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Vidya Maharaj: How a CDC Epidemiologist Became an Executive Head Chef

We don’t have to finish our journeys on the same path we started. People switch careers every day, but some make a larger leap than others. One such case is that of clinical researcher and epidemiologist Vidya Maharaj. After years of success in the medical field, she is pivoting into the culinary industry to join her family in their mission to open Miami Beach’s hottest Indian fusion restaurant.

Finding Her Way in the Medical Field

Born in Trinidad, Vidya Maharaj received her degree in Biological Sciences from Florida International University. In college, she developed a number of important skills that have shaped her life and career, including foundational leadership skills and strict attention to detail. She also became a Founding Mother and the first president of the FIU chapter of Delta Phi Omega Sorority, Inc. DPO is the first South Asian sorority in the US. With her undergraduate studies complete, Vidya decided to take the next step in her career and pursue a position in epidemiology.

In graduate school, Maharaj became an Adjunct Graduate Professor, which laid the foundations for her epidemiology career. She took on her first role in the industry in 2007, when she became a clinical research guest researcher at the CDC’s Miami Quarantine Station. 

With her clinical research expertise and familiarity with the process and federal regulations of drug research, she has garnered widespread acclaim as a consultant. Maharaj has worked as a Pharmaceutical Project Development Manager and Life Sciences Consultant for over 12 years. In 2016, she accepted the position of regional project manager and lead clinical research epidemiologist for the CDC. She also took on a significant role in the study of the Zika virus, serving as the first on-the-ground epidemiologist contracted for the CDC’s pilot program for Zika surveillance.

Maharaj is now the Vice President of Regenerative Outcomes, LLC. Recently, she earned her Sigma Six Green Belt certification to officialize her status as an expert in pharmaceutical and biotech project management.

Changing Careers and Overcoming Adversity

Always open to new challenges and opportunities, Maharaj recently joined her brothers in taking on the culinary industry. With her love of cooking, Maharaj volunteered to serve as the executive chef of their new family restaurant. They officially opened their lively vegan Indian fusion spot, Diya Miami, in early 2020 – just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to close their doors. With dedication and adaptability, they survived the struggles of the pandemic and grew Diya Miami into one of the trendiest restaurants in Miami Beach.

As an acclaimed epidemiologist, Maharaj found many opportunities for work in that field, but she ultimately decided to focus on growing the family restaurant. “We needed all hands on deck for this one,” she says. She stayed on to help the business while simultaneously building a career in the pharmaceutical industry. She was able to develop new strategies for takeout, expand and enhance the Diya menu, and climb the corporate ladder all at once.

Maharaj is particularly proud of the struggles she’s overcome with Diya. The National Restaurant Association estimates a 30% rate of failure across the restaurant industry. This means that at least 1 in 3 new restaurants fail in only their first year. With Diya, the odds were indeed stacked against them. As Maharaj recalls, “A well-known chef told us when we first opened that if we didn’t serve meat, we wouldn’t survive. We heard this a lot in the early days, but when people tell me I can’t do something, I always respond the same way: watch me.”

Lifting Other Women Up into Success

As Maharaj climbed corporate ladders and carved out her own path, she discovered a strong passion for empowering women. Now, she hopes to leverage her success to empower women across the globe. Maharaj is a recent inductee of Chief Women, an exclusive organization made for successful women at the peak of their careers. With 30,000 women on the waitlist, Maharaj was incredibly proud of her induction into Chief.

Vidya Beyond Careers

Outside of her occupational pursuits, Maharaj enjoys a fulfilling personal life. She loves spending time with her husband and 9-year-old daughter, and getting involved with the community.

Read about Vidya Maharaj on her official website or check out her linktree. Learn more about Diya Miami here.

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