A Conversation with Sanskriti Deva

Over the last week, I got to speak with one of our former interviewees, Sanskriti Deva, to catch up and talk about being a BIPOC individual in STEM, creating opportunities in academia, and STEM accessibility. 

Welcome back to OM! To give our new readers a bit of background, introduce yourself!

My name is Sanskriti Deva, and I’m currently an undergraduate student at North Carolina State University, studying Electrical and Computer Engineering, with the intention of going into Quantum Computing. Outside of that, I am an inventor, activist, and I’m on the United Nations’ Association National Council. I also have an organization called InventSTEM that focuses on STEM accessibility.

How did you end up choosing Electrical and Computer Engineering?

When I was a kid, about 9 or 10, my parents volunteered me to host a radio show called the Voice of India. So every Sunday at 4am, we would start driving to get there at 5am to host this early morning radio show. I hated it as a kid back then because waking up sucks, but looking back, it’s why I got into technology. I was just in a small room surrounded by equipment, but I was able to reach thousands and thousands of listeners. People would come up to me and be like “You’re Sanskriti, from the radio show!” and I thought it was the coolest thing. It made me realize the impact technology had and that I wanted to go into that field. 

What motivates you as an API woman in STEM?

It’s definitely a day-to-day thing. Imposter syndrome is not something that goes away; it stays with you. It happens to me every single day and I enter a classroom and it’s mostly Caucasian men, or if I’m in the meeting with the United Nations and I’m the only Gen Z person there while everyone is older. But what keeps me motivated is realizing that if I don’t do it, then someone else might not, too. You have to pave the way for others, and also remember the impact you have with your actions. I really love technology and I’ve been able to do so much with it, and I would never want to give that impact up just to make someone else feel comfortable. 

Have you felt that being an API female-identifying individual has hindered you in your academic and professional career? How has it helped? 

It has definitely helped me more than it has hindered me. In my academic and professional journey, it’s allowed me to bring a new set of perspectives to the table that no one else has.

One thing about engineering and STEM that I realized is that diversity breeds innovation and progress.

If you don’t have everyone at the table, it hinders solutions. If you don’t have everyone at the table, you don’t have more perspectives. Being an Asian woman and usually being the youngest person in the room really helped me realize that and motivated me in my activism journey. It also led me to start InventSTEM, which is an organization that promotes STEM accessibility and is currently in 10 countries, and that realization helped me venture into this path, as well. 

Just touching more about InventSTEM, but what does this initiative aim to do and what was the inspiration behind it?

As I started pursuing STEM, I realized that there was a lot of inequity within the field. For example, my own high school didn’t have a library and all our textbooks were from the 1950’s and all the scientific theories were already outdated. So it started off as me and my friends trying to get resources for all resources, but it slowly grew as we realized that this was a statewide problem. And then eventually, we realized that it existed pretty much everywhere. We grew from a group of kids in our high school to over 10+ countries; we host international events and share resources. We have four pillars— college and career readiness, mental health, science and innovation, and political and legislative engagement— that we realized were very important to STEM accessibility throughout our journey.

How does innovation and activism intersect for you?

For me, it intersects very naturally. The stereotype is that STEM exists outside of society, that scientists do their scientific research, but it doesn’t impact anything else. And I think it’s the complete opposite. STEM exists in every single aspect of life that you do. Personally, STEM and activism intersected from the beginning, because I wanted to pursue STEM and there were no opportunities for me to do so; I had to go out and become an advocate for myself in order to get those opportunities, and then it kind of just grew from there. In the work I do with the United Nations, there’s a lot of Sustainable Development Goals that rely directly, or intersect with STEM such as reducing poverty, gender equality, distributing clean water et cetera. All these problems have solutions that lie within STEM. They both help each other out.

Because without activism, there is no STEM accessibility. And without STEM, there is no room for advocacy and solving these problems.

Do you believe that academia is an exclusive community? Why or why not?

I think it is, but it’s becoming better. I say this as someone who comes from a lower income background and someone who is BIPOC. The thing is, most people don’t know what academia means. Most BIPOC are unaware about the pathways they can take into academia, let alone the impact they can have and what they entail. In that sense, it’s very exclusive because most academics that I’ve talked to come from a background of previous academics, or from a privileged background where they had the opportunity to explore anything they want. However, when you come from a lower income background or if you’re first-generation, academia doesn’t even seem like an option for you because your priority is making a living and getting food on the table. Academia just seems like an untouchable community from that viewpoint. But that’s why we want to do the work we do with InventSTEM.

We want to take away that curtain that exists in the academia world.

What were some perceptions or expectations you had about education and academia as an API individual? Did they change once you were more aware of the role you played in the education system?

I used to think that everyone in academia was smart, or that I wasn’t smart enough to be in these rooms. But I realized that intelligence is relative. I think people in academia aren’t geniuses; they’re just all very passionate people about what they do. That realization came after I started working on research and projects. I invented a trash can that sorts compost and recyclable materials through image processing, and worked on neural networks to help identify exoplanets and pulsar candidates. I did dark matter and energy research at university with low level radiation detectors, and I’m currently working on quantum teleportation in quantum computing. All of those things sound super fancy, right? Six years ago, if you told me that I was going to do all of that, I would have been like, “No, I’m not smart enough to do all of that.” And when you’re a BIPOC, looking from the outside, that’s what it seems like; it seems like these people are geniuses who are like on a different level. When you’re actually in those labs, you realize that everyone’s just a normal person. Scientists and innovators are just regular people. 

What is a piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to explore opportunities outside their main focus in academia?

Explore the things you’re interested in, and if you can, spend as much time on it. For example, I really like fashion and designing, but I don’t really have the opportunity to pursue it as a major just because of my other interests. But I’m taking a theater class right now where we’re learning how to sew and stuff. So definitely explore all these different things. Innovation is bred through diversity. And that’s not just diversity of people, but a diversity of ideas. Whatever you’re doing as your main passion is also supported by your other interests. Don’t put yourself in a box for anyone.

 

Fun Rapid Fire!

Favourite Asian dish: I love naan and paneer. That’s what I order every time I go into an Indian restaurant.

Favorite invention: I think my favorite invention was definitely the neural networks that I created to help identify exoplanet candidates. I’ve always been in love with the stars and the universe. That project was actually done on my MacBook and the fact that I was able to find a whole celestial body on my MacBook is crazy to me.

Best way to unwind and relax: I love watching TV, I will binge watch a show in a week. The other day I binge-watched all six seasons of Gossip Girl in a week. It’s not healthy, but that’s how I unwind.

 


Sanskriti Deva is a  technological entrepreneur with many of her patents sold, a quantum computing researcher, founder of the international organization InventSTEM, youngest elected representative on the United Nations Association’s National Council, and a current undergraduate student at North Carolina State University.

You can find her here

 

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