Bwog Science is back with CU Women in STEM, where we highlight the amazing women in science at Columbia. Today’s profile is from Minna Jayaswal (Barnard ’19), whose interests lie in neuroscience and community-based healthcare, among others!
Major: Neuroscience & Behavior, with a minor in History.
What subjects are you interested in? I could honestly have a conversation about anything relating to the brain for hours! I’m specifically interested in the plasticity of the brain, which is how our brain is constantly changing in response to physiological and environmental factors. I’m also interested in the history of psychiatry in the US, which is something that I’ve researched in my coursework.
How did you get interested in your subject? Can you remember the moment that got you hooked? I’ve always been interested in the personalities and emotions of those around me. I didn’t learn to associate those curiosities with neuroscience until a scientist brought monkey brains to our classroom in the 8th grade and gave a talk on the brain and behavior. At that moment I was completely enthralled by the notion that all sources of behavior came from the brain!
Most important research/extracurricular experiences so far: I work at a lab right now studying natal and infant brain/behavioral development, which has definitely been important in solidifying my understanding of how important clinical research is to our knowledge of science and medicine.
What are your career goals? I’m interested in earning an MD, possibly with an MPH. I hope to work in community-based healthcare, as historically, healthcare has been a way to empower individuals and communities. Lillian Wald, one of my personal heroes, established in the early twentieth-century a whole new model of healthcare in which nurses went into communities with the tools needed to treat patients in their own homes. A lot has changed since her time, representing the rate at which our systems of providing healthcare are changing. I want to be part of developing new models that best serve all individuals regardless of class, gender, or other distinctions that limit access to the best care possible. I also hope to get involved with policy work in order to make changes at the systematic level.
Favorite science building on campus? It’s a couple of blocks up, but the Jerome L. Greene Science Center is a great space, and is also very committed to engaging with the community. The center recognizes the impact that Columbia has had on the local community in terms of dislocating businesses. The Science Center places great emphasis on serving as an education center for the community. They also do some awesome events centering around the brain, wellness, and science in general. One of the programs they host is monthly Saturdays focused on a theme around neuroscience. It’s really fun to go see all of these kids fascinated by brains and psychology, and to just walk around the building that has so many fascinating exhibits.
Favorite scientist? I admire Rachel Carson, who published “Silent Spring” in the 1960s, which combines science, politics, and law in a sophisticated argument for the environmental dangers of pesticide use and transforming agricultural practices. I highly recommend this book to anyone, as it helps provide prospective for our current conversations on environmental regulations.
What do you do BESIDES science? I’m an RA on campus. I also love to run, swim, and do anything active. I also read for pleasure- I try to read something unrelated to school for at least 30 minutes before bed in order to explore any interests that may be on my mind. Oh, I’m also a Podcast fanatic- I really love listening to podcasts on mental health and crime.
What advice would you give to someone interested in a STEM major? It’s okay to fall down- allow yourself the space and time to do what you need to care for yourself physically, emotionally, and in all other forms. I promise you that the work can wait an hour, a day, a week, however long it needs to. In the environment of Columbia, it’s easy to feel like you can never put down the textbook, but there is so much more to discover about yourself in college than your ability to memorize all the amino acids. STEM isn’t the only part of who you are, and it’s just as important to grow in other areas of your life-how you cope with emotions, your outlook on the world, how you work on a team, how you nourish relationships, etc.
On that note, you are able to do it! It can be really easy to feel like everyone is much better than you, and that you are just barely getting by. But that’s how everyone feels and that’s okay. STEM is hard and you are capable. Find people on campus who make you feel empowered – whether that be friends, classmates, professors, etc… Just surround yourself with people who make you feel like the best version of yourself, as you deserve that!
Favorite classes/professors at Columbia? The organic chemistry series is probably the most interesting sequence of classes I’ve taken. In many ways the subject is like a very complex puzzle in which you have to learn how to take knowledge you know and think in really creative ways that I find so fun! I also really love a lot of the history courses at Columbia. Last semester, I took a wonderful seminar taught by Professor Sarah Runcie titled “Global Health in Africa” that taught me so much about analyzing healthcare through a critical lens.
We hope you enjoyed this column! If you know of any awesome women in STEM at Columbia whom you think would be a great subject for this column, please email us at email@example.com.