As an international woman of color in STEM who didn’t grow up attending science fairs, it was quite a shock to my family (and myself) when I declared science as my field of study. As a teenager in India who was forced to decide my career at the age of 16, it was quite a daunting task. Like every student entering 11th grade in any Indian school, I had to choose between science, commerce (business), or art as my field of study.
While my peers’ parents were (literally) telling them which career to choose; my mom, my role model, had quite an interesting approach to helping me select my career. My mom, who is a cosmetologist by trade, understood the power of discovering one’s strengths and taking the time to explore one’s options.
During the summer vacation before starting 11th grade (junior year of high school), I was given a folder every day, which was labeled with a job title and filled with newspaper articles. These articles provided a rough outline of the job description and education requirements if I wanted to work in that field. In addition, there was contact information of someone my mom knew who I could talk to if I was interested in that field.
One day, I came across an article outlining what a geneticist does. I had taken biology the previous year and learned about Mendel’s genetic crosses. (which I absolutely fell in love with!) So, reading about a career based on one of my biology lessons was incredibly alluring to me.
After conversations with a budding scientist about the field of biotechnology and the scope of biomedical research, I declared science as my major, and I never looked back. Two years later, I came to the US to study molecular biology, and I am now a 4th year Ph.D. student studying ovarian cancer.
As any graduate student who has reflected upon his or her career choices, I realized pretty early on in my graduate career that I wanted to pursue a field that reflects my desire for mentorship, conversation, and (obviously) love for all things science. After some research, I found that science communication fulfilled those needs. Through my journey as a science communicator, I have spent a lot of time talking to people about who they are, how they got to where they are, and what I need to do to get where they are. The lessons from my conversations with them have been very empowering.
My experiences have shown me that conversation is a powerful tool that opens doors we may have never known were there to begin with. I didn’t necessarily understand the power of communication during my teenage years, though I believe that my mom’s wisdom helped me gain confidence in my field of study way before any of the obstacles (like a lack of ethnic diversity or discrimination against women and women of color in STEM-related fields, to name a few) could bog me down.
So far, I haven’t regretted the decision that I made when I was 16. Although, my journey is far from being finished….
How did you become interested in science? What was the wildest experience you have had as a scientist? Let us know in the comments!