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Stepping into the shoes of my role model

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

Dr. Snehal Naik

I have always dreamt of becoming Indra Nooyi, my role model. By that, I don’t mean I could be the next CEO of PepsiCo. But thanks to Nooyi’s shining example, I am able to envision myself as an Indian woman, in the C-suite of a Fortune 500 company. News of her handing over the reins made me reflect on the influence and power of role models, especially as a woman.

The first time I found myself thinking “I could be her one day”, I was 12 and the object of my admiration was 18. She was graduating as the head girl and athletics captain of my school - making endless trips across the stage accepting one prize after another. In that moment, I knew I wanted to be like her in 6 years. And the little co-incidental similarities between us made me think it could happen- we shared the same initials, she was in the same House (Gryffindor), and ran track like I did. What I didn’t realize was those silly details were a key element of what made such a lasting impression- the fact that I could see her in me. I was inspired by Indra Nooyi in a completely different way than I had ever been by Mother Teresa, Madame Curie, or even Anandibai Joshi. Therefore, I was asking myself what I needed to do to be the version of myself that I saw in Indra Nooyi. And 6 years later, while walking across that very same stage to accept my awards as head girl and athletics captain, I hoped there was a young lady somewhere in the audience, seeing a part of herself in me.

I’ve had many role models besides Indra Nooyi. College professors who modeled creating the path, senior graduate students, or postdocs finding opportunities beyond the walls of academic institutions. In each of them, I looked for a piece of myself, and as priorities unfolded, I moved on to setting new goals and finding new role models. Soon after I got my “real world” job, I had the privilege of attending Nooyi’s talk and felt that same old tingle of “I could be her one day” excitement. It is not her accomplishments which make me a fan, but her views on what it takes to get there. For example, her practical advice on work-life balance (there’s no way around making tough choices, leave the crown in the garage), stories of emotional intelligence with which she handled gender dynamics when she was first appointed CEO, and her commitment to being a student for life. Of course, I would want to have her level of success one day, but equally I would want to become the type of leader who makes others realize their own leadership potential. Just as Nooyi has done for so many women, minorities, immigrants, and particularly for an Indian immigrant woman like me!

All this experience has taught me that you don’t have to be famous to be a role model. You can do it by being visible within your community, by embracing every opportunity to tell your unique story, by simply sitting at the table as Sheryl Sandberg encourages us to do, or making yourself available to someone seeking advice. It is easy to assume that this should be a part played by role models with badges, achievements or titles. In the real world, we can be inspired not just by the Mother Teresas or Madame Curies of the world, but by those who best resemble a future, successful version of our own selves.


About the editor:

Dr. Nida Rehmani is the Junior Academy, Global STEM Alliance, NewYork Academy of Sciences. She is the scientific editor for and content editor for Lotus Stories blogs.

Dr. Rehmani completed her B.Sc. & M.Sc. in Biochemistry from Aligarh Muslim University. Her zeal for higher education led her to pursue Ph.D. in molecular biology. Under the auspices of the Obama Singh exchange fellowship, she continued her research in the Department of Radiology, The Ohio State University, USA. During the program, she earned a M.Ed., specialized in STEM higher education. 

She is a science communication enthusiast and volunteers for advocating STEM education, especially under-represented communities and minorities. She has a flair for writing & maintains her own personal blog She loves cooking and started her own youtube channel: Millenial Recipes. Last but not the least, she is a dedicated mother to an active toddler!

Linkedin: Nida Rehmani

Twitter: @DrNidaRehmani

Instagram: Dr.Nida.R



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