Category: News & Information

Ranjan Mukherjee working in the former McKinly Lab as a Ph.D. student in 1983. Initially coming to UD from India to pursue a Ph.D. in physics, Mukherjee pivoted to studying biology.

Embracing the Unknown

Photo by Ranjan Mukherjee

Ranjan Mukherjee, AS88, arrived from India at the University of Delaware in 1981 eager to pursue his Ph.D. in physics and study under Dr. Richard Preiss, an expert in the physical properties of nucleic acids and proteins. But his excitement was cut short. Sadly, due to slow cross-continental communications, he didn’t receive notice in time that his doctoral advisor passed away before he arrived on campus.

He was at a crossroads. Return home or find his way at UD? 

Contemplating his options and strolling through the Department of Biological Sciences, Mukherjee discovered a flyer for a graduate cell biology course that piqued his interest. He introduced himself to the professor, Dr. George Molloy, and told him his story. But there was one key problem – he had never taken a college-level biology course. 

“I asked Dr. Molloy if he would be willing to take me on as a doctoral student in his lab,” Mukherjee said. “He looked at me like, ‘you can’t be serious,’ but conditionally agreed. He required that I receive an A in his 600-level course and score high on the biology Graduate Record Exam (GRE). I was able to do both.” 

Curious to learn a new field and having the courage to pursue it, Mukherjee set out to prove himself. 

“UD professors were very understanding. When they saw a good student, they went out of their way to help me. I owe Dr. Molloy a debt of gratitude for taking a risk on me,” he added.  

Retired UD professor George Molloy, Mukherjee’s doctoral advisor, threw a party at his home to celebrate his successful thesis defense in 1987.
Retired UD professor George Molloy, Mukherjee’s doctoral advisor, threw a party at his home to celebrate his successful thesis defense in 1987.

Mukherjee’s experience at UD was shaped by the faculty that opened doors for him. He recalled another mentor, Dr. Stetson, who personally funded his attendance for an academic conference to ensure he had the opportunity to exchange ideas with scholarly peers. Despite being far from home, Mukherjee was able to find a nurturing community at UD. But it was his willingness to overcome adversity that allowed him to build a life in Newark. Eventually, he flew to India, married and brought his wife back with him.  

“My courses were interesting and challenging, and I was able to conduct research, teach classes and have fun, even on a small graduate student stipend. UD gave me a great education and set me on my career path,” he said.

After earning his doctorate in biology, Mukherjee completed his post-doc work in France and returned to the U.S. to begin his career. He steadily rose to prominence in the biopharmaceutical industry, specializing in metabolic disease drug discovery at companies like Ligand Pharmaceuticals and Bristol-Myers Squibb. 

“It is hard work to be a scientist. Science is moving at a breakneck pace, and you must continue to read the literature and check the data,” Mukherjee professed. “When you have a lab, you are managing many people and wearing many hats. But it is rewarding to publish a paper in a good journal, be able to collaborate with other scientists and present your findings at a conference.”

An inventor or co-inventor of a handful of patents and head of several large drug discovery teams, Mukherjee believes he built a foundation for success at UD. It was a full circle moment when he walked around campus again with his son, Suranjit Mukherjee, AS11, who followed in his footsteps to become another Blue Hen scientist. 

“I am proud to be a UD parent. It was great to have my son also attend UD as the campus was familiar and I knew he’d have a supportive community there,” said Mukherjee. “I took him to the then McKinly lab and introduced him to some professors I knew that were still working. I was even able to hold the banner at his graduation ceremony.” 

In 2013, after a successful 22-year career, Mukherjee was abruptly laid off from his job. Encountering another crossroad, he embraced the unknown once more and decided to retire early at 58. Today, he’s focused on travel, photography, writing and helping other retirees live a contented life and adopt a stress-free Zen attitude.

His latest book, Living Free, Living Well: My Life as a Zen Bon Vivant was recently published and is available now in paperback and eBook on Amazon. The book chronicles his life’s journey across three continents, including his experience at UD as an international graduate student.

“I’ve learned that life occasionally throws you curveballs, but a good education gives you fortitude and presence of mind to face them,” he said. 


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