Tell us a little bit about your background…
My parents emigrated from India just before I was born and moved to Southall, West London. I attended a local state school, which looking back, could have been a really negative experience. We were in a rough area, the school was underfunded, and I wasn’t hugely popular or ‘cool’. But I have fantastic memories of school and I think this comes a lot down to my parent’s positive attitudes. In particular, one piece of advice my mother gave me has always stuck. She told me I should go into every situation with the entitlement of a white, middle-class, cis man. She instilled in me a sense of self-respect that really helped me as I grew up.
What led you to apply for a Summer School and what was your experience like?
In year 11 I decided I wanted to study physics. I was interested in science from a young age – I remember being fascinated by planes and decided I wanted to be a pilot. People would always ask me if I liked planes because I wanted to be an air hostess. Realising that jobs are often gendered only encouraged me to pursue science more!
Even though I had support from my parents, none of my family had attended university, and my school’s science department was poorly funded. I was tackling the science world alone. So I became very proactive and started attending lectures at the Institute of Physics and the Royal Institution, going to museums across London, and speaking to people in the field. It became clear that I would need to get myself on a level playing field if I wanted to progress. My future wouldn’t just rely on grades, but a holistic understanding of the subject.
When I heard about the Sutton Trust Summer School from other kids it sounded like an amazing opportunity. I applied and I was incredibly lucky to be accepted onto the University of Cambridge Physics Summer School in summer 2014.
I remember arriving on campus and thinking ‘yo, physics is amazing!’ I couldn’t have envisaged anything better than five days drowning in physics. The mock interviews, networking and tutorials gave me confidence in my academic ability, but the most significant things I took away were interpersonal skills and confidence. We were treated as adults and this made a huge difference.
How has your career developed after the programme?
I applied and got accepted into Durham to study physics. At my school everyone was concerned about the stigma associated with Durham, it being ‘too posh, too white’. But I wasn’t, because of what my mum told me. Yes, it was difficult and yes, I was a minority as an ethnic woman, but it is what you make of it. Responding as a victim in the first instance is not productive for you or anyone else. Given that I was the first person going to Durham from my school I was determined not to go back with a negative impression. In the end I genuinely had a great time and made lifelong friends. This was all down to arriving with confidence – something the Summer School gave me.
During university I was heavily involved in outreach programmes and spent a lot of my time in Durham county encouraging kids, especially girls, to study science. Since university my love for science has only grown, but my work in outreach also sparked my interest in issues beyond the lab. I currently study at the Science Policy Research Unit affiliated to the University of Sussex and my specialism is science technology and security. I am now focusing a lot on nuclear disarmament.
What are your ambitions for the future?
My career has already taken me to some amazing places. I have been on multiple panels discussing social mobility and have attended some amazing summits. I went to the International Conference for Women in Physics last June at the University of Birmingham, and last month I was in Florida as a delegate at the American Nuclear Society Conference. This year I have been accepted as a delegate at the Shadow NATO Summit, which has totally blown my mind. If the next ten years offers up opportunities like these I will be very content!
Career wise, as we speak I am a voluntary Diversity Officer at the Institute of Physics, for their early careers group. I love this role and would love to continue on this trajectory, either working in science or gender policy, or maybe even both. Recently I did a talk on toxic masculinity and how it relates to nuclear disarmament, which is the perfect example of something I would love to explore as it combines my two passions.
Do you have any advice for Sutton Trust students who are interested in pursuing a career in science?
I am still friends with my classmates from Summer School, and I would encourage young people to try to find others and to create a culture of mutual support. It was great to meet like-minded and passionate young people who were also from diverse backgrounds. We have created a mini support network to help each other through university and job applications, student finance and interview prep. It has been amazing to witness my friends overcome adversity. It’s support instead of competition – schools can be very competitive but it’s not helpful, especially if you are from a low-income background.