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Women in STEM- Overcoming Challenges+ #27

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Quote of the Week

“If you’re beautiful, you’re led to believe that you can’t also be smart. But you can be fun and fit and social and be really smart. And the smarter you are, the more capable you’ll be to handle whatever challenges come up in life.“ -Danica McKellar, Mathematician and The Wonder Years actress of iconic character Winnie Cooper.

Hi, this is the GenWise team– we bring out this newsletter to help parents and educators to complement the work of formal schools and associated systems. We can help our children thrive in these complex times only by exchanging ideas and insights and collaborating on this.

Since 2009, the second Tuesday of every October (this year 12 Oct, 2021) marks Ada Lovelace Day. It was founded by technologist Suw Charman-Anderson, to celebrate the achievements of women in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and was created in memory of one in particular: Ada Lovelace, widely considered to be the first computer programmer. In this week’s main post, GenWise mentor, Sowmya Jatesan, shares some insights to guide families and young girls/ women in navigating their careers in STEM.

You are invited to be an early member and beta-tester of the GenWise Club (ages 13-90), a community of interested students, parents, and educators. Check out this link for more about the club and how to join it. It is open to all in the current beta phase. 

Join this conversation on learning, by commenting on our posts, or joining our club community for more regular and closer interactions.

Do block 6 PM, Oct 29 for the inaugural expert talk of the Gifted India Network by Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubelius, Head of the Center for Talent Development, Northwestern University on ‘The Importance of Non-Cognitive Skills in Talent Development’. More details in the Upcoming Events Section.


Women in STEM- Overcoming Challenges

Upcoming Courses @GenWise

Upcoming External Events

Women in STEM- Overcoming Challenges

This post is by GenWise mentor, Sowmya Jatesan.

On the occasion of Ada Lovelace day, this week’s piece is dedicated to all women in STEM. To their part in this grand human endeavour to make sense of our world around us and make it a better, more fun place!

A while back, we at GenWise had sent out a survey to a number of women in STEM. The responses we received have been from women in different STEM subsets –  Post docs, researchers, engineers, senior industry professionals. 

Our survey attempted to capture a glimpse of what their journey had been like and what they wished they had known when they were entering the field as a young professional.

We share below some lessons from their responses. We hope that these takeaways will act as a catalyst for parents and educators to initiate discussions with their wards – young women (and men) who are either on the threshold of, or have just stepped into STEM careers.

You can also check out our hour long conversation on this topic in the ‘Education Adda’ with Sandhya Koushika, Scientist at TIFR and Preeti Aghalayam, Professor at IIT Madras.

In most places, society does see men and women in STEM somewhat differently. And that does seem to matter!

While the actual issues you face and the possible workarounds will vary depending on your particular situation (both personal and societal), the probability is very high that there will be speed breakers simply because you are a woman.

The biggest challenge may be breaking free from the mindset that comes from ‘social mirrors’- society’s expectations of you as a woman. This commonly manifests as women being expected to do the child-rearing and housework irrespective of the demands of their ‘outside job’. It can also manifest as ‘pretty girls’ not being meant for STEM even when they are very passionate and have a strong aptitude for STEM (See Danica Mckellar’s quote at the start of this newsletter). There are of course many other ways in which social mirrors make it challenging for women and it can be hard to ‘see’ the falseness of these narratives.

As far as the actual head-down kind of work you do, it makes no difference that you are a woman, but it does begin to matter beyond that. Childbirth and childcare (which is still predominantly a woman’s responsibility) can necessitate career breaks – given that the extent and kind of childcare support vary widely from one person and society to another. 

The default trajectory may not be supportive of an immersive STEM life and one needs to be clear about how to negotiate the professional role and accommodate other things. And then find ways to make it work on the ground.

The entire range of factors- from the unstated expectations in your family to the National policy-level interventions to encourage women in STEM via sexist workplaces – can and probably will affect your life in STEM. Some of these may well be within your control and some may not. The sooner and better aware you are of them, the more deliberate your transitions can be.

It helps to be in touch with other girls/women in STEM; having a few seniors to look up to is very enriching. 

It is important to be able to relate to other girls/women in STEM as professionals. Knowing the battles that others before you have managed or avoided, unintended consequences of one kind of professional choice vs another, an idea of the big questions in your domain, a sense of belonging to a professional cohort- all these are important. 

You may face problems that others you know haven’t faced.

In spite of being part of a network and having access to supportive mentors, you may not find a role model. Be prepared to push your own boundaries.

It is ok to ask for help.

Often, women that get into and persist with STEM have done that by being strong and independent. After a point however, it makes sense to ask for support; identify the bottlenecks and seek the support you need  – whether from the family or otherwise.

Learn to talk to all sorts of people, put forth your point of view respectfully and convince them – learn to negotiate!

One thing that can make or break a productive, satisfying professional life is the skill of negotiating – with yourself, your family, colleagues, bosses, even the society out there. Use every opportunity to learn and practice this.

You may have to sometimes choose between being popular and being ambitious.

Competent, hard-working, ambitious women could still be seen as a bit of an awkward anomaly in the male-dominated STEM circles and you may have to learn to work around not being the favourite of your colleagues, particularly as you climb the ladders.

Ultimately, you make your life – STEM and otherwise.

Having said all this, your dreams, experiences and challenges will be uniquely ours. The only thing to make sure is to be alive to all of it!

Women in STEM Resources

Here are some resources for you and your ward to check out . These can also be effective conversation starters on Women in STEM.

Movies: Hidden figures, Contact, The imitation game


Our 2020-21 Indian Women-In-Science calendar is here!
Ada Lovelace Day


These handles are worth following-





Upcoming Courses @GenWise

Details of upcoming GenWise courses are available here. The next few courses are listed below.

Upcoming External Events

The below events are free to attend unless otherwise specified.

Finding your Voice! An In-Person Storytelling Workshop in Bengaluru (Paid)

Ankit has worked with students in previous GenWise residential camps at IIIT Hyderabad and Bangalore International School and his sessions were very popular- we recommend his workshop highly. If children are interested in storytelling, theatre and ‘finding themselves’, these sessions will be both fun and relevant.

This is a two day long workshop on the art of Storytelling. The workshop is from 10 am to 2 pm on Saturday and Sunday (Oct 9 & 10, 2021) and the venue is a hall near Ulsoor lake (Bengaluru). A small group of 12-15 adolescents is expected and 5 seats are still available. This experiential workshop involves the use of drama, visual art, rhythm, movements and narratives. Participants are given a safe space to feel comfortable and gradually expand the boundaries of their comfort. No prior exposure or experience in storytelling or public speaking necessary.

Ankit Dwivedi, the facilitator, is trained in Storytelling at Emerson College, England. He is also a trained Art Therapy practitioner. With 10+ years of experience in Performing Arts & Group Facilitation, he has worked with hundreds of young people and professionals. To register interest or know more, reach out to him at +91 9769576038.

Navratri Tech Talks by Young Innovators from Mahindra Technical Academy at 6 PM from Oct 8- 12– featuring some amazing young girls speaking about Math/ STEM topics they are passionate about (given Navratri is a Devi festival). 4 of these girls are part of the Raising a Mathematician Training Program.

Oct 8: Ananya Ranade (Bronze medal in IMO and Silver in EGMO) will be sharing her journey into Mathematics Olympiad

Oct 11: Saee Patil (Spirit of Ramanujan Fellow) will be giving an insight into Math in Computer Science

Oct 12: Sanaya Gandhi (PACT, Princeton alumni) will be talking about Mathematical Thinking and insights into intersections of Mathematics and Economics

Oct 13: Hetvi Pethad (Math Path alumni and 4 times INMO qualifier) will share about the intersection of Math, Art, and Science.

Here is the zoom link to attend these sessions.

The Importance of Non-Cognitive Skills in Talent Development

This is the inaugural expert talk of the Gifted India Network by Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubelius, Head of the Center for Talent Development, Northwestern University on Fri, Oct 29 at 6 PM IST.

3 types of questions spring to mind when we think about developing children’s talents-

Is giftedness natural ability or achievement or both? Can you start gifted and become ‘un gifted’?

How does one translate potential into achievement? What is the process of talent development?

I am providing my child opportunities I never had- but she doesn’t focus, she gets anxious… What’s going on?

This session will address all 3 questions and particularly the importance of psychosocial skills in talent development.

A  large component of developing talent into high achievement in school  and productive careers in adulthood are psychosocial skills such as  optimism, effort, resiliency, openness to feedback and challenge. In  this session we will discuss how parents can cultivate these skills in  their children so as to maximize their talents and abilities.

The details of the talk and the registration form are available here.  The talk is relevant to both parents and educators.


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