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#STEMStories: Dr. Anjali, Professor and Scientist, India

Name: Dr. Anjali M. Rajadhyaksha
BS in chemistry and PhD in Molecular Biology
Faculty (Professor and Scientist) at Weill Cornell Medical School, Cornell University

Achievements 
My biggest and most enjoyable achievements are being a neuroscientist and mentor, a mother and a supporting partner to my husband. Finding a balance between my goals for my career and home allows me to live life to the fullest.

Dr. Anjali M Rajyadhyaksha is the daughter of Dr Kudchadkar, the famed first Indian woman scientist to secure a science PhD from a foreign university. GGR had covered the interview with Dr Kudchadkarhttps://www.geekyreality.com/blog/stemstories-shanti-scientist-south-africa/

Interviewed by: Interviewer is Lavanya, a High School STEM student in Dhirubhai Ambani International School, Mumbai. She wishes to major in Engineering. She is happy and proud to pursue STEM and is passionate about propagating STEM among girls

What motivated you to take up the science stream? Was it something you always wanted to do?

It was during my 9th and 10th standard in Mumbai that I realized that I was naturally drawn to the sciences compared to the arts. I recall as a child I didn't read as many books as my friends or my sister did. However, when I did read books outside of what was required in school, I always chose biographies of scientists. I enjoyed the exploration aspect of science and the ability to discover new things.

After receiving a basic degree in Chemistry what persuaded you to take up scientific research instead of medicine which most girls tend to lean towards?

I never considered medicine, as out of the science subjects, biology was my least favorite, a subject one should like if going into medicine. This is amusing now, as my research is in a field of biology, neuroscience. I didn't enjoy biology because as taught in school it required a lot of memorization that I didn't enjoy. Chemistry, Physics and Math involved problem solving that I enjoyed, something one does in scientific research, even biological sciences. I also would like to mention that I was very lucky to have a mother who is a scientist. Even though when I was younger I didn't think about a career in science and academia, I know that her career and her love for science and math influenced me.

Can you tell us of a particular moment in your career which is especially special?

While I was doing my PhD I remember one moment when I was looking under a microscope to see if my experiment had worked, which was to visualize a protein in cells that a nobellaureate had discovered many years before. When I actually saw this with my own eyes, I was fascinated that what I had read in textbooks does indeed exist in our own cells. This made me want to discover new things about the human body at a cellular level and stay in research. I continue to feel this way every time my students bring me data of their experiments often times, new discoveries. I also had another 'significant' moment during my career when I started interacting with patients, especially kids that were suffering from illnesses that had no cures. This made me want to dedicate my science to understanding diseases to be able to develop treatments.

At Cornell University and outside, who do you mentor?

In my university, I mentor medical students, PhD students, postdoctoral research fellows, and some undergraduate students, many of them girls. Occasionally I mentor high school students that do research in my lab.

Having guided several science students, have you observed anything of special merit in STEM girls?

In general, I find that girls these days are highly motivated to learn and educate themselves in whatever field they chose. They feel comfortable to push themselves and word hard towards their goals. Girls in STEM are pursuing careers that were previously male dominated, and becoming highly successful in their fields. This is very nice to see.

Any advice you would like to share with STEM girls?

Don't be afraid to pursue your dreams even if it is in a STEM field that not many girls choose or there are smaller number of girls in that particular career. If you believe in something, go after it. Don't be afraid to work hard. It is the only thing that is in our hands. Find mentors from whom you can receive guidance as needed. There are many around us that love to help.

Any advice you'd like to give your 18-year-old self?

Don't worry so much about what others are saying you should do in the future, or have not done well in school or grades. Listen to parents, teachers and other elders as they often have valuable advice but feel okay if you don't agree with some things they say and feel okay to follow your heart instead. Also don't be influenced by what society dictates is right or by dogma. Think for yourself and then make your own decision about what is right. Don't worry. Everything will work out if you follow your heart and be respectful of colleagues and friends.

Where can we find out more about your work?

On the Weill Cornell Medical website (http://vivo.med.cornell.edu/display/cwid-amr2011). You can also google me (Anjali Rajadhyaksha) and find papers I have published on google scholar.