A couple of years ago, I was having a hard time finding a balance between being a woman in STEM, my expectations of being a South Asian woman, AND my depression. I was looking for a community who understood the difficulties I was facing, a mentor from my community who had similar experiences. In all this, I realized that my need for a community could be shared by other South Asian women. I discussed this often with my partner, and when he suggested the name "Lotus STEMM", I fell in love with it. The lotus flower is so often associated with being delicate and feminine, a quintessential South Asian symbol, but the reality is that this beautiful flower has evolved to defeat all odds. With its roots underwater, the flower and leaves are held up by a strong, thick stem, with the ability to thermoregulate; in other words, what you see on the surface does not represent the adversity it goes through to survive. To me, it was a great metaphor for my the journey: the "lotus" is what people see (my degrees and successes), but holding all it up is my "stem" (culture, personality, family, identity) that helped me "thermoregulate" (deal with microaggressions professionally, culturally and personally, while still managing to bloom). So the name stuck: Lotus STEMM. I first started Lotus STEMM as a Twitter account. I remember the anxiety it came with: I questioned if anyone would care, or if it really mattered. For about a year, I saw the community grow online, realizing that this needs to become an organization on its own. Last year, I sat in a coffee shop, as I prepared my application to officially register Lotus STEMM as a non-profit. The fear of failure was taking hold, imposter syndrome was sitting in again; I was afraid of what the future would hold. I remember tears streaming down my face as I submitted the official form for registration, a slew of emotions taking over. I remember crying knowing that once registered, I can officially open up the organization to volunteers. 9 months ago, I put a call out, again afraid if anyone would even be interested. I was surprised by the immense feedback and response I got. My story resonated with women across the globe and across ages.
I'm happy to state that in the last 9 months, we have a wonderful and devoted team, all working remotely on a volunteer basis to help make Lotus STEMM accessible. We've worked together to host a blog, Lotus Stories, filled with your submissions, have developed a pilot mentorship program, are partnering up with other organizations to do more STEM outreach, developing workshops on leadership, career outreach, and writing articles about women's health. We've also undertaken research program where young women are able to learn and apply the scientific process to projects that they relate to. I'm emotional as I write this, because this community development means support for each other, one that I wished I had as I was going through my STEMM journey. While we celebrate 1 year as an official non-profit, I'm celebrating all the people who have been right by my side, especially all the volunteers. Here are some of their reflections on their time and journey with Lotus STEMM.
- Roopali Chaudhary, PhD
Founder, CEO and Lead Researcher
Time flies. It really does. It is almost a year since I started contributing as Content Editor for Lotus STEMM! And the experience has been much more than amazing. My engagement with this organization has boosted my professional development. On literary grounds, it has nurtured my soft skills such as time management, collaboration, networking and communication skills. On personal grounds, I have felt a sense of belonging and sorority at this platform as I hail from the same roots (South Asian) underneath this lotus's stem! As a woman, I feel fortunate to be a part of this organization's social endeavour of representing and stemming up minorities, in particular women.
- Nida Rehmani, PhD
Content Editor, Lotus Stories
Through volunteering with Lotus STEMM, I have learned a lot about the difficulties and challenges that South Asian women face in the STEMM field. Be it through reviewing articles before posting on social media, or learning through Dr. Roopali Chaudhary herself. It has truly been an eye-opening and enlightening experience. I have also realized the importance of spreading awareness and empowering women in the STEMM field, which is why I hope to continue to support and help out with this issue in the many more years to come.
- Guntash Sandhu
What an amazing year it has been with Lotus STEMM! Working with Roopali and my Lotus STEMM peers has allowed me to grow as a researcher and advocate. My research
focusing on the experiences of female physicians of marginalized communities has given
me the opportunity to pursue a research question that is meaningful to me. Lotus STEMM
has introduced me to an incredible team of research mentors who have so generously given their time to support my project and help me grow as an academic.
The impact Lotus STEMM has had on my confidence as an advocate cannot be
understated. I had the pleasure to write for Lotus STEMM’s blog, where I talked about why
being a South Asian woman has helped me bridge language barriers for South Asian
hospital patients. I now engage extensively with the science community and have even
started pursing advocacy for marginalized populations on a political/community level. This
has only become possible because of the skills I have gained this past year with Lotus
STEMM. I am excited to continue growing with Lotus STEMM as our incredible team
continues to support South Asian women and girls in STEMM!
- Suffia Malik
I started with Lotus STEMM (LS) as a board member shortly after its inception, and I currently wear many hats. My formal board role is that of Treasurer, so I am responsible for providing general financial oversight for LS. However, my involvement with LS goes well-beyond my role as Treasurer. I am also on the executive committee for the upcoming LS inaugural conference, where I play a role in conference organizing, coordinating and planning. I also contribute by volunteering for events like Science Rendezvous. My relationship with LS certainly is not one-sided – being an active member in LS, has benefited me in different ways. As an actively participating member of the organization, I have been able to develop invaluable business skills and nurture my networking skills. Most importantly, however, working with LS has given me a sense of fulfillment. At a networking event, someone asked me why I, a non-South Asian person, is involved with an organization that is targeted to the South Asian community. The important work we do at LS directly impacts the lives of under-represented youth in STEMM in ways I wish I had growing up; and for me, this is a great sense of fulfillment.
- Shaiya Robinson, PhD
Board Director, Treasurer
As a board member I have marvelled at how LS has grown steadily, taking in many volunteers in the past months covering several aspects of the organizations mandate. The quick interest and high volume of applications towards the upcoming mentorship program speaks to the high need for similar programming within the South Asian community.
As a South Asian woman in STEMM I'm equally proud and admire the work Dr. Roopali Chaudhary has embarked on through LS within this past year. In attending several events she's organized or been a part of, I've witnessed first hand the immediate connection and interest with which youth and other women in STEMM learn about LS and want to participate themselves. I wish LS continued success moving forward!
- Bhairavi Shankar, PhD
Board Director, Chair
The Lotus STEMM team has been a support group before it has been a research initiative for me. Working with the CEO and the other research volunteers has always been a means of open discussion and communication on the development of my research project, and that of others. For me, Lotus STEMM is independence with underlying teamwork, and creativity with little boundaries. I’ve never felt hesitant in proposing an idea or pitching a potential opportunity because through Lotus STEMM I’ve never felt the need to keep my ideas to myself for being too “ambitious” or “outgoing”. It’s only been 7 months from the time I first contacted Roopali about my research endeavours, but I’ve come so far in learning about research in general. When talking with my peers, I feel proud to mention the volunteer research work I do on the side, and even prouder when they ask for details regarding my project. This experience has given me the confidence and willingness to talk to people in the field I’m interested in with little hesitation, because I get to fall back on the interesting work I’m doing that only took off a few months prior. I’m glad to know I’m part of a team that has taught me so much in so little time, and cannot wait to see what they have in store next.
Lotus STEMM has given me the one thing I've always felt was missing in my life in Canada: a sense of community. Growing up in India and the Middle East, I took having a tight-knit South Asian circle for granted. Once I moved to Canada, I began experiencing a disconnect due to not really fitting in with either the old or new cultures anymore. Lotus STEMM came to me at a time where I was especially craving that social connection, and it is wonderful to be part of such a welcoming group of individuals who can relate to my experiences and support me in my journey. Here's to many more years!
"What about 'Lotus STEMM'? Lotus, like South Asian and then STEMM, but like a Pun... get it?" I turned to Roopali half expecting her to laugh the idea off. I don't know exactly what she said right after my questions, but I do know that it make our organization's official name.
A year ago, when she registered Lotus STEMM, Roopali began one of the most important niche organization this world is yet to know. While I have not done much, I have pushed for the Peel District School Board to invite her in to speak to students, especially racialized female students, about the importance of representation. Roopali has gone into a good handful of schools, including the one I teach, to talk about this and other important issues. As Lotus STEMM has gained notoriety in the past year, we are slowly becoming well-known for not just science communication but also for the important Equity/Diversity/Inclusion work that we are doing. I am humbled to have a small part in this large endeavour. Here's to our first year and many more to come!
- Arshdeep Phagoora
Board Director, Secretary