Pooja was always drawn to science, but when she learned about DNA, she felt her whole world shift. “It was mind-bending to learn how 4 letters of the genetic code are responsible for building an entire body!” She went on to major in Biochemistry & interned at the National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH).
As a scientist, the genetics lab excited her. But, as a humanist, her strong interest in human welfare & values remained unfulfilled. “It's empathy that drove me to seek ways to combine my personal philosophy & passion for genetics.”
It all seemed like an appropriate dream as she got selected for a specialized Master's program between Johns Hopkins & the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). She studied genetic counselling, guiding people through psychological distress by way of their genetics.
On returning to India, she didn’t find any work as there was no concept of genetic counselling back then. So, she began networking with professionals about the global standards of genetic counselling. “But people would just dismiss me, they didn’t think I looked convincing enough.”
After 6 years, she found her footing as a pioneer genetic counsellor. However, her finances remained tight – “My first paycheck was Rs 3500; this was after graduating from Johns Hopkins! I remember crying that day.”
Over time, Pooja emerged as an opinion leader. Today, she’s the VP of MapMyGenome, a personal genomics company, & is a sought-after expert. She works with expectant couples, kids & cancer patients. And she believes knowledge & intention are central to a career in STEM.
“If you have clarity about your purpose, you’ll find your path.” Wishing to see more female representation, she strives to make careers in science accessible by mentoring her protegees. “I hope that, as women in science, we take advantage of the superpower of empathy inherent in all of us, & use our skills to not only be better allies for each other but also introduce the world to a much-needed brand of leaders with empathy.”
Mahindra salutes the challenger spirit of people like Pooja who put the well-being of others before their own. #PeopleWhoRise