Padmini Pillai

Lighting a Path Towards Science Outreach and Advocacy
Padmini Pillai, Ph.D.

When I found out I was to be a member of the 2019 class of the Convergence Scholars Program (CSP), I was looking for exposure to the biotech space and resources to help me use my expertise in immunology and new experience in biomaterials to facilitate collaborations with scientists at the Koch. Looking back, my year as a Convergence Scholar has provided me with many opportunities to build skills, both at and beyond the lab bench, that foster my integrative vision of being a scientist and leader in STEM. 

With my fellow CSP classmates, I participated in leadership and communication workshops that focused on mentorship skills and branding through social media. Through CSP-led networking events, I was able to make connections with people at the Koch, MIT alums, and other industry professionals in the Greater Boston area. My meetings with Tarek were the most empowering part of my year, where I received the guidance, encouragement, and resources I needed to meet my short-term goals as a postdoctoral fellow, and to develop my long-term career goals. 

Since my projects in the Langer lab have reached a stage where I need more high-throughput strategies to both assess and optimize the nanotherapies I’ve designed, I’m now beginning a course in machine learning through HarvardX. This will lay the groundwork for what will be a vital skill set to achieve my broader scientific goals, especially at the next stage of my career.

I believe that as scientists, we have a responsibility to be engaged in science outreach and advocacy. To that end, I’m interested in finding new ways to be involved in both science communication and policy, and the empowerment of women in STEM around the world. In January of 2019, I visited the United Nations as a guest of former UN Ambassador from Finland, Kai Sauer. I learned about the initiatives he is involved in, including his efforts to improve gender equality and inclusivity during the peacekeeping process, and what a typical day as a UN Ambassador looks like.


Padmini with Former UN Ambassador from Finland, Kai Sauer in the UN General Assembly Hall

As a graduate of an all women’s college, and being the daughter of a mathematician Mom who is incredibly passionate about inspiring women to pursue careers in math, I have witnessed firsthand the power of promoting diversity and inclusivity in STEM. Thanks to support from CSP and Tarek, I presented a talk entitled “Valuing Diversity: A Quantitative Look at the Economics of Gender in STEM.” at the Marble Center Monthly seminar in March of 2019 with CSP alum, Ritu Raman. I’m also continuing to explore strategies to encourage young women from underprivileged communities in the Boston area to pursue STEM fields and am planning outreach efforts at the Langer lab to this end.


Padmini with CSP alum Ritu Raman leading a discussion on "Valuing Diversity: A Quantitative Look at the Economics of Gender in STEM"

Although there are many resources for postdocs at MIT to interact, CSP has provided me with a new group of friends and colleagues within the Koch to discuss research, career development, and branding; and even to engage in science communication. I serve as a writer for Iceberg, a blog that focuses on basic science research discoveries not broadly discussed outside of the scientific community, started by CSP alum Kaitlyn Sadtler. I’m also currently working on a review with a CSP classmate on precision medicine and drug delivery approaches to treat multi-drug resistant cancer.

It’s been a fantastic year as a CSP fellow! I feel energized and armed to fulfill my scientific and leadership goals, and my aspirations to be an active member of the scientific community with regards to science policy and communication. I’m so grateful to have been part of the 2019 class of CSP fellows, and look forward to being a part of this growing community scholars.

Padmini is a postdoctoral associate in the Langer Lab. Her research focuses on the design of diverse biomaterial strategies to boost antitumor immunity, resolve chronic inflammatory disease, and elucidate pathways involved in allergic inflammation. She holds a B.A. in biochemistry from Regis College, and a Ph.D. in immunology from Yale University.