Scientista Presidents' Circle - Meet The President!
Shaira Bhanji; Economics/Global Health; Harvard '14
Meet Shaira Bhanji; The Scientista Foundation, Harvard Branch Director; Harvard College
February 06, 2012
Tell us about yourself! Hi, my name is Shaira (pronounced Shy-ra). I am a sophomore at Harvard concentrating in Economics with a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. My first home is Los Angeles, California, but on campus I am proud to call Kirkland House home. In addition to my studies, I love writing, playing soccer, dancing, and drinking tea (preferably while exchanging funny stories around the dinner table with my family).
How did you decide to get involved in your organization? Haha, good question…by a stroke of luck really! It was the first semester of freshman year. I was still feeling my way around in the big world of college. I had subscribed to some e-mail lists...admittedly, too many, like many of us end up doing.
One day, I got an e-mail from Julia (one of the co-founders of what was then WISE Words Magazine) asking women in science concentrations to submit blurbs about why they like their concentration. Of course, as an overeager freshman, I knew I had my path figured out; I was to be pre-med with a concentration Environmental Science and Public Policy. Little did I know about the 180° change of heart that would occur that summer. I responded to Julia explaining that while I didn’t have a concentration yet, I would love to write about my classes so far—amusingly, the four that I hadn’t even finished yet.
I forgot I had sent the e-mail until I got a response from Julia saying she’d love for me to write. I contributed a few articles that year, and wrote a summer blog after my freshman year. After Julia graduated, she and her sister Christina offered me the position of Harvard Branch Director. I was thrilled and am so honored!
What is your favorite organization event? My favorite event is NSAWS (The National Symposium for the Advancement of Women in Science), a biennial conference that is sponsored by our affiliate, WISHR (Women in Science at Harvard-Radcliffe). NSAWS brings in phenomenal speakers—both male and female—including professors from Yale, Cornell, and Harvard Medical School as well as Nobel Laureates. The purpose is to inspire women to pursue careers in science. However, aside from the fantastic speakers, what I enjoy most about the conference is the opportunity to meet other girls and learn about the amazing things they have achieved and continue to accomplish.
When you are not being a Scientista, you are most likely… You’re always being a Scientista…it’s a way of life! Since the start of my involvement with the Scientista Foundation, I’ve realized that I have much more than a job with defined responsibilities. Being a Scientista really means standing up for the advancement of women not only in science, but also in all aspects of life. It means being a strong, empowered woman and helping others to do the same in your everyday life through support, encouragement, and education. I try to push the girls and women around me to pursue their goals and dreams without hesitation…the best way to do it, in my opinion!
Which woman in science inspires you the most? I really admire Rosalind Franklin, who does not get enough credit for her colossal contributions to the discovery of DNA. To me, Franklin is the epitome of the adage, “Behind every great man, there is a great woman.” It’s high time that the overshadowing of women implied in this proverb begins to change. And it is beginning to change. Nonetheless, there is much yet to be done to make sure that another woman as great as Franklin never gets belittled like that again.
Why do you think organizations such as yours and the Scientista Foundation are important? Many of us know the dreary statistics about women in science. Those of us who don’t know probably have a personal anecdote that speaks much louder: an experience during which our gender felt like a hindrance, something looked down upon, a second-rate quality. Whether it was the time you were the only girl who dared to sit in the front row of your advanced math class or made to look stupid by a male colleague for getting a “simple” homework problem wrong, no such negative experience should be brushed off as a simple occurrence. The Scientista Foundation creates a community of women with a common goal: destroying the stereotype that women can’t do science, or don’t belong in it—one girl at a time.
What do you think is the most important scientific research or discovery of today? During my two short summers spent conducting cancer research, I was touched by the immense hope that this research continues to give patients and their families. After seeing the pain that this terrible disease causes even for those not directly affected, I know that fighting for a cure will be one of the most important battles this world has ever fought…and won.