Shaila Kotadia courtsey of Shaila Kotadia
Today I’m excited to introduce Shaila Kotadia. This month I learned about science policy, which is a topic that I had never considered as a possible career or just how important it is to the progress of science. But that is the amazing thing about this section of my blog it is an opportunity to learn about all the various careers in STEM that don’t just involve working in a laboratory.
A.H.: Why did you want to go into STEM?
S.K: In high school, I first learned about the mechanistic details of diseases. In particular, in my freshman biology course, we studied the details of HIV/AIDS. Immediately, I was intrigued by the course of action taken by the virus and the body’s response. From that point on, I decided I wanted to find a cure to that disease. Similarly, the next year in a chemistry course, I learned about cancer development and switched to wanting to find a cure for it. I admit I was a bit fickle at first about my favorite disease, but I ended up sticking with cancer-related research for my career as a bench scientist.
A.H.: What do you work on and why is this important?
S.K.: I currently work in science policy. This is an important issue because the majority of science funding comes from federal agencies. Oftentimes, scientists do not advocate to the government why the funding is essential to continue to discover new treatments and cures for diseases. Therefore, it is necessary to have informed individuals advocate for science and educate government officials on the benefits of funding science.
A.H.: How can people learn more about science policy?
S.K.: People can learn more about science policy through various science organizations. For example, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, where I work, has an advocacy website that has tools to help you advocate for science locally and contact information for our public affairs personnel, who can answer questions. Also, many scientists themselves participate in advocacy and can be very informative of the steps they took to be involved.
A.H.: What motivates you?
S.K.: I am motivated by change. I want to make the world a better place to live in. Originally, I worked in scientific research hoping to advance discoveries that would ultimately lead to new cures for cancer. With policy, I hope to help scientists across the nation and the world to make groundbreaking discoveries with deserved support that will make grand changes.
A.H.: Do you have any words of advice for young women interested in pursuing STEM?
S.K.: If you are intrigued by a problem, then pursue it. As you move along your educational and career path, you will meet obstacles along the way and you have the choice on how to overcome them. Instead of holding yourself back in the face of opposition, face it head-on. This will take you in all different directions and may take time, but eventually you will find your fit, and that is when you will be happiest.
A.H.: What type of obstacles have you faced and how?
S.K.: Most of the obstacles I have faced tend to be more internal. Within the research realm, I had a subconscious feeling of not being good enough to make it in academia despite my accomplishments. This feeling also extended during my job pursuits in administration and policy. Despite working hard, publishing, and creating programs, I always felt like I was missing some qualification. To face these obstacles, I spoke with others with this mindset to understand how they overcame it. I also interacted with individuals in higher, more established positions to have a better perspective of the most important factors to concentrate on. While there is always someone more qualified, I learned, and am still learning, that you have to be confident in your own abilities, even if they are limited. The external obstacles I faced tended to be a bias based on my personality. In those situations, I chose to continue to work hard and rely on help from others when necessary to move forward and prove that I was capable of being successful.
A.H.: How do you share your love of science with others?
S.K.: I share my love of science through multiple avenues. During my research career, I started an outreach program with another postdocs. We organized scientists to visit K-12 classrooms to demonstrate that science is fun, that there is a diversity of scientists who approach real-world problems, and that anyone can be a scientist with hard work and determination. The scientists briefly explained their work and themselves, answered questions from the students, and conducted experiments that related to lab work conducted at the university. I also use dance to teach ongoing scientific research. I have used iterative choreography to teach high school students about my research. This finished piece was performed for the community. I also participated in helping to organize a Science Café, where scientists shared their research in lay terms for the general public. Finally, I try my best to talk about my work, both past and present, to individuals that show curiosity. I find that the most effective way to share my love of science is in a casual conversation.
A.H.: Do you have a favorite scientist?
S.K.: My favorite scientists are those who have taken the time to mentor me throughout my career. I have been quite lucky to have found several established professors who have given me sound advice and guidance and have helped me grow as a person and a scientist. In addition, their discoveries and creativity inspired me to be original and unique in my thought. An approachable, humble scientist will always be favorite.
A.H.: What do you see as the biggest challenge to women in STEM? What can we as a person/society do?
S.K.: The biggest challenge to women in STEM is having the confidence to take that step to the next level. Women often desire to pursue STEM but express the inability to do so. I believe that, to overcome this barrier, women need to have positive role models who continued onto successful careers in which they are also happy. Women also need encouragement that they are capable and, while they may struggle at times and lose confidence, this is normal for everyone. Overall, there are many women who have a lot to offer in the STEM fields, but the perception of ourselves needs to reflect that, and we need to spread the same message to young girls.
A.H.: Who is your favorite Science Fiction or Fantasy writer?
S.K.: So I don’t really read science fiction or fantasy. I do love to read though. My favorite book is “The Winter of our Discontent” by Steinbeck. I love Steinbeck in general. “East of Eden” is amazing as well. I’ve read a variety of female authors but have not picked up on one in particular.
A.H.: I wish there was more time in the day, so I could….
S.K.: …travel all over the world (I guess this would require more days in the week or more weeks in the year!)
A.H.: If people wanted to learn more about you how could they reach you?
S.K.: I can be reached at @shpostrapheaila . I also have a YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUSwJEtg2iOHz6cVePjJ8qw I have only two videos on there but will soon add another. The videos are my venture into using dance to describe scientific processes. I hope to continue this outreach effort and have more videos posted in the future.
A.H.: Thank you,Shaila!