Jasper Worlikar MEng 700x550

MEng Student Jasper Worlikar Advocates for Queer Workers in Biotech

As a bisexual worker in the biotech industry, Atharv (Jasper) Worlikar, MEng ’23, is proud to account for underrepresented perspectives at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) and the industry. Now, as he begins his second semester, he is interested in exploring ways to amplify these voices, empowering other queer biotech professionals, and enriching the KGI community.

After graduating from UC San Diego (UCSD) with a bachelor’s in Bioengineering: Biotechnology, Worlikar worked for two years in the biotech industry, first as a Quality Control Associate at BioLegend and then as a Manufacturing Associate at Sorrento Therapeutics. While he obtained ample experience in maintaining cell cultures and performing flow cytometry and data analysis, he wanted a position to apply more of the engineering skills he had learned at UCSD.

“It felt like I was following someone else’s recipe,” Worlikar said. “But with process development, it’s more about developing the recipe itself, which is something I’m more interested in.”

This led him to KGI’s Master of Engineering in Biopharmaceutical Processing (MEng) program, which he feels will expand his career options and help him achieve his goal of becoming a process engineer.

“The first semester was challenging, as we took 19.5 units, and I’m still adjusting to the transition from industry back to academia,” Worlikar said. “With my job, it was Monday to Friday, nine to five, and as soon as you get off work, you don’t have to worry about anything, whereas with school, you have to stay on top of everything. I’ve learned a lot, though, with regards to biopharmaceutical production as well as some techniques.”

One highlight was Bioprocess Engineering Principles, taught by Dr. Sue Behrens, the George B. and Joy Rathmann Professor in Bioprocessing and Director of the Amgen Bioprocessing Center.

“It was very straightforward, and her teaching style was very clear,” Worlikar said. “We learned all sorts of interesting facets of production like upstream processing, downstream processing, and drug product processing, which is usually a form/fill/finish. Even though we covered a lot, we tied it all together with a project at the end of the course where we applied what we had learned to describe the production process of an actual product from the biopharmaceutical industry like Bristol Myers Squibb’s ABECMA.”

This upcoming semester, Worlikar hopes to start organizing more activities to amplify the queer presence at KGI and build more awareness among students in general.

At UCSD, he served as the Publicity Chair for Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM), a professional society dedicated to LGBTQ+ individuals within the STEM community. He wants to engage more with a similar organization at KGI, Out@KGI, that helps LGBTQ+ individuals feel supported and enriches the student body by encouraging new perspectives.

“Jasper has been a great student in the MEng program; he is curious and dedicated to learning—two traits that are important to success in our rapidly changing business environment,” said Behrens. “I am sure he will make strong contributions to his projects here at KGI and to the biotechnology industry in the future!”

In the biotech industry, Worlikar would also like to see more organizations where people with common interests could come together. Additionally, he believes that an atmosphere more conducive to personal expression would help bring forth the voices of underrepresented groups.

“Although I’ve never had an adverse experience in the workplace and people have been accepting of me, I’ve also felt like I couldn’t fully express myself,” Worlikar said.

This is largely because corporate culture can sometimes force people into a box.

“I feel like we can expand the definition of ‘professionalism’ to be more inclusive of other communities, cultures, and modes of expression,” Worlikar said. “It doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can be professional while still expressing your identity.”

Worlikar is grateful for the opportunity to further his mission in advocating for underrepresented groups while pursuing his career goals at KGI, thanks in part to receiving a scholarship.

“I would like to thank the donors for their generous support in my studies at KGI!” Worlikar said. “The scholarships help enhance financial stability as well as generate a warm welcome for me here at KGI. I am also personally touched by how the scholarships would assist queer workers in the biotech industry such as myself.”