Why Breaking The Norm To Be A Researcher Was The Best Thing I Did For My Career #NoRegrets

Posted: September 18, 2019

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Read this heartfelt personal narrative of creating a successful career in science at a time when research in biochemistry was a big ‘No’ for young girls.

I grew up in a tiny, quaint town away from the razzmatazz of the big cities. I was the quintessential small town girl…with sparkling eyes and an umpteen number of dreams! I used to love my school and my favourite way to pass time used to be studying…doesn’t that sound strange?

Unfortunately, girls around me did not have the liberty to play after their school hours and were expected to do household chores as well as take care of their younger siblings. Playing with boys was a taboo in my village. I did not have playmates, so studying and books became my best friends. My family and relatives thought I was a brilliant child and unknowingly attached a zillion expectations to me. 

The fight for my rights

Although having a supportive family is a blessing, I was always burdened with the expectations right from my childhood. But it impacted me most while I was about to decide a path for my career. When I was in Class 10, as in every Indian household, I was asked about my inclinations for my career.

Well, I would say ‘asking’ was just a formality. Parents and so-called ‘well-wishers’ indirectly dictate the career choice for most kids. I was no exception either. I cleared the Board Exam with ‘flying colours’ and decided to opt for the Science stream with the ‘ambition’ of being a Medical Doctor.

But, my hopes came crashing down when I could not secure a seat for myself in any of the Government medical colleges in the country. I was principally against paying a hefty donation for my studies in private medical institutions and decided to go for graduation in Biochemistry in a reputed college in a metro city. I told my parents that I would love to pursue research in basic sciences.

This post is one of the top selected entries from the blogathon #NoRegrets around Kaveree Bamzai’s inspiring book No Regrets: The Guilt Free Woman’s Guide to a Good Life.

You can also be a part of this blogathon by India’s leading publishing house Harper Collins. Write about the choices that have defined you as a woman. It could be your personal choices or career choices – a decision that you made and accepted with #NoRegrets, whether or not they met with the approval of everyone else. And do tell us what got you to the stage of sticking to it, with #NoRegrets as well!

The choice against all odds

“What…a BSc…are you mad?”

“What will people say?”

“I can pay some money if you need…but please don’t ruin your daughter’s dream of becoming a doctor” (Really?)

“I am sure your daughter has a boyfriend…so she didn’t study” (OMG)

“Research… that doesn’t pay your bills..”

These are just a few of the comments I got from so-called close relatives. I started going to college but could not enjoy my studies. Those comments kept haunting me. I remember, the calls on my birthday that year were more sympathy calls than wishes.

I moved to Mumbai to attend the new course but spent close to six months being a recluse. I used to hardly attend college, never mixed with my peers before I knew it, the bright girl with sparkling eyes became a shy, silent girl on the brink of being a failure.

My mother was a big support and she was equally stressed too. “My girl who just moved to Mumbai is under depression for sure,” she thought. She tried multiple ways to soothe me but by that time, I had started to believe that I was a failure and a shame on the family name.

My #NoRegrets Journey

They say, ‘There is light at the end of the tunnel’.

This day of realisation came in my life when I attended a talk organised by the University. The guest of honour was a female scientist, and that too, a Nobel Laureate from abroad. She discussed her work and later, addressed the young girls sitting in the audience. She beautifully elaborated how basic science is undervalued and how young women have the potential to drive it further. She shared with us her journey as a scientist, mother and a grandmother.

Her closing statement was, “Success does not have short cuts. Working in pure science, basic research may not give you glamour and loads of money; but can give you the mental peace of finding something new and doing something for yourself. You can sleep peacefully as you will feel you did something for making the world a better place.”

Her talk was so inspiring that it compelled me to think, “Why am I undervaluing my field?”

I started working harder with all rigour. I started learning a new language too and at the end of my graduation, I was the Gold Medalist in the University. My mother was delighted and supported me at every step.

I changed cities, finished my Master’s and went for a PhD. Today, I am also a Doctor; a Doctorate to be accurate. Almost 15 years have passed and I have lived my life with #NoRegrets.

Breaking the norm is the new normal

I strive to do something which nobody else has done before. I keep reading, learning new things and in the process, I have also secured myself financially.

Today, I think that switching to a career in science was the best decision and #NoRegrets. We, as a society should in fact inspire young talented minds to follow their heart, even if it means breaking the norms. Stay firm on your decision and have a book like Kaveree Bamzai’s No Regrets handy!

Whenever in doubt, just soak in the wisdom of women achievers in the book like Kaveree herself, and others like Smriti Irani and Sudha Murthy.  What I loved about the book the most was that it was so real – almost everyone I know will be able to relate to it.

I wish I could have got my hands on it 15 years ago, but reading it is now is making me love my life even more and relive all those moments when I stood strong.

Image via iStockPhotos

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