Seek Help: This world is an unending ocean of resources. There is no way you will be able to do everything by yourself. See help of trusted colleagues and friends and from a network of like minded people. I am a biologist but my work is not just restricted to biological sciences but with wearable technology, making apps for reducing food wastage, sustainability, artificial intelligence, all with the help of my network. Delegate and believe in your partners.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachna Nath.
Rachna Nath is an internationally and nationally recognized innovator who is also an NASA Solar System Ambassador, entrepreneur, grant writer, STEM enthusiast and a passionate educator. She has two masters degrees, won the Global Innovation Award from TURNITIN 2019, received the Honorable Mention for the Presidential Innovation Award for Environment Educators in the United States and also two Excite Awards from Lemelson-MIT foundation to mention a few. She has also been invited to join the “Imaginary College” as an honorary member (Center for Science and Imagination) at ASU along with world renowned elite Philosophers like Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Vandana Singh and many more.
She works with young entrepreneurs (as young as 10 years) to make their dreams come true by working with the community partners and helping patent their ideas. She has 3 patent pending from such students in various prototypes from Anti-VOC scent bags to heat stress monitoring devices.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Avery important part of the company building was learning how to do the right things at the right time. We had applied or a 10K grant from Lemelson-MIT foundation, to bring an innovative idea for a real world problem but after a lot of work, we did not end up getting the grant. However, we did not stop there and ended up getting a 50k grant instead from Healthy Urban Environments (HUE) through Arizona State University and now are working on collecting data to use the wearable tech that detects heat stress for a wider audience and platform. Whatever happens is always for the best.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This company has shareholders that are minors ( High School students), so one day when we went to pitch our idea to the Director of Chandler Innovations Diana White, the students were waiting in the waiting room that has chairs with wheels on them and the students were rolling and spinning themselves across the room. All of a sudden the Director came in and she started laughing looking at her future Business partners.
I guess the lesson that was learnt was that you are allowed to be who you are and straight forwardness and being yourself is a virtue that is appreciated by many venture capitalist and angel investors.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My company stands out because 95% of the company is run by 14 to 16 year olds. These groups of amazing students have learnt very early in life about the prospects of opening their minds to resources beyond their textbooks, volunteering and extracurricular activities. They have brought their passions to reality by learning about patent searches, researching, innovating and then establishing a company. They are learning about entrepreneurship as early as 10 to 14 year olds. This is s mind shift from doing science projects at schools and something we have to encourage.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
New projects are always in the air every year. One of the projects is to build bio-plastic containers using flavonoids. Another one is to dehydrate fecal matter to extract pure drinking water for third world countries. Other projects that my students are doing are Styrofoam recycling using mealworms, building a wearable tech to detect food wastage and the list goes on.
All of these projects are meant to benefit people of different walks of life and help increase student interaction while paying it forward. The best outcome of this is that the students are benefitting the most as they are learning skills that they usually won’t get to so early in their lives.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
To be very frank, I can only speak for myself. My status quo comes from my beliefs and values that my parents have given me. I personally don’t think I am any less than a man or any less qualified for the matter of fact.
Yes, statistics do say that the percentage of women in STEM is way less than those of its male counterparts and I agree there is disparity in it. There is also no denying the fact about inconsistencies in salary, opportunities and also in the mindset, which has already been proven and established again and again. Just repeating it from my perspective will not change the truth.
What will ultimately change the truth is for women to realize their worth and stand up or themselves, as they have always stood up for their male counterparts or their children for centuries. A woman is “Janani” (Mother Earth), who gives birth and hence she can do anything she wishes if she puts her mind to it. They need support, guidance and role models to look up to. Programs supporting women in STEM, women entrepreneurships, and programs for mom’s to go back to school and the most important of all, programs supporting their mental health.
A women’s basic nature is to provide and for most women this providing nature sucks the life out of them and they get stuck in very specific role. Society doesn’t help either. They try to imprison women in very specific mindsets, and jobsets. Status quo will not change until this change starts to begin from the grass root level. What I mean by that is every mother needs to teach their daughter the potential of a girl child and empower her child with her own examples. We need to change this status quo and women can do it by holding hands together and moving forward together.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
The biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech, in my opinion is their own self confidence and determination. Everything else falls into place if you are determined enough to reach your goals and not stop dreaming. Challenges like maintaining a family, single parenthood, addiction, abuse, poverty etc can be solved with every woman believing in herself and her potential to change her life around.
I have faced my share of problems, might not be the same as others, but one thing I can say is that age is not a measure of what you can achieve and what you can do. Keep that variable aside and go do what you want. Mental peace is what is achieved when you truly do what you want and the happiness that you have because of it becomes infectious and you become a role model for society. We need such role women role models and influencers to show those suffering few to break free of their shells and prove to the world that gender bias or sexual bias will no longer be in existence in a few more years. It will be bottled up in a remote safe and thrown away to the depths of the abyss.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the myths that I would like to dispel is “It’s too late” mindset. A woman is completely capable of going back to her career after taking a break in her career. I took a break of 13 years between my two graduate degrees and am back with a rigor of “never giving up” after my two kids are old enough to feed themselves. A woman is the binding force of not just their families but can be much more if she wants to, she can become a role model to others and stand up for her own career, just like she stands up for her husband and kids.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
The five leadership lessons I have learnt are as follows
- Believe in Yourself: Imposter syndrome is real. It used to eat me alive whenever something good would happen with me. It took me a lot of time to realize that people don’t appreciate you for nothing. You have to believe in yourself and just keep on doing what you are doing and results will come eventually.
- Never give up: Never give up on your dreams no matter how old or how tired you are. If you really want to do something, believe in it and it will come true. You will also find out ways to make it happen. I wanted a MIT grant for 10K but after we did not get the grant, I kept applying for other grants and ended up getting $50K instead.
- Look for a role model with similar challenges: My mom is my biggest idol. She is the second batch of women engineers all over the world, got a law degree when I was doing my bachelors and now owns her own entrepreneurship. But I know by looking at her that this was extremely hard for her to maintain a joint family, had to make food for 12 family members twice, day in and day out, keep track of our thousands of extracurricular activities and still find time to have fun. She inspires me and makes me believe I can too.
- Fix your focus: What is it that makes you happy? What is it that gives you true purpose and what is it that you will like to pay it forward? That is what your passion is and once you find a way to do it, no one can take that happiness from you. I had my goal at the wrong place and only after failing to do what I think I wanted to do, destiny brought me to the place that I find solace in. Working with high school students is my meditation.
- Seek Help: This world is an unending ocean of resources. There is no way you will be able to do everything by yourself. See help of trusted colleagues and friends and from a network of like minded people. I am a biologist but my work is not just restricted to biological sciences but with wearable technology, making apps for reducing food wastage, sustainability, artificial intelligence, all with the help of my network. Delegate and believe in your partners.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Know what triggers your passion and jump into it wholeheartedly. Know that your heart is in the right place and keep striving towards your goal and results will follow suit.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
The best way to manage a team is to strike a balance between giving and receiving. Trust is a factor that your employees should feel and they should give you trust back in return. Make sure to select a team with likeminded people as a rotten tomato, rots everyone else.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My family, my husband and my two kids have been my rock. They provide me with a unique balance between my craziness and their stability. My parents are my motivators, my 14 year old daughter is my anchor and my guide in many ways that I cannot imagine. My 12 year old son on the other hand constantly challenges me to come up with new ways to tackle a situation. My husband is a friend and my guide and my best critic that motivates me to go forward.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My success is a gift that I received when I landed in my school three years back. The goodness that God has enabled me to bring to this world with my work is the realization of thinking beyond oneself and serving the community. Paying it forward is my aim and what I have learnt from my gurus (teachers). That is what I am teaching my students and in the process helping them to realize their potential.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amounts of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The movement that I want to create is called DRIPBL (Dream Research Innovate Project Based Learning). I am a researcher and a scientist with the gift of working with school students and I want to use that gift and make a DRIPBL movement to reach out to far corners of the globe. I want to make students realize their potential early in life (as early as 10 years), so that they can give back to the community by solving real world problems using DRIPBL.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life
“Be present in the now. Don’t forget to duck the curveballs but also don’t miss your chance to hit a sixer, when you can.” (After my dad, who is a Cricketer)
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
My favorite persons, I would love to meet is Barak and Michelle Obama. They are not just a power couple but they exude strength in their relationship and their bond between each other, supporting each other’s endeavors and striving forward. Michelle is one person who is a role model for me and I thrive to emulate her in so many ways. Mr. President is a strong, positive and extremely hard working leader who truly understands the root of a problem and if he does not, he is confident enough to seek help. What make me his fan is his humility, compassion and his kind heart. I hope I get to meet with the power couple.