Alumni Profiles

Nina Tandon, GSAS '09

Biomedical Engineering
Job Title: 
Staff Associate Researcher
Grad Year: 
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Please briefly describe your current position in more detail, including your responsibilities and job tasks:

I am a researcher in the laboratory for stem cells and tissue engineering supervised by Professor Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic.  I investigate the role for electrical signaling in directing stem cell fate for tissue engineering applications.

Because I perform research, and also teach, I find that I get a really good mix of sources of inspiration: my work in the lab informs my own knowledge, but this gets refined as I share insights with my students, and on the other hand, my students help me see my work in a new light and so are very energizing to interact with.

Please briefly describe your career path, including the reasons behind job changes, since graduating from Columbia University:

I first started out my career after undergrad in Telecom, working at a Bell-Labs spin-off. However, as the only non-advanced degreed person in the entire worldwide department, I not surprisingly caught the “bug” for academia after a couple of years!  I returned to school via a Fulbright in Rome, Italy, started out at MIT, in electrical engineering, and along the way met Gordana, who was there at the time.  I eventually came with her to Columbia halfway through my graduate studies. 

During my research, I became more and more interested in the “broader world of healthcare” and transitioned, upon finishing my PhD, to McKinsey and Company’s Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices products practice in the New Jersey office.  After much reflection, I ultimately decided that an entrepreneurial career with science as its “center of gravity” was what I wanted most.  I am now again working with Gordana towards that goal, and pursuing an executive MBA at Columbia in parallel. 

How did your experiences at Columbia University (e.g., academic studies, extra-curricular activities, student groups) prepare you for your career?:

My academic studies (in the lab and classroom) gave me a strong base of support, and so did my department, and of course the career office!

Another amazing resource has been the writing center, which has helped me with preparing for talks and interviews, and even my resume!  They are amazing!

As a graduate student, however, I unfortunately did not find myself with a lot of time for school-based extracurricular activities. My lab group itself has always been a great community, and we would do stuff (like run in New York Road Runners’ races and go to yoga class) together a lot. 

What job resources (internships, summer opportunities, work experiences, or individuals) have influenced your career choice(s)?:

At Columbia, The Center for Career Education has been a great resource to me.  I’ve also taken advantage of the many info sessions hosted by recruiters at Columbia. 

I find as I move through my career that what has in many ways been most valuable are the personal and professional contacts I’ve managed to amass along the way.  I’ve heard about countless opportunities through these “informal” channels and I encourage my students to keep their ears perked for them, and to be on their “best behavior” since they’ll never know where that “random person” will be down the line!

I’ve been really fortunate to have had a great set of role models: my parents, mentors and colleagues have always been so inspiring.  I would encourage anyone who’s not sure what their career path would be to discover and cultivate their own set of mentors. 

What advice would you give to a Columbia student or graduate interested in your field?:

(1) Take ownership of your transition from information consumer to information producer. Don’t assume that words that are written on a page are true: as you get closer to the “frontier of what’s known” what you might expect to be facts become, more and more, conjecture.  In order to contribute to the “world brain” therefore, we all need to think critically. In my opinion, it is a mark of a good career that transitions from one rewarded by *answering* the right questions to one rewarded by *asking* the right questions.  

(2) Along these lines: Embrace the unknown!  This is not a path for those who seek predictability but rather for the intellectual adventure-seeker!

(3) Talk to as many people as possible—reach out to folks at all levels, consider their multiple opinions, and, finally, decide for yourself—no one person has the right answer but many opinions can help guide your thinking!


View her Columbia TEDx event online