Learn with Leaders organized a Focus Group Workshop on ‘Young Women in STEM’, in collaboration with mentors from Harvard Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (HGWISE), on 29 August 2020. Focusing on careers in STEM for women, the online workshop provided 32 young girl students from high schools across India the unique opportunity to interact with and get inspired by mentors from HGWISE. It was the first such initiative not only in the country but also around the world – and one where selected students could learn about choosing careers in STEM absolutely free of cost.
Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are largely dominated by men. Girls form a high-potential, yet largely under-represented, demographic in careers in STEM. This special initiative was a step towards pushing the government and private schools in the country to take proactive measures to address the imbalance. They did their part by nominating young girl students who joined the workshop from all over the country: from Delhi, Chennai, and Bhubaneswar to Palakkad, Sitapur, and Kukatpally.
The young participants got the opportunity to interact with mentors from globally acclaimed universities and institutions: Shamayeeta Ray, 3rd year Postdoctoral Researcher, Molecular and Cellular Biology Department, Harvard University; Cait Moffatt, incoming 1st year graduate student, Molecules, Cells, and Organisms doctoral program, Harvard University; MayLin Howard, 4th year PhD candidate, Chemical Engineering Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Valentina Lagomarsino, 3rd year PhD candidate, Biological Biomedical Sciences program, Harvard Medical School; Michelle Li, 2nd year PhD student, Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics program, Harvard Medical School; Sharan Rai, 4th year PhD candidate, Population Health Sciences program, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Tanvi Ranjan, 4th year PhD candidate in Applied Math, School of Engineering, Harvard University; and Yiming Qin, 4th year PhD candidate, Environmental Science and Engineering, School of Engineering, Harvard University.
These scholars and researchers are following in the footsteps of illustrious women, who have left their mark in the world of STEM. And now they were the role models for middle and high school learners from India. The mentors described the scope for women in careers in STEM, shared anecdotes from their own journeys, offered an overview of the challenges, and highlighted the importance of having strong representation of the field in future.
The engaging 2-hour-long workshop included breakout sessions with mentors that led to some invigorating discussions. In the breakout session conducted by Sharan Rai, the focus remained on what it means to be a woman in STEM. Mentors talked about their motivations to choose careers in STEM. They also shed light on career options and online resources for young girls, who can transform into future leaders in STEM.
Michelle Li led another breakout session where mentors shared the challenges they had faced as women in the largely male-dominated sphere. Young students actively participated in the discussion and had their queries answered by the mentors. Cait Moffatt inspired them by talking about women achievers in the field with inputs from Valentina Lagomarsino, who is engaged in research in Biological Biomedical Sciences.
The potent dose of inspiration was served with a healthy mix of practical advice by the mentors. Yiming Qin helped the participants understand how they can go on to build careers in STEM. Shamayeeta Ray and Emily Kerr talked about Science and Communications sources. The mentors encouraged students to participate in fairs and engage in fieldwork, while building a strong foundation through academic engagements. They also spoke about fellowship programs to study abroad and pursue career interests in STEM.
From presenting an overview to laying out a roadmap for careers in STEM, the workshop had it all covered to raise awareness and inspire young girl students to launch exciting journeys in the world of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
The next Focus Group Workshop is on 12 December 2020.