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Dr. Tanuja Koppal | Where Are They Now?

Biographical Sketch: 

Tanuja Koppal, Ph.D. is a freelance science writer, analyst and consultant serving a diverse group of publishers, conference production companies, data analysts, vendors and consulting companies. She is the Founder and President of Biomics Consulting. She specializes in researching scientific topics and trends, writing articles and reports, and organizing drug discovery conferences. She has authored several articles for business-to-business (supported by advertising) science publications and websites, and moderated online webinars targeting a global scientific community in academia and pharma/biotech industry. In the past 15 years, she has organized more than 125 conferences on behalf of her clients on cutting-edge research and technologies for early drug discovery and development. More recently she has organized events related to protein degradation, target identification, gene editing, cancer immunotherapy and use of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools for early drug discovery. Prior to launching her consulting services, Dr. Koppal was the Editor-in-Chief of Drug Discovery and Development, Genomics & Proteomics, and PharmaAsia at Reed Business Information (part of Reed Elsevier). She completed her doctoral work at the University of Kentucky and her post-doctoral studies at the NIH-sponsored Drug Discovery Program at Northwestern University Medical School, focusing on understanding the cellular pathways leading to neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease.

This interview is part of a series conducted by the department called, "UK Chemistry Doctorates: Where Are They Now." This interview was coordinated by Dr. Arthur Cammers.

Dr. Koppal: You have drifted quite far from academia or industrial science. Tell us what you have been up to lately.

For the past 15 years I have been organizing conferences and writing articles related to drug discovery for scientists in pharma/biotech and for those academics involved in translational work. Due to the recent pandemic the conferences are now virtual and involves new learning on how to navigate technology and inter-personal relationships via social media and Zoom. I am getting more involved in organizing online webinars and finding new forums to post my scientific writings.

This seems like a social network heavy enterprise, which forums do you believe are most robust and will likely be with us for a while? Which ones are the most important for professional social networking; it would not surprise me if you said email.

It’s always good to connect with people the old-fashioned way via phone but it’s not always easy to find a mutually convenient time, with everyone’s calendar so jam packed with activities. I have to confess though, that I have taken a liking for conversations over Zoom or Microsoft Teams. It’s much better to “see” someone as they are talking and get a peek into their work setting. Sometimes it leads to discussions around family or hobbies and very often we find things that we have in common. But yes, everything is leaning more towards e-mail and social media. For connecting with people in pharma/biotech I often use LinkedIn; most academics still prefer e-mail.

I imagine that your scientific knowledge is valuable to your current professional pursuits. How does it contribute positively to your success?

I cannot imagine life without science, and though I no longer work in a lab, science is integral to everything I do. My freelance writing is all based on interviews with scientists on emerging areas of research and technology for drug discovery. The conferences that I organize feature talks by scientists- for scientists. The webinars and online forums I moderate are all around scientific topics and attended by scientists. Having trained as a scientist, it’s easy for me to understand the scientific jargon and terminology and ask pertinent questions, while sharing some of the lab jokes and frustrations. I don’t feel like an outsider, although I haven’t seen the inside of a lab for many years now!

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? You earned a PhD with Professor Butterfield approximately when? How did you position yourself after graduation to pursue your current interest?

I hate to give away my age but yes, it’s been more than two decades since I landed in Lexington, in December 1993, in the middle of a blizzard. After 5 wonderful years in Dr. Allan Butterfield’s lab, the work that I did helped me get a post-doctoral fellowship at the NIH-sponsored Drug Discovery Program at Northwestern University. I worked in Dr. Linda Van Eldik’s lab for 2.5 years and I was delighted when she moved to UK a few years later as director of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. After my post-doctoral work, I decided to pursue science writing with Reed Elsevier. I always thought I would move back to the lab after my kids were old enough to start school, but to my surprise I very much enjoyed science journalism. I was the editor-in-chief of 3 scientific publications when I left Reed Elsevier to start a consulting career. Working as a consultant, has given me the flexibility to choose my projects and my schedule. It’s been 15 years since that career move and I don’t see myself quitting anytime soon!

Anything to add?

I am usually the one asking questions! However, I do wish you had asked me if I miss KY? I certainly do! I was a very skeptical, big city girl (from Mumbai, India) who was not sure if small town Lexington had much to offer. But the people I met made all the difference. Dr. Butterfield and his wife Marcia are still an integral part of my life, and so are some of the people I met in the lab. I met my husband in Lexington and everything came to a full circle when I walked back on campus a couple of years ago with my teenage son to show him where it all began. Although the buildings on the campus have changed and Lexington is no longer the small town that it was, one thing will never change - it will always be My UK!