Advocating for New Diversity Initiatives in the Biological Sciences
Ritu Raman, Ph.D.
As a new postdoc joining the Langer lab—one of the largest biomedical engineering labs in the world—my first-year goal at MIT was to build a network to support me in this transitory (and scary!) phase of my academic career. While there are many resources at MIT targeting specific professional development activities (grant writing, preparing for consulting interviews, etc.), there are few postdoc development programs that offer longer-term support or mentorship. The Convergence Scholars Program (CSP), with programmatic content that could be individually tailored to my career trajectory, was thus a great fit for my needs and interests.
I dream of establishing my own lab focused on biohybrid design—building smart adaptive machines that use both biological and synthetic materials to interact with their environments. Working in an entirely new discipline involves more than technical know-how, it also requires communicating the motivations for your research with general audiences who will be impacted by your work. Science communication and science policy are thus an integral part of my professional training. CSP workshops on these topics, as well as the encouragement I received to craft my other professional activities around this theme, were critical to making me feel this was a valuable use of my time and energy. During CSP, I traveled to DC twice: once to advocate for science funding with MIT’s Science Policy Initiative, and again to run a booth on my PhD research for the USA Science and Engineering Festival. Engaging with science policy and communication in this way was a great way to stay energized and motivated about my research at the Koch Institute.
Ritu (right) receiving the Curiosity Award at the 2018 Cambridge Science Festival.
A career in academia is my main goal, and I was looking for ways to help me prepare for this next phase in my professional life. CSP offered the right balance of mentorship from peers, administrators, and professors. These types of semi-professional informal interactions have been critical to building a sense of community as a postdoc, and also to gaining confidence that I am prepared for and can succeed in a tenure-track faculty position at a large research institution. CSP also comes with a stipend for professional development, and I decided the best way to leverage this was to help shape the community I hoped to join soon as a faculty member. I have traveled to an international soft robotics symposium in London, UK, where I was invited to give a talk on the role biohybrid design plays in this field, and traveled to a conference in Hawaii where I helped organize a workshop focused on biohybrid robotics. CSP gave me the flexibility to engage with my academic community as more than just a graduate student or trainee, and has really showcased the advantages of being a postdoc and aspiring faculty member as no other experience can.
Ritu (center) at the IEEE Workshop on "Bio-hybrid organic machines: an ambitious bridge between bioengineering and robotics (July, 2018)
Throughout my academic career, I have been and will continue to be deeply invested in supporting other women in their pursuit of STEM education and careers. The CSP community has been incredibly enthusiastic in their support of this endeavor, and have given me opportunities to speak about this (Marble Center 'Hot Topic' discussion on women in STEM) and create new diversity advocacy initiatives at MIT to advance this goal. I am currently working with a great team to create a Women in STEM Database at MIT (WiSDM) that others can use as a resource to find brilliant, engaging, and impactful women to speak at seminars, conferences, and other events. I wouldn’t have known where to start with such a large endeavor without the CSP network, and I am incredibly grateful.
Ritu, Natalie, and Kaitlyn leading a 'Hot Topic' on Advancing Women in Science and Engineering at the monthly Marble Center Seminar (January, 2018).
Starting a postdoc can be a very intimidating experience—it is the first time in academic training that you start on your own (no freshman class!), and it can very isolating. By helping me build a supportive community of personal and professional connections at MIT, and at the Koch Institute in particular, CSP has been critical to setting me up for success and fulfillment in my second year.
Ritu is a postdoctoral fellow in the Langer Lab. Her research interests focus on developing smart responsive implantable devices for sensing and drug delivery in the body. She is passionate about understanding and utilizing the dynamically adaptive nature of biological systems, and aims to establish an academic research lab focused on bio-hybrid design in the future. Ritu is deeply interested in science communication and science policy, and enjoys speaking, writing, and planning outreach events centered on the importance of STEM research and advancing education for underrepresented minorities in STEM.
Ritu received her M.S. (2013) and Ph.D. (2016) in Mechanical Engineering as an NSF Fellow at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Her doctoral research centered on high-resolution 3D bio-printing and bio-hybrid robotics. She received her B.S. magna cum laude (2012) in Mechanical Engineering, with a minor in Biomedical Engineering, from Cornell University.