Who I am: Yusuf
As a firm, the team at KdT has decided to publish long-form biographies to help the folks we work with learn more about who we are as people. Our hope is that the openness and vulnerability that comes from sharing our stories will help enable dialogues with all our partners, most importantly, current and future KdT founders. Cain, Mack, Phil, Rima, Patrick, and Ally have previously published their stories. Here’s Yusuf’s. Here goes nothing…
Whenever I’m asked to share my childhood history, I usually default to my story of a boy named Yusuf in a relatively unremarkable city, called Warner Robins, Georgia. My friends and I grew up accustomed to regular sonic booms caused by F-15s test flights at Robin’s Air Force Base. My father, a flight surgeon in the military, instilled in me and my 3 sisters that if we worked hard in school, we could achieve whatever dreams we set for ourselves. He immigrated from Bangladesh to America in the 70s after completing medical school in Pakistan. I always thought of my father as my role model, having dedicated himself to his studies and working selflessly to bring the rest of his siblings to America. My mother immigrated from South Korea and sacrificed her ambitions of becoming a nurse to care for her 4 children. She is my number one supporter. My parents sacrificed a lot to make sure their kids grew up in a safe, loving environment. Much of my life has been a blur of working hard at school and extracurriculars just to get to that next level-up. It wasn’t until I completed my PhD that I took a pause and actually appreciated the wonders of life.
From a young age, following the rules and making good grades came at the cost of a lack of appreciation for what I was actually learning. I call this “pre-med syndrome”. It’s a quality that many young students obtain, characterized by jumping through hoops to achieve certain milestones without taking the time to reflect on what was learned or how it made you feel. I defined success based on what others decided as a win. If I couldn’t comprehend the concept of electron orbitals, I learned just enough to get the right answers on the test. Or if the biography of Andrew Jackson was lulling me to sleep, I memorized the high points to write a convincing essay for a free response question in US History. Though I’m not proud of these methods of learning, I blame the relentless grind I had personally set and the standards society established for our education system. The only real passion I had in learning was biology. I was amazed by the wonders of living organisms and the undiscovered frontiers in molecular biology. I still remember my college biology professor telling us, “We’re all just a big bag of chemical reactions”. My parent’s decision to come to America, start a family, and nurture the next generation was governed by biology. Every decision and action we make can be traced back to molecular interactions that work in symphony to achieve some objective.
Grad school and people
Having completed my undergraduate degree rather quickly and feeling like I hadn’t had much of a college experience, I chose to get my PhD in the field of Molecular Biophysics. I did enough undergraduate research to know that I wanted to do bench science, specifically in molecular biology. I met my graduate advisor in 2012 and agreed to work in her lab for the next 6.5 years of my life. This is when life slowed down for me, and I could actually appreciate the topics I was learning.
My concentration in graduate school was structural biology. I was fascinated by the purification of membrane proteins and the various biophysical techniques used to characterize and visualize them. My lab was focused on solving protein structures using a relatively new technique called electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM) as opposed to the popular X-ray crystallographic methods. The field often requires intense 18 hour days of purifying proteins through a series of centrifugations and filtrations, followed by hours upon hours of sitting in a dark room with an 8-foot tall electron microscope to screen for 2-dimensional crystals or single particles of proteins. Finally, computational reconstruction is applied on the images to obtain a final structure. It was the diversity of wet-lab, microscope time, and computation that drew me into the work. But the thought of pursuing a career in this field felt very isolating. I wanted more breadth, less depth, more interaction with people, and more impact on society.
After graduation, I followed a few PhD students into life science executive recruiting. While I didn’t know much about the field, it felt like a career that would satiate my desire to interact with people focused on making substantial contributions to the world, while also satisfying my fascination with new science and technology. I realized early in life that much of what we do in life ties back to people in some way: developing drugs, inventing new machines, composing a new song, painting a picture. The ability to connect, communicate and empathize with people from any background was a skill that I wanted to exercise, and recruiting gave me that outlet.
Recruiting & KdT Ventures
Talent acquisition is a field that requires you to get into the mind of a hiring manager and seek out candidates that fit the skills, culture, and vision of the organization. Whether your project is recruiting an interventional cardiologist for a leading medical device company or a molecular biologist for a new gene therapy startup, the process of finding the right talent for your client is the same. I enjoyed strategizing ways to source talent, brainstorming creative ideas to attract people to a conversation, and learning about their career history and what makes them tick. While agency recruiting was rewarding in its own ways, I felt a lack of desire from my peers to understand the technology or therapeutic potential of the products that our clients were developing. We had minimal access to understand the strategy and business decisions of a company. In order to establish a deeper connection with the candidates I spoke to, I knew it was important to take a look “under the hood” of the company I was representing. Enter KdT Ventures.
I joined KdT because it was an opportunity to continue building upon my network of professionals in the life science industry. I developed a better appreciation for the fact that financial capital and human capital are the lifeblood of a company. My role as Head of Talent has allowed me to partner with founders and gain a deeper understanding of what is required to build a successful business. My team is made up of intellectually curious individuals who lead with kindness and are self-motivated. At KdT, I no longer feel like I am aimlessly floating down a river but proactively guiding myself toward the challenges I want to take on and the questions that I want to answer. And it just so happens that in the process, I am supporting companies that are improving society through medicine, agriculture, climate, and manufacturing.
Self-motivation and hard work are qualities that were instilled in me by my father, but deep thinking, contemplation, and self-reflection are traits that I picked up on my own. Learning to balance these characteristics allowed me to find my passion in biology and help others achieve their goals.