Network Insights: Bio-tech, Research and Product Development with Yadveer Grewal

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Yadveer Grewal – Research Scientist and Product Manager, Xing Technologies

Q: What is your job title/role?

I’m a Research Scientist and Product Manager at a biotech start-up specialising in developing in-vitro diagnostic medical devices.

Our organisation has a very collaborative structure with a small team reporting to me directly, and several people in other functions also having significant influence with the projects I work on.  

Q: In what industry/field?

 In vitro diagnostic medical device development.

Q: Did you migrate to your current country?

I was born in Melbourne, before my family temporarily returned to India. We eventually followed some family friends to return to Australia in the late 80s, and settled in Brisbane.

Q: How was this experience?

Growing up in South East Queensland, there weren’t many Indians or other ethnicities in my school environment or in our neighbourhood. This meant the cultural experience was both very anglo-focused and a little challenging.

Q: What helped you through the experience?

Back in the day there were only a dozen or so Indian families in the South East region. Although we were few in number, we still had a real community feeling. For most of my childhood, we didn’t have any family here, so our family friends were our adopted extended family.

To keep this community spirt going, our families would frequently visit one another for get-togethers. Growing up I didn’t just compare myself to the kids directly around me at school or my suburb, but also to the kids in these other Punjabi families who I grew up with. This set a healthy benchmark academically, and also how to conduct myself in my personal life.

There’s a well-known philosophy, that the five closest people in your peer group are crucial to your success. They have the most influence on you. So, I looked at what my peers were doing and tried to emulate that success. I think it’s common in our community to look at the success of others and frame it negatively, “such and such is doing this, why can’t you do better?”, or to say “why is that they have so much success?”. Personally, I think we can look at other people’s success and aspire to meet them at their level, rather than being negative and trying to chop people down. This tall poppy syndrome is common amongst many Australians, so it’s hard mindset to get out of, but once you do, you can open yourself to learn from others and find constructive ways to lead a better and more fulfilling life.

Q: What advice would you give to other migrants?

On reflection, community is a very important aspect of the migrant experience. My family were fortunate to find families from a similar background to us, who we connected with very well. The Gurdwara also formed an important connection point to the local migrant community.

We also found it helpful to reach out and befriend to our neighbours and other migrant groups within our community. That outreach developed some life-long friendships. Advocacy groups such as YSPN are also good means to meet like-minded people and help navigate professional life in Australia.

Q: How did you get into this position or career?

After leaving high school I initially started studying IT, but found that I didn’t enjoy the subjects and so transferred into a double degree in IT and Science. At the time I’d thought I could working towards a position as a lab scientist. But as I came close to graduation, I felt undertaking an additional honours year would enhance my career prospects. From there I did so well in my honours research project, that I felt a PhD would be a natural next step to develop my skills as a scientist and provide me with the greatest capabilities to make a difference.

For my PhD, I decided to pursue independent research in the field of  nanobiotech, which I found an interesting mix of biology, physics and chemistry. My PhD research also turned out well, and from it I was able to generate intellectual property. Though the pathway was completely unplanned, it was through this IP that I could take up an opportunity to commercialise it through my PhD supervisor. He started his own biotech company as I was finishing up my thesis and the IP that I developed with him was one of several that was licensed to this company to commercialise.

Q: Were educational credentials important? If so, what did you study?

In my experience a PhD is generally a minimum requirement if you want to lead independent research. This high level of training also provided soft skills, such as collaboration and clear communication, that also greatly benefited me in my career.  

Q: What is a day in the life of a Research Scientist/Product Manager like?

At my level I’m no longer the person who physically conducts the lab work, I have a higher  objective in mind – bringing a product into the market – and I set the product roadmap and get stakeholder alignment to ensure it happens.

This involves activities like working with our  scientists on experiments, or our quality team to ensure our products are adhering to the correct regulatory framework as well as strategic planning with the CEO and COO  about how to fit the product to the market.

Though I’m the technical expert of the technology – it’s not about dictating my vision to the wider team. I give them an overview, and then get feedback. It’s important to bring everyone on the journey to aim for the same goal.

In terms of hours, in practice I don’t work set hours, but it’s normally more than the standard 40 hour work week. I generally make myself available during normal work hours, so that I can meet team members and external stakeholders, but I have have independence to set my work times to suit the workload required.

There’s no strict dress code here, it’s smart casual. This fits in with expectations of biotech start-up, with many of our employees coming from strong technical backgrounds. As a split of demographics – I’m probably more centre of the group, we have a few more junior positions. And then the senior managers are in their 50s and 60s.

Q: Any Likes/Dislikes?

I like the variety, that there’s a new challenge everyday and I can utilise my technical skills in creative ways. I also enjoy the strategic planning aspects of the role; I feel that having a solid technical background provides me with insight that are invaluable to the company. At the end of the day, we’re developing something that will make a positive impact in people’s lives.

A big reason why I went left academia to work in industry is because I wanted to do something with a tangible outcome. In academia, writing papers is good, and I think about 5% of the papers written are really good and useful to know. But there’s a lot of papers which get written purely to get grants. I like the work that I do, because what I work on is beyond just a cool idea on paper – it’s something I can hold in my hand and know that it’s something many people could be helped by.

As for dislikes, the worst thing about science-based business is the risk that your product doesn’t live up to its initial promise and fails pre-clinical or clinical work. It’s the nature of science, R&D involves trial and error. When something doesn’t work, we always have to have a plan B. The conversation after a failure is always one where you analyse why something didn’t work and then reassess and pivot as necessary.

It can be tough, but a lot of this mentality gets ingrained while you’re conducting your PhD. Even in very successful PhD’s, you still hit a wall many times over and over. You learn a tremendous amount of professional resilience through this process.

Q: What’s the hardest and easiest thing about the work?

The hardest thing about this work is that in Australia there is not much in the way of local companies conducting R&D.

Many of the biotech companies conduct their development overseas which only leaves a local sales and support team. You don’t have many high-quality companies to choose from, and there aren’t many people who’ve have the experience to translate ideas from the lab into a commercial medically regulated product.

If our company was operating in the US market, we’d have easily 10-20 times more investment capital available to us, and investors more willing to invest in higher risk initiatives. In Australia, this is less the case. As a nation we love investing in things that come out of the ground – they understand that well. But there’s relatively less understanding within the Australian market about science based businesses. For example, an American investor might invest in 10 businesses and expect one to two of them to wildly succeed and cover the losses of the other eight. In Australia, the culture is that they’ll invest in up to two businesses and expect both to perform and provide a solid ROI.  

The easiest thing about working in start-up would be the relatively flat hierarchy and lack of internal bureaucracy. I can’t speak too much about the wider industry, but I’ve found that we’re actively encouraged to work in with everyone across all the different levels of the organisation to get successful outcomes.

Q: What fulfils you in this role and what do you find unfulfilling?

Fulfilment is something of a double edged sword in this work. The reason I became a scientist was because I wanted to have a big impact on the wider community. Science is quite unique in how it can have a huge influence on millions of people if you get it right.

The flip side of this though is that, because of the inherent risky nature of R&D, when a medical product doesn’t make it into the hands of the community it can feel very unfulfilling.

Q: What advice would you give to people who want to enter this industry?

If you’re interested in becoming a scientist, it’s not necessarily important to start your education with a science degree. If you’d like to do medical research, study something medically related, or if you’re more interested in the physical or chemical sciences, maybe consider starting with an engineering discipline. Starting out with a science degree can make you overly specialised early on.

In my case , I intentionally made a conscious decision to become a product manager to broaden my skill set and career pathway.

Q: If you’re open to people connecting with you on social media for more information and guidance, where can people contact you?

Happy to connect. The best way to reach out would be via LinkedIn.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/yadveer-grewal-1aa23768/

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