Sonal Tonapi is a Manager leading the Nautilus team qualifying probes designed to give the NautilusTM Proteome Analysis Platform the ability to decode the proteome. Speaking with Sonal, it quickly becomes obvious that she has two strong motivations:
- She loves to explore
- She is driven to help people with diseases that have no solutions
These motivations have propelled Sonal from India, to DC, to San Antonio, and now to Nautilus where they synergize to make her exceptionally well suited to lead her team.
What originally got you excited about biology?
I have many family members with metabolic and rare diseases. In addition, many of my family members work in service-oriented careers. Some are in the medical field. Some are in the military, and some are teachers. Thus, I have always had a keen understanding of the suffering that incurable diseases can bring, and my service-oriented family instilled me with a desire to help people from an early age.
In high school and college, when I learned about the molecular underpinnings of diseases and their impacts on biology, I got hooked. I consider myself an explorer by nature, and learning about biology at a mechanistic level while also seeing that there are so many unanswered questions in the field, showed me there are a mind-blowing number of impactful things to discover through biological research. By going into this field and improving our understanding of disease, I saw that I could fulfill my need to explore and my need to help people.
What made you an explorer and how has your drive for exploration impacted your career in a practical sense?
My father was in the military when I was growing up and we had to move around a lot. For some people, this leaves them feeling lonely and without a core friend group, but every move excited me. I was always thrilled by the opportunity to try new foods, meet new people, and see new cities.
Throughout my working life, this excitement to try new things and explore has equipped me with the ability to meet people quickly and be unafraid to dive into new situations to advance my career. In fact, that’s exactly why I moved to the US. I saw that there were more research opportunities here and, rather than fear moving, I jumped at the opportunity.
In graduate school, I got the chance to work on cancer and rare diseases. I once again jumped at the opportunity and moved to Texas. When I was being recruited to Nautilus, rather than fear the fact that the company was only about 10 people and there were few formal processes in place, I got inspired. Parag’s vision to change proteomics fascinated me as someone who had difficulty with mass spectrometry in my own research, and I was excited to help build something new. I could not pass up the opportunity to bring Parag’s elegant, practical, and impactful solution into reality while working with a group of intelligent, fun, and motivated people.
Today, my drive for exploration keeps me excited to solve new problems as they come up and helps me motivate my team to change gears when necessary. We’re quite a bit further along in technology development than when I joined in 2018, and I’m excited to see our refined processes churning out reagents and materials that will bring our product to fruition. Building a revolutionary product like ours is full of ups and downs, and my desire to explore keeps me and my team excited.
Speaking of your team – what makes you a successful manager?
When I started graduate school, I made friends with a diverse group of women of color. We have supported and peer-mentored each other since that moment and we still have monthly zoom calls to this day. Through my experiences with these awesome women, I’ve learned the incredible benefits that come from providing a space for people to slow down, show their vulnerability, be honest about problems, and feel empowered to offer opinions from diverse perspectives.
Within my team at Nautilus, I try my best to provide just such a space. Yes, we work in a fast-paced environment where we need to get things done, but by providing this nurturing space for my team, we can more effectively and efficiently identify and solve problems.
What excites you about Nautilus’ future?
I’ve seen Nautilus grow from a team of about 10 people to over 150. During that time, we’ve built so much and put processes in place that I honestly believe will make it possible to change the way we do proteomics. When Parag told me about his solution to the many problems plaguing proteomics in 2018 and made it clear that he hoped this technology would revolutionize healthcare, I was absolutely sold on the idea. Seeing how the company has grown and developed, I’m more excited than ever by the potential of our platform to enable research and provide solutions to people with diseases of all kinds.
Many thanks to Sonal for taking the time out of her busy schedule to chat with us. If you want to learn more about the Nautilus team or would like to join us, check out nautilus.bio/careers.
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