From the Lab to... Consultancy – Devavrat Vartak, PhD

In our latest ‘From the Lab to…’ blog, Life Sciences & Health Consultant, Devavrat (Dev) Vartak, PhD, writes about his experiences throughout an exciting PhD and post-doctoral career conducting neuroscience research, and what inspired his eventual move away from the lab to join the Catalyze team.

Embarking on a research career through neuroscience

I have always been interested in the interplay of how small things together can make a big impact! My interest in Neuroscience research has revolved around understanding human behaviour and how the different brain areas communicate with each other to give rise to higher cognitive functions like our perception, attention, and consciousness.

An unresolved problem in neurosciences is to functionally and mechanistically understand how our brain, with its limited resources, can process the overwhelming amount of sensory information (sight, sound and others) it receives from its environment. And importantly, how is it able to interpret these signals to create and manifest our perception, reality and experience. One cognitive process that the brain deploys to successfully navigate this problem is called ‘attention’.

Williams James noted in his Principles of Psychology: “Millions of items…are present to my senses which never properly enter my experience…. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to…Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form… Focalizations, concentration of consciousness, are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.”

For my research work, I studied how neuromodulators such as acetylcholine,  facilitate communication between neurons and brain areas giving rise to attention, and how this leads to our visual perception, learning and memory. Over the course of my academic career, spanning across Europe and the US, I have worked with humans and animals, using a variety of techniques such as fMRI, EEG, electrochemical sensors, and electrophysiology to measure brain activity to understand these processes. It has been an equally challenging and rewarding process.

Conducting highly translatable research from masters to postdoc

My research has been fundamental, but its relevance is quite wide-spread with applications in the clinical space, for example, understanding learning and attention disorders, and in the technological and application space such as virtual reality, marketing – where products need to capture your attention!

My learning experiences have greatly honed my problem-solving skills. With academic research you learn to think deeply about a problem, consider different perspectives, weigh the existing evidence and find a novel solution. Additionally, it trains you to conceptualize and distil complex information in a form accessible to a wider audience. During my time in academia, I was fortunate to be able to travel and live in different countries. It allowed me to interact and learn about diverse people and cultures.

It gave me the opportunity to learn and collaborate with brilliant and dedicated scientists at the University of Regensburg – where I received my Master’s in neurosciences and worked on the effect of nicotine on learning, and the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and the VU University, Netherlands – where I received my PhD for work on how neuromodulators affect attention, learning and memory, and finally, the University of California, Berkeley – where I pursued my postdoctoral research and used an anti-alzheimer’s therapeutic to understand perception and attention mechanisms in healthy humans.

Becoming inspired to apply expertise in industry

During my time at the University of California, Berkeley, I was able to join various clubs that connect researchers with the industry. Typically, start-ups and new upcoming companies that require specialized knowledge and help with solving their technical problems, but often don’t have the resources. I began helping a few startups by lending my expertise based on my technical background and experience. Eventually, my role diversified to helping them with business and market related problems.

I really enjoyed exploring beyond the academic environment. I particularly loved learning about different industries and the interactions with people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, but with a common, shared passion of making an impact. It allowed me to appreciate the difficulty and challenges of the next step once a discovery is made and needs to be ready for everyday use by customers.

Joining Catalyze and specializing in innovation

I transitioned from academic research to technical consulting as I wanted to be in-between the scientific and business aspects of cutting-edge innovation and technology.

I joined Catalyze in the beginning of 2022, working remotely (WFH) from India. I work as a Consultant in the Life Sciences and Health team. Catalyze for me, is the perfect place to be – I help our clients reach the next level in their journey for innovation development, while learning about new technologies and meeting interesting and brilliant people.

The technical and soft skills that I developed in academia, such as conceptualization, problem-solving, the ability to research complex ideas and communication help me daily when understanding a novel concept or technology brought in by our clients. Additionally, it helps to have experience in using state-of-the-art technology to solve complex problems as it fosters a productive dialogue with the client – allowing us to effectively navigate our clients’ challenging needs and problems.

My experiences travelling and studying internationally and living in different countries in Europe and the US, have allowed me to appreciate and engage with diverse cultures. This helps me better understand a client’s background and perspectives.



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