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Alumni Profile

With help from faculty, grad student found a new path

By David E. Nathan

Vipin Suri, PhD’01, came to Brandeis certain of what he wanted to study. And then he wasn’t.

Suri arrived on campus from his native India in the fall of 1995 determined to work closely with esteemed biochemists William Jencks and Robert Abeles, internationally recognized enzymologists whose work he admired.

“Brandeis had one of the strongest biochemistry departments in the world, and Professors Jencks and Abeles were leaders in the field,” Suri remembers. “It was a remarkable opportunity to come to Brandeis and learn from them.”

In his first year at Brandeis, Suri focused his research rotations – six-week stints designed to provide students with a sense of the work being conducted in various labs – only on biochemistry. “I was very closed minded about it,” he admits.

A couple of professors encouraged Suri to venture outside his comfort zone and consider a rotation in another discipline, so he somewhat grudgingly tried out the lab of Michael Rosbash, the Peter Gruber Endowed Chair in Neuroscience. The experience ultimately changed the direction of Suri’s academic exploration and career.

He spent the next five years working in Rosbash’s lab, and was part of the award-winning research team that discovered the molecular mechanisms governing circadian rhythms in the fruit fly Drosophila. The breakthrough may ultimately lead to the development of drugs to treat sleep disorders, physical and mental illnesses, and jet lag.

“At Brandeis, you get the opportunity to explore and work with any of the faculty you want,” Suri says. “You are not limited to a particular department or faculty member.”

Suri has worked in the pharmaceutical industry since earning his doctorate in biochemistry from Brandeis in 2001. He spent 10 years as a principal research scientist at Wyeth before moving to GlaxoSmithKline, where he rose to become director of pharmacology. He served for two years as entrepreneur in residence and head of biology at Raze Therapeutics, and is now VP of research at Obsidian Therapeutics.

Brandeis not only provided Suri with a first-rate education, but it also gave him access to the University’s professional network, which helped him land his first job.

“When I met with the hiring manager at Wyeth, he said, ‘I see you’re studying at Brandeis. I went to Brandeis, too,’ ” Suri recalls. “He ended up hiring me.”

Suri has done his part to further strengthen the Brandeis network by staying in touch with faculty, mentoring students and hiring graduates. He recently joined the Brandeis Alumni Association’s Board of Directors as a representative of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

“Brandeis and the University’s community have given me so much through the years,” Suri says. “It’s my responsibility to give back to the people and the institution that have supported me.”

Categories: Alumni Profile
Date: March 23, 2016