Pharmacy grad’s knack for science communication leads to unusual career path

By Debra Bradley Ruder and Bill Ibelle

After earning two graduate degrees at the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, Abhijit Kulkarni was on track for a promising career as a laboratory scientist. But something happened on the way to that ambition: He discovered a rare talent for translating complex scientific concepts into ordinary language—a talent that led him to an unusual and deeply satisfying career.

“I wasn’t always an extrovert,” said Kulkarni, MS’11, PhD’16, who is now a medical science liaison for one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.  “I put myself into positions that scared me, including speaking in front of hundreds of people. I figured that if I fail, I may not do it again. But I will do it this time.”

An unexpected turn

Kulkarni dreamed of attending graduate school in the U.S. because of the research opportunities. He explained that in India, where he earned his undergraduate degree, most pharmaceutical research is focused on “reverse engineering” existing medications to create less expensive generic equivalents.

“But this country is all about discovering new medicines,” he said.

Kulkarni arrived at Bouvé to earn his master’s degree in 2009 and quickly excelled. He was the president of two student associations, a research assistant for department chair Ganeshsingh Thakur, and a teaching assistant for pharmacy school dean Jack Reynolds. Soon he was working on his doctorate and helping to manage Thakur’s lab, where he conducted research on addiction and pain by fine-tuning the receptors involved used by marijuana and nicotine.

But it was Kulkarni’s volunteer work for the Bouvé administration that changed his career path. He was a third-year doctoral student at the time and had just won an award that led him to present his pain research at a prestigious conference in London.

That’s when Senior Development Officer Jennifer Trapp asked him to make a video explaining his research to the donor who was funding his trip.

“He made the video on the spot and was exceptionally good at it,” recalls Trapp. “He has charisma and relates well to people. He was a great ambassador for Bouvé.”

Kulkarni was such a natural that he became the development team’s “face of science,” which involved talking with prospective donors about the exciting research conducted at Bouvé College of Health Sciences. Soon he was part of major fundraising events in New York, New Jersey, and Boston.

“My job was to go into a room full of millionaires, talk to them at whatever level they’re at, and help them understand why their donations are so important,” said Kulkarni.

The experience convinced him that he wanted to combine his natural communications skills with his extensive research training. With the help of two Bouvé professors, Thakur and Roman Manetsch, he landed a job as a medical science liaison at a major pharmaceutical company.

Kulkarni’s role is to serve as an expert resource for doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals on pain treatment. To stay current on the latest clinical trends and treatment advances, he attends conferences, evaluates the latest research, and synthesizes this information for busy frontline practitioners. He is not in sales. Instead, he encourages collaborations with the company by serving as a source of reliable and unbiased information and analysis.

“My main goal is to build relationships,” he says. “But now I do it wearing a suit instead of a lab coat.”

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