University of California, Davis
And - Volunteer Kalpana Program CEO
If you have the zeal, the universe is waiting to be explored.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
I study the factors (proteins) associated to developmental disorders and degenerative diseases leading to poor brain development primarily in infants and children.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?
I was always curious to look at the biomolecules under the "lens". Though looking at cells under the microscope lens is simple, to look in depth and see the building blocks and functional components of the cells which leads to various abnormalities, diseases, infections wasn't that straight forward. I became motivated and interested to pursue science and specifically the field of neurosciences in my early childhood days when I became aware of mental disorders out of curiosity and naively thought it happens due to improper functioning of the brain. Though I ventured into my research career with infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis and gained experience for 5+ years, I had this pressing desire to go into the field of neurological diseases/disorders. My training in computational biology during Masters in Bioinformatics and later in Biochemistry and Structural biology during PhD in NTU Singapore aided me to make the move to study neurodevelopmental disorders in my postdoc.
HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?
Life does not happen in a blink. It is a long journey and one needs to experience all that life has to offer to become stronger than ever before. The journey, to become a first generation PhD from NTU, Singapore with the roots in a middle class family from Delhi, India, was a rollercoaster ride. My parents were/are clerks in a government hospital but life turned upside down when I turned 15 and lost the only breadwinner, my father. He was the one who taught me to dream big, beyond our circumstances and always motivated me to pursue science. After him, my mother, sister and me had to pull all the strength that we had against all the odds and fight patriarchy where something as trivial as going to co-education college was a problem in the eyes of those around us. My mother, who was a housewife, stood her ground and started working to make ends meet. It was my childhood dream to have a career in science as I was intrigued by the complexities of the human body and life forms around me. I took a high school teaching job after my graduation to earn and save for my bigger plans. I took every step with thorough planning and became a gold medalist in MS while juggling with a full time teaching job. I tackled my obstacles with intrinsic motivation instilled by my parents, perseverance and determination.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"
Today, when I look back and think, I certainly would've never thought I would break any social, emotional or circumstantial barriers and study and work in prestigious universities in India, Singapore and US. Every step brought me closer to my goal and it wouldn't have been possible without the support of my family, my mentors and colleagues I met along the journey. To help someone like me, today, I am able to give back to society in a meaningful way so that girls like me can re-imagine a higher STEM career and break the glass ceiling. This became possible through my social endeavours as a Program CEO of "Kalpana-SheForSTEM" at an NGO, VigyanShaala International which is thriving to make quality STEM education accessible to the most marginalised across India. Program Kalpana particularly challenges the gender divide in higher STEM careers by equipping undergraduate girls with self-development and professional development tools, immersive mentoring and access to relatable role models from diverse STEM fields.
WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?
There is nothing more fascinating than knowing that I am able to see these troublemakers (proteins) which can make a bacteria infectious or can change the entire functioning of a normal human brain, kidney or lungs. The curiosity to find answers to challenging human health problems and the motivation to inspire the next generations to pursue STEM for greater good, drives me to work hard and continue my journey as a researcher and a STEM educator.
BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?
Education opened the door for me and I wish the same for every child. If you have the zeal, the universe is waiting to be explored.
Never let anyone make you believe that you are not worthy, persistence is the key and trust me, you can be anything. Failures will come, you can’t escape failures. What matters is when you rise you are dreaming for the universe. Stand up, take charge and rewrite your life in rainbow colors. I believe, every girl, every women when succeeding, she uplifts everyone around her.
"If you know you are on the right track, if you have this inner knowledge, then nobody can turn you off... no matter what they say." - Barbara McClintock, winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.