In this latest series of articles, we are publishing interviews of women who are working as a professional or a student in the technology sector. The objective is to highlight their work and contribution to the industry as well as to the community.

In these interviews, you will find women working in technology to solve real-world problems, to break stereotypes and to create the next big impact on the tech industry. This series of interviews shows that even with the lowest rate of women participation in the labor market in Pakistan, there are still lots of smart women who are creating and using technology to work wonders.

Today, we are featuring Roopali Chaudhary. Read on to know more about her work and get inspired.

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Tell us a little about yourself, your background, your education, and your work.

Hi, my name is Dr. Roopali Chaudhary & I am an Indo-Canadian Molecular Biologist. Prior to Canada, I’ve lived in Kuwait, India (New Delhi, Himachal Pradesh) & Saudi Arabia (Al Khobar, Riyadh). I have my Bachelors specializing in Molecular Genetics & Molecular Biology, an MSc in Genetics, a Ph.D. in Cellular Biology & a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Immunology. 

Up until I started university, I had never seen or even learned about a female scientist; I didn’t know women could become scientists. I felt I was almost given permission to love doing science, asking questions, & being curious. Following my BSc, I pursued my MSc in Genetics studying embryo development in fruit flies. My Ph.D. was in Cellular Biology where I studied a novel transgenic mouse model with chronic intestinal inflammation. I then did a Postdoctoral Fellowship studying the early immune response during the development of food allergies. During my Postdoctoral Fellowship, I founded Lotus STEMM, a non-profit organization for South Asian women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math & Medicine. 

I currently run Lotus STEMM, teach as a Sessional professor at universities, & write as a content editor for Sci-Illustrate Stories, focusing on women in STEM fields. I also run a small custom cake business that focuses on science-themed cakes.

What are your future plans/aspirations? What impact it will have on the community/society/your team/your project?

Lotus STEMM is currently my full-time job. I am learning how to run a business while providing free, accessible programs & workshops for women around the world. It’s a steep but rewarding learning curve! We are working on providing various programs online, but are also in the process of developing various STEM outreach programs for young girls to participate in. I aim to have Lotus STEMM as a resource for youth & women, with chapters in multiple countries, such that no person doubts their abilities or their space in STEM. 

I believe culture & language play important roles in your science communication. With that in mind, I am developing an arm of Lotus STEMM that provides scicomm explainer videos in multiple languages, giving space to native speakers & female scientists. Additionally, I aspire to provide parents with tools on how to support their daughters who enter STEM fields while also teaching their sons how to be allies. I hope to help decrease the gender disparity in STEM fields by not only supporting women in the fields but also by preparing the next generation with the right attitude.

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Please brag about your career accomplishments, what are the things you are really proud of? 

Early on I fell in love with microscopy, & I am very proud of the live-imaging videos I made of a developing fruit fly eggs for my research (eg. video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfVXANTY7b8). 

In my Ph.D., I brought over those microscopy skills, & showed myself that I am able to take skills from one field to another. I got to take cool microscopy images of mouse intestines while independently developing most of the mouse protocols for the lab (not to mention learning how to pick up mice!). 

Changing fields again for my Postdoctoral Fellowship, I once again showed myself the importance of transferable skills. I picked up new techniques while learning about a field I had never taken a course in: immunology. I also made this video explaining HOW mice are made allergic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAyjmAGZrwQ

I am also very proud of how far Lotus STEMM has come in 1.5 years. It is slowly developing into the network I always wished I had. I am also SUPER PROUD of the COVID19 explainer videos in multiple languages that we started developing: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCK1mActu-Y2bwxYshKs4wDw

I love the cakes I make & the way I merge my creativity with scientific knowledge.

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Research images (“colour me gutsy” as part of an Art of Research competition; this is a microscopy image of mouse intestine with a small polyp).

What has been your best education/career decision and why?

The best career decision for me was walking away from my Postdoctoral Fellowship. Though it was a new field and I had a steep learning curve, I also never felt comfortable with the material; Imposter Syndrome was at its peak. The day I decided to leave, I had felt a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. While I had no idea what or where my career would go next, I decided to work with a career coach to explore many options outside of academia. Deciding to leave the Postdoctoral Fellowship forced me to grow in different ways, challenge myself further, and figure out how to work on aspects of STEM that I am truly passionate about. I now find a balance between using my technical skills training, transferable skills, and learning new business skills.

What’re the best lessons you’ve learned?

Throughout my career, I have jumped from one field to another. I have learned that doubting yourself really holds you back! You may think you do not have the skills or the technical knowledge for a field, but you bring in a different way of thinking. This is worth investing in! Staying curious and not being afraid to ask questions helps keep an open mind to learning. Stay confident that you will learn and you will get the nuance of the field, and take chances!

Which woman inspires you and why?

Since I’ve been writing for Sci-Illustrate Stories, I have learned about many women in STEM, their careers, and their struggles. There are so many women whose stories continue to inspire me! Stories of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, the 3 Leakey’s Angels as they were known, were each very inspiring in their own ways. Each of these women pioneered the studies in 3 different primate species in the wild. Being the first in studying chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans, respectively, while combating the societal expectations from women. Other stories closer to home like Kamala Sohonie who refused to accept that her gender should prevent her from getting a higher education, or Anandibai Joshi, the young woman who studied western medicine to make women’s health accessible to non-British women. Each time I write a woman’s story for Sci-Illustrate Story, I am inspired to continue the good fight for gender equity in STEM fields.

Do you think Pakistan has changed as a society, in terms of accepting career-oriented women? What needs to change to help more women come forward?

It is hard, and out of place, for me to comment about Pakistani society, but around the world, we’ve come a long way in accepting career-oriented women in households. However, women still have the double burden of earning and domestic labor. We need to start supporting women more by changing the stereotype that domestic chores are a woman’s responsibility. The added support at home not only helps women now but also creates a balance that the next generation learns. Equity starts at home before we can expect it instilled in the workplace.

What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?

With the SARS-CoV2 pandemic, women in tech are being disproportionately affected. More women have been laid off than men in the tech sector; with the various lockdowns, women are generally doing more childcare while feeling greater pressure to be productive leading to more women leaving their positions too. The effects of the pandemic are leading to decreased diversity in the tech sector. The next generation is going to have fewer female mentors to look up to, and, in some cases, the positive steps towards gender equity made thus far will have to be started again.

If you could change one thing about the tech industry/business, what would it be?

I’d love for the various sectors to remove the show of “equity, diversity & inclusion (EDI)” and actually invest in changing policies and mindsets. I would love to see more businesses instill EDI, better yet, IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility) policies into their core missions. I would further like organizations to take responsibility for educating their employees and hold open safe discussions about how to continue to improve. The investment must be made in this with the same commitment as any other aspect of the organization.

How can WomenInTechPK help you and other women?

WomenInTeckPK is a fantastic platform for women of Pakistani descent, to help increase their visibility and representation in the tech sector, not only in Pakistan but worldwide! This platform is awe-inspiring, and I’m looking forward to more collaborations!

You can follow Roopali Chaudhary using her profiles below, and please do not hesitate in hiring her for your next project.

Email: roopali.chaudhary@lotusstemm.org
Website: https://www.lotusstemm.org
Twitter: https://twitter.com/lotus_stemm
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lotusstemm/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8643596