Pivotal Moments on a Path to Biotechnology

A series of moments have shaped Rithik Kumar’s path to biotechnology. There was learning about nature from his parents who were avid gardeners. There was his grandmother getting a cancer diagnosis when he was in middle school and him feeling that he wanted to help more than anything else. There was a science fair project in which he tested new soil formulations to get a seed to grow faster. There was the first time he put on goggles to work in the lab, seeing science move out of the textbooks. And it was that moment—in his sophomore high school biology class doing the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE)—in which he first heard of the biotech sector.

“Learning about how biotechnology could help other people through a push for novel medications gave me a new way I could challenge myself,” Kumar recalls. Now finishing an internship at Amgen in Thousand Oaks as an undergraduate student at UCLA, Kumar has made the most of his moments in science.

ABE was just the start of his path in biotechnology. Conducting the hand-on biotech labs in Winne Litten’s class at Oak Park High School in California gave Kumar the exposure to the science that has driven him to the industry. “Mrs. Litten eased us into biology, making everyone in the classroom inquisitive and encouraging us to push the boundaries and be proactive members of the scientific community. It really solidified my interest in biology,” he says. “The electrophoresis lab was transformative—seeing how much you can do as a young scientist.”

After graduating from Oak Park, Kumar began in the biology program at UCLA. After his first summer there, he interned with a medical device company. Kumar then spoke with a high school friend who interned at Amgen and who was also a biology major. How his friend spoke of Amgen and its patient-centered mission resonated with Kumar, spurring him to apply to intern there himself.

At Amgen this past summer, Kumar worked in the Clinical Systems and Analytical Reporting group—using data science technology to manage supplies, making sure medications are effectively delivered to sites for clinical trials. Although he came into Amgen with some coding skills, it was his first time seeing the operational benefits of technology systems for clinical biology work. The internship was complementary to his work at UCLA, which immerses him in the healthcare system at the intersection of biology, health, and sociology.

When he graduates from UCLA, Kumar plans to pursue a master’s in public health degree and hopes to continue working at the intersection of medicine and data science. His work at Amgen has reinforced his desire to continue working in the biotech industry.

Kumar says he hopes that current ABE students realize how important the skills they are learning now will be to them in the future. “The procedures you learn are so advanced and crucial to what you will do as a scientist,” he says. “I still use those skills to this day.” He encourages students to explore the various opportunities available within the biotech community while they are in high school and during their time as undergraduates.

Kumar’s grandmother has been cancer-free for a few years now, and Kumar now feels he is part of a community of people who can one day help even more patients live in good health.

 

Watch Kumar explain his path in his own words in the video below.