Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Dr. Sarita Menon accomplished a major life goal when she gave her TEDx Talk at Texas A&M University on how implicit biases can hold you back from life-changing opportunities, and how she combats stereotypes for young girls in STEM with her diverse magazine, Smore. Menon created multiple drafts of her speech for months to ensure she encapsulated the experiences of women in STEM and where the future of the field is headed.

“The whole speaking experience transforms you,” Menon reflects. “The continuous writing and introspection that goes on throughout the whole process is a positive experience I feel everyone should try to do at least once in their life.”

Dr. Sarita Menon's TEDx Talk

Menon’s curiosity and love of science can be traced back to her early memories of speaking with scientists from her father’s workplace. Menon knew she wanted to be in science and was always looking for the next step which included obtaining her bachelor’s in chemistry and her master’s in biotechnology before deciding she wanted to study cancer biology at the University of Iowa.

“The department and faculty blew me away with how they communicated the science to me,” Menon says. “Even before my decision to attend, they made me feel like I was going to be a part of this group that was so passionate about trying to find the cure for cancer.”

Menon credits this sense of community as part of her success at Iowa as an international student. She recalls organizations like the Indian Student Alliance for providing opportunities for gatherings such as picnics, dances, and festivals. Coming from a larger city in India, Menon was grateful for the smaller, tight-knit community that Iowa provided.

Headshot photo of Menon

“It was like a family away from home,” Menon reflects. “I encourage all international students to reach out to these amazing resources that Iowa provides. Twenty years later and I am still thankful for those resources and for being a part of a community like that.”

After completing her PhD in cancer biology and continuing in postdoctoral research, Menon recognized she wanted to stay in science, but leave the world of academic research.

“Even though I did the experiments I was more excited for the weekly discussion clubs because I was able to present my work,” Menon says. “I was excited about applying to conferences and symposiums which told me I was more interested in the communication part of science.”

This shift in interest led Menon to launch Smore magazine in 2017, a source aimed to inform and inspire young girls aged 7-12 about the field of STEM. In a typical edition you will be able to learn about scientists of the past, read about current professional women in the field, and engage in fun science games and quizzes. Smore’s focus on reaching young girls stems from Menon’s experiences growing up in India where stereotypes of who belongs in science professions were very strong and inspiration for what she could do in science was very limited.

“It needs to start early because growing up I didn’t even know I could have done all this. It was just a given that if you’re in science, that’s all you can do,” Menon says. “That stereotype needed to be addressed in addition to the fact that it affects young girls more because they are so limited by the options they see around them which limits their own beliefs of what they can work towards.”

Menon’s transition to a new profession in science inspired her to put an emphasis on the non-traditional career paths of STEM for her young, diverse audience.

Action shot of Menon working with students

“There are a lot of careers you can go after that you may not have thought you could fit into but there are a lot of women who look like you that are doing that. We are very mindful of who the role models are when we pick who we feature on the cover”

Like the women she highlights in her magazine, Menon proves to be an inspiration herself. Motivated by her love of science, she continues to galvanize young girls and women in the field of STEM through her magazine and drive for life.

“I was always driven by what I loved to do more than a bigger game plan in life. I’m always thinking about ‘What’s next?’”

Learn more about Smore magazine.