BENGALURU: In my career journey I faced more difficulty as being a woman in a traditionally male dominated field than I had being Indian, said Dr. Swati Mohan, Guidance, Navigation, and Control Systems Engineering Group Supervisor at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
She was responding to a query about facing trouble with her race as an Indian American, at a 'Diaspora Diplomacy' talk organised by the US Consulate General, Chennai.
Depending on the nature of the current sphere of people you are working with, that (discrimination) changes, she said and counted herself blessed especially at JPL that "we are such a diverse organisation that there has been a lot of diaspora from many different cultures that hasn't been an issue."
However, she said, earlier in her career, or growing up that wasn't a case. "There were comments from people who didn't necessarily understand about Indian culture or didnt appreciate or try to respect it. That would make things difficult."
She added that there are so many Indian americans and Indians working on Mars 2020 and JPL as a whole.
Speaking about her personal life, Swathi said she tried as much as possible to balance professional with personal life, and her husband as a partner encourages her to purssure my career, which is not just a job, but a profession, a part of what she identifies for herself.
She encouraged students to be honest with themself, know themself and what they're good at. "Seek opportunities in line with goals, and don't give up. Failure teaches us more than success and it take perseverence. Every step forward is step in the (right) direction," she added.
She also encourged students to create their own support system and actively do their best along the journey.
"Doors may not always be open, it needs initiative and action to create opportunities for self to explore," she added.
"It was an easy choice to be a doctor, and when I was 7-8 years I told someone I wanted to be a doctor
and was working towards that goal... But what I chose to do for fun was about space," she added, about the choice she made in high school to choose physics, which she was good at, over biology, which did not come naturally to her.
From enrolling in space camp at NASA to picking a school that has a lot of space affiliated activities like Cornell, to taking up internships, Swati "fed into the exploration bug to learn about other places in the solar system."
As an added advantage, her parents were supportive of her decision."As long as I pursued a science and tech related line, they were fine," she added.
Misses Indian corn on the cob
Mohan, in a discussion with students and participants at the talk, said that everytime she visits India, she ensures a visit to the restaurants here. "The food is so much better," she says, quickly adding "we have good Indian restos here (in USA)."
"I especially miss the street food in India - so good - especially the corn roasting by vendors was one of my favourites," she adds.