Non-linear path brings career success

Dr Arjuna Kumarasuriyar followed his curiosity and turned his interests in science, technology and business into a fulfilling career.

colourful science background

Dr Arjuna Kumarasuriyar finds the potential of how technology can enhance human health incredibly inspiring and rewarding.

“For more than 12 years I’ve seen so many examples of Illumina's technology changing people’s lives. From identifying causitive genes in cancer and rare disease to helping farmers breed better livestock and crops – it’s truly inspirational to know that transformative technology can drive the frontiers of knowledge so significantly and with such practical application.”

Dr Kumarasuriyar is currently the Director of Commercial Operations at Illumina, a global biotechnology company, whose headquarters is based in San Diego, California. He works from his home office in Brisbane and remotely manages a team who are based in various locations across the Asia Pacific region.

He says that studying at UQ helped him get a foot in the door at Illumina as a sales person.

“Despite having no sales experience, my background in Biotechnology combined with my UQ qualifications and science communication skills gave me the credibility I needed to work closely with customers of our highly technical and cutting-edge product portfolio, he said.

"From there I have followed a relatively non-linear career path to where I am today, taking the opportunity to gain skills and experience across product marketing, channel management, sales management and operations."

How did studying at UQ prepare you for a career in the biotechnology industry?

Studying Biotechnology developed my interest for understanding how to make good science meet good business. My PhD drove my passion for understanding the unknown even further. Together they were instrumental in creating a solid foundation for a successful career.

Learning from inspiring educators at the forefront of research drove me to find opportunities with companies that pushed boundaries not only in science and technology, but also in what is possible at a human level, through collaborative problem-solving, innovation and creativity.

What other opportunities have you come across as a result of your studies?

I managed to secure a job before I completed my thesis – I worked full-time in technology transfer at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore while I wrote up my thesis in my own time. While that was tough, it did show that my academic qualifications were valued so highly that people were prepared to bank on them before I even secured them officially.

It also helped that I tried to get as much working experience as I could while studying. Again, UQ gave me some great opportunities to work at affiliated institutes (lab technician, QIMR) and companies (Technology Analyst, UniQuest) which lead to other jobs in my career through contacts I made (Quality Assurance, Progen Pharmaceuticals; Research Officer, Queensland Government Biotech Policy & Regulation Unit; Sleep Technician at the PA & RB Hospitals).

I love to travel, so I have been very fortunate that the work I do has taken me all over the world. I’ve seen some amazing things on my travels and had the opportunity to work with many different people in a variety of business cultures. It’s been an amazing way to grow and learn about the world.

"UQ is more than a degree on a piece of paper – it’s the opportunity to link with the best in your industry if you are prepared to make the effort to leverage what’s available."

What did you enjoy and find particularly beneficial about your program?

I loved the juxtaposition of the commercial and business courses against the molecular biology courses I took. It mixed things up and made it very interesting. It also helped me put a lot of what I learned on the technical side into context of how the science could be realised in a form that could benefit society. It was particularly good having some truly first class professors talking about the excellence they had achieved in their research, but equally hear them share how they had been involved in spin-off companies to apply that research.

What were some of the highlights from your time at UQ?

There are so many great memories. Breaks between lectures with friends at the Great Court and food courts, rare “Eureka” moments in the lab that took months to get to, tutoring junior students when I was in third year, playing social water polo on Thursday nights at the UQ pool; there are literally a load of amazing experiences throughout my time at UQ.

What advice would you give to students looking to start a career in science?

Go for it. The key, however, is not the degree at the end, but the journey you take to get there and what options you give yourself at the end. This is true for any university you attend. For those of you about to embark on your undergraduate days, these are hugely formative years where experiences both in and outside the class room will shape you both professionally and personally.

"UQ has access to the very best in almost every field offered and there is no doubt you will have the opportunity to learn from the best. The real education is the networks you will build, the life-long friendships you will form and the experiences that will lead to many career options in the future."
Dr Arjuna Kumarasuriyar

Dr Arjuna Kumarasuriyar

Dr Arjuna Kumarasuriyar

Dr Arjuna Kumarasuriyar (right) in the lab

Dr Arjuna Kumarasuriyar (right) in the lab

Dr Arjuna Kumarasuriyar (right) in the lab

About Dr Arjuna Kumarasuriyar

UQ qualifications

Arjuna graduated with First Class Honours and was awarded the BBiotech award for highest ranked BBiotech graduate in the class of 2002.

  • PhD in Biomedical Sciences (Tissue Engineering)

Arjuna was awarded the AusBiotech Student Research Award and received the Dean's Commendation for High Achievement for his PhD research.

Current role

  • Director of Commercial Operations (Asia Pacific and Japan) at Illumina.

Previous roles at Illumina

  • Associate Director of Commercial Operations (Asia Pacific and Japan)
  • Associate Director of Sales and Marketing Operations (Asia Pacific and Japan)
  • Senior Sales Operations Manager (Asia Pacific)
  • District Sales Manager (Asia)
  • Product Marketing Manager (Asia Pacific)
  • Regional Account Manager (South East Asia and Singapore)

Previous professional experience

  • Technology Transfer Manager at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
  • Research Officer (Biotechnology Policy & Regulation Unit) at Queensland Government, Brisbane, Australia
  • Technology Analyst (Technology Transfer) at Uniquest, Brisbane, Australia
  • Quality Assurance Officer at Progen Pharmaceuticals, Brisbane, Australia
  • Laboratory Research Assistant at Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia

Dr Arjuna Kumarasuriyar

Where will science take you?

View other profiles to explore the pathways that many of UQ’s science graduates have taken in fields such as agriculture, biotechnology, business, food science, marine and environmental sciences, research, veterinary science and more.

Visit the Future Students website to learn more about UQ's Science and Mathematics programs.