This episode of Michigan Minds is part of a series produced by the University of Michigan Public Engagement and Impact Initiative and the Office of the Vice President for Research in celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
Shobita Parthasarathy, PhD, is a professor of public policy, professor of women’s and gender studies by courtesy, and Director of the Science, Technology, and Public Policy program at the Ford School of Public Policy. She joined Michigan Minds to discuss her vast research and public engagement work, share her experiences testifying before Congress, and offer words of wisdom for others who are embarking on journeys into STEM fields.
“What drives me in my research is that science and technology are increasingly ubiquitous in our lives,” she says, adding that from vaccines to smartphones, we’re dealing with technology and innovation in all aspects of our lives.
Traditionally, Parthasarathy says, people think of technology as good and they want more of it. What inspired her research is that the situation is more complicated: technology is not only “good,” it also tends to reflect society, and with that, social inequities as well.
“In thinking about how we can make sure that science and technology are equitable and just, it’s an avenue through which I can help to contribute to questions of equity and justice. But I think it’s really important in the area of science and technology, just because we tend to think that it’s objective and outside of society, that makes it even more consequential, because those kinds of dimensions don’t get challenged or don’t get questioned,” she says.
Parthasarathy gave testimony about equity and innovation twice before Congress in 2021, which she describes as amazing experiences.
“I’ve always had an interest in making sure that the work of the university, that really crucial research, has a broader impact. I mean, there’s certainly a role for academia for knowledge for knowledge’s sake. But I find in my role, especially given the kinds of things that I do, I have to have a public impact.
“It’s exhilarating to think that these little things that you do as a researcher and these efforts that you make to take research and make sure that it’s digestible and comprehensible to a broad audience, and that it can actually influence the world is unbelievably exciting,” she says. “It’s what keeps me motivated.”
Parthasarathy says that statistics show that while more women and girls are starting to study STEM fields, they often become alienated in the process.
“It’s crucial to bring women and girls into STEM because there are important perspectives to be heard. I mean, 50 percent of the population is girls and women. If we want to develop science and technology that actually helps the lives of girls and women, then we need to have girls and women at the table.”
Parthasarathy encourages women and girls to find what they are passionate about and stick with it.
“Be persistent, but also don’t be afraid to ask questions a little bit differently.”