WFiT Scholarship Recipient: Simran Handa

May 2, 2018

Meet 2017 recipient Simran Handa. During her studies, she found time to help found a Gender Minorities in STEM club on her college campus so we could share our experiences with younger students. Learn more about her story!

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?

I’ve theorized that my love for science came from my upbringing. My parents worked full time running a 7-Eleven gas station, and I, the eldest child, had to take care of the household. By the age of twelve, I raised my siblings largely by myself—cooking, cleaning, and ensuring their safety. I planned everything, going as far as making color-coded calendars for each of my siblings. I learned to see the small details in everything—the tiny intricacies that no one else seems to notice. This made me naturally perfect for science, where a one microliter margin can determine the outcome of an experiment. My passion for science fully blossomed during my eighth-grade biology class. As I learned about DNA and cells for the first time, I immediately fell in love with the unseen molecular world surrounding us. From then on, I knew that the best way I could contribute my piece to society was through science.

What do you like best about your university’s STEM programs?

Going to a small liberal arts college has opened up countless opportunities for me to succeed in science. Due to small class sizes, all my professors know who I am and class instruction is catered to our individual learning styles. My professors—especially female professors—have served as great mentors in my field, helping me plan for life after college. Moreover, I was able to join a professor's cell biology research lab my freshman year, and I have been working there ever since. Hands-on research has helped me more deeply understand class concepts through scientific inquiry. I am also grateful that my college emphasizes the importance of supporting minorities in STEM. This year, I worked with friends to develop a Gender Minorities in STEM club on my college campus so we could share our experiences with younger students. I've also mentored many first-generation college students and students of color like myself who are pursuing careers in STEM. The supportive, collaborative environment at my college has fostered a tight-knit STEM community dedicated to helping each other succeed in STEM.

What advice can you share to other young women pursuing STEM degrees?

My main piece of advice is to find a mentor in your field. A good mentor is one who is dependable, understands your background, and can point you towards resources that will help you succeed. In addition, it can be helpful to speak to your peers who are just a few years ahead of you, since they have first-hand knowledge about how to navigate the STEM fields as young students. Lastly, educate yourself about the challenges facing women in STEM, and prepare to overcome these obstacles. One day, you might be able to pay it forward and help other young women succeed in STEM as well.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

When I graduate from Lewis & Clark College, I intend to earn an MD-PhD and receive the training necessary to ask innovative scientific questions about the workings of the human body. In five years, I'll likely be putting in long hours at the lab, intensely working on a biochemical research project.

When you are not studying, what do you like to do for fun?

To de-stress from my many academic and extracurricular commitments, I enjoy a daily yoga practice and meditation. When I get the time, I enjoy baking, golfing, watching Netflix, and catching up with my family. I also enjoy going out with friends and seeing what the beautiful city of Portland has to offer.

Who is your biggest female role model in the STEM field?

My biggest female role model in the STEM field is Dr. Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley. Doudna is now commonly referred to as the mother of CRISPR, an exciting new technology that allows scientists to make targeted changes in DNA. CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technology has the potential to cure a large number of genetic diseases. Amidst all this excitement, Doudna, along with other founding scientists of CRISPR, called for a worldwide moratorium on clinical research using CRISPR, bravely recognizing the risks associated with genome editing technology. Biomedical breakthroughs such as that of CRISPR technology have inspired me to pursue a degree in Biochemistry. In the future, I want to conduct biomedical research like Doudna’s because it combines my love for science with my desire to serve humankind. Like Doudna, I want to be able to anticipate the implications of my work beyond the scientific world; the societal impacts of science and technology should influence how and where they are applied.

What is your favorite flavor ice cream? 

My favorite flavor of ice cream is Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons at a Portland ice cream shop called Salt and Straw.

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