure-track position [was] not for me and that my strengths and skills [were in other areas]. BEST cleared away the last bit of skepticism I had [about wondering] if I was doing the right thing. BEST brought out the best in me and helped me build confidence in myself. It gave me a lot of courage to choose another track by letting me meet with people who have done the same and been successful.
Q. Can you describe what you did during your internship?
I worked at Cayman Chemical, in Ann Arbor, as an intern for two months. I worked in the structural biology department on a protein structural biology project. What is amusing is that I applied for internships in biotech industry wanting to explore that environment. The internship confirmed that biotech research wasn’t for me.
Maybe it was because the project I was involved with was more troubleshooting than actual inventing, which I did not like. Also, the short time-span of the internship didn’t allow me to try other approaches. I really didn’t feel like my work was important.
I also disliked the routine nature of jobs in industry (for example, purifying protein every single day with a protocol). What I did like was the flexibility I saw at Cayman – employees had work-life balance.
Q. What skills did you learn during your BEST experience?
A lot – how to build a resume/CV, how to present and market myself, how to network, etc. I strengthened my communication skills the most.
Q. Did BEST help you to identify any skills you didn’t know you had?
People skills. I always thought I was an introvert. But I do work with a lot of students, faculty, and staff from various backgrounds, and I find it surprising that I get along with them very well. I think I realized that I should come out of my shell during the BEST experience.
Q. Can you talk about your day-to-day activities in your new career?
I hold an administrative position at Wayne State University. My title is program coordinator of Wayne Med-Direct, which is an innovative program that offers ten students admission to the Honors College and then automatic acceptance to the School of Medicine each year, both tuition-free. My duties include managing all aspects of students’ life (housing, dining, monitoring academic progress). [I also] organize events pertaining to the program.
Q. What do you like about this position?
I enjoy the dynamic nature of this job. There’s a new task every day and I enjoy completing them, one-by-one.
I also enjoy organizing. I get to use that skill for organizing events and seminars for students.
I am a “people person” so I love that I get the chance to interact with students, faculty, and staff. I frequently draw on my diplomacy skills to deal with many parties. Satisfaction is key for me and I am happy that, at the end of the day, I feel that I helped students to pursue their dreams. I also love the flexibility of my current job.
Q. What do you find most challenging?
Sometimes, I have to wait on colleagues to finish their part of the work so that I can complete my task. I am trying to train myself to consider this an opportunity to develop patience and accept the world as it is.
Q. Is there any advice you have for graduate students who are struggling with what direction to take with their careers?
Start early. Do not wait until the final year of your graduate studies to think about what you will do next. Explore various options. Resources are plentiful, including the BEST program and the graduate professional development opportunities offered by the Graduate School. At the end of the day, figure out which path would bring you the most satisfaction. Believe in yourself.