Last month, members of the Harvard College community—including several Scientistas—enjoyed an event put on by Harvard University Women in Business and the Harvard Chapter of the Scientista Foundation. “A Beautiful Nexus: Science, Tech, and Business” featured two Harvard faculty members: Dr. Sujata Bhatia, Assistant Director for Undergraduate Studies in Biomedical Engineering, and Dr. Carolann Koleci, Instructor for Applied Physics.
The intimate atmosphere set the tone for what was to come. The speakers shared personal stories and anecdotes about their lives as women in science and experiences with business. The real treat was their honesty and openness to share advice for everything from getting a job to day-to-day relationships. Humor, laughter, and questions were in no short supply.
Dr. Bhatia and Dr. Koleci shared their life stories, beginning in childhood and covering everything from the paths of their careers to the important relationships they made along the way.
Dr. Koleci always knew she would be a teacher; as a child her most memorable gift was a double-sided chalkboard that she used to teach her brother and sister what she learned in school. She went on to receive degrees in Physics and Mechanical Engineering, and then created her own PhD program in Physics Education at Brown.
Now, Dr. Koleci is an instructor of the new, innovative Applied Physics 50 course that stresses collaboration and interactive learning. She explained that creating a new course at Harvard is both exciting and difficult at times.
For Dr. Bhatia, growing up, being a girl never meant being different. She and her sisters were raised on equal ground as her brother, and she never felt that doors were shut to her because she was a woman. She studied chemical engineering and then continued on to achieve an MD and PhD in bioengineering.
From there, it was common to do a fellowship and residency or work in industry at Mobil or Exxon. She liked the faster turn-around time in industry, but wasn’t intrigued by the work at Mobil or Exxon, so she worked for Dupont Applied Biosciences.
Dr. Bhatia later worked as a professor of engineering at several universities and a prominent mentor and advisor to students. She spoke about her experiences in both industry and academia and provided some great insight about both worlds. The work environment at Dupont was very supportive and she worked on worthwhile projects, like an omega-3 fatty acid that she got to see to production and on shelves at local GMC stores.
This industry experience made her an especially effective professor. She is currently a mentor to many students at Harvard and finds it rewarding to help students find and pursue their passions.
Both speakers stressed that the pioneering nature and tenacity required in forging your own path is essential in the pursuit of your passions. Their journeys weren’t easy. Despite their impressive degrees, they were often underestimated at first and did not escape traditional female stereotypes. But through and through, they persevered. “There is no fight without struggle,” Dr. Koleci said.
Dr. Bhatia spoke reassuringly, “Everybody doubts themselves sometimes, no matter how successful they are. I’m here to tell you that you’re going to be okay. Just keep working hard and following your passion.”
If not for the time limit, conversation would have continued long into the night. Participants expressed that the open, informal atmosphere was conducive to the the inspiring conversation they needed to have. Thank you to our co-sponsors, HUWIB, Dr. Sujata Bhatia, Dr. Carolann Koleci, and the attendees of the event!