Interview with Chahak Pahwa

Chahak Pahwa

. Incoming student at the University of Chicago

. Majoring in Biological Sciences and Economics, Minoring in Immunoengineering

. Founder and President of GirlSTEMPowered (@girlstempowered)

What is your favourite subject?

In highschool, my favourite subject was Biology. In college, I want to delve further into cancer biology, genetics, and immunology. 

When did you first start your organisation?

I started this organisation with my friend last July in light of the pandemic. If I’m being honest, I have always had the idea to start a youth-led organisation which focuses on exposing girls to STEM resources. The pandemic was a blessing in disguise, because I finally had time to execute this initiative. 

Who are your role models as a student?

I have looked up to many people for different purposes and at different stages in my life. Whether it’s my mother, my female science teachers in school, or scientists (I am especially inspired by Rosalind Franklin and Marie Curie), I try to imbibe the best qualities in them. 

Have you ever had any setbacks while studying or founding your organisation?

Absolutely! With online school, it has been tough to find the motivation to complete tasks and assignments. It is difficult to remain engaged during class because you are learning through a screen after all, which can’t replicate a classroom experience. And with starting the organisation, a major obstacle was learning how to balance all my priorities. While taking care of my physical and mental health.

Is there a problem with sexism in science fields?

Immensely! And the evidence can’t be more conspicuous and alarming. Whether it is the wage gap between men and women pursuing STEM careers, the sexual harassment women face at the work place (research labs) from their male superiors, or the perception that women are less equipped or skilled to make a living in STEM; all of this discourages women to purse STEM.

What’s your message for other students wanting to pursue these fields?

Don't hesitate to approach female mentors in STEM for advice and even perhaps work opportunities such as research or internships. Make use of all the resources and seize all the opportunities that come your way!

What is your favourite science joke?

Hey ligase what have you been up to?

Ligase: Just making ends meet!

What is your favourite food?

I’m Indian, so I particularly love Butter Chicken. A go to meal of mine is a chicken pizza with garlic bread. It’s my guilty pleasure!

What do you think can be done to make STEM and other related fields more diverse?

I believe one of the steps in making STEM fields more diverse and inclusive is promoting STEM professionals from under-represented groups and communities as role models. Another way is to make STEM curricula in school more interactive and fun, so that young girls and boys develop keen interest in what they are learning. 

Has being a woman impacted your experience while studying?

I am grateful to have always been in an environment that has supported me, no matter what my academic goals have been. I have never been discouraged to pursue STEM; although I know many girls in India face this problem on a daily basis.

huge thank you to Chahak Pahwa for joining us today! Be sure to subscribe to receive more STEM-related content coming to your inbox.

Anna Barsham