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By Deeksha Chawla '21
During the initial onset of Covid-19, I, like many other MBAs, was finding it difficult to network given the new normal of social distancing and online-only interactions. For those entering graduate programs, and business school specifically, networking often supplements as a job-search tool and assists with career research and development. However, in mid-March 2020, there were no happy hours to attend, no after-class seminars to sit in on, and no face-to-face conversations to join. After voicing this frustration to a friend, he introduced me to lunchclub.ai. The site is a super connector that introduces users to likeminded individuals from anywhere in the world based upon professional interests, background, and goals.
I matched with a newly minted high school graduate who was on her way to college in the fall. I thought to myself, “We’re in such different places in our lives, how can I possibly be of value to her?” I also didn’t feel qualified enough to give advice when I was entering such an atypical point in my career.
However, I soon discovered we had more in common than I initially thought. This young woman was an aspiring entrepreneur and scientist looking to make her mark in the world. After speaking with her, she reminded me of myself at that time in my life. Many of her concerns and goals were reminiscent of mine, and it was exciting to hear about her early aspirations in the field of STEM.
After graduation, most of my peers who completed a degree in the life sciences took traditional routes, such as enrolling in a PhD program or launching into their medical school applications, but none of these paths really spoke to me. And because I didn’t have a role model or mentor who could help me think through alternative options in the field, it took me a bit longer to figure out where I truly belonged.
While I am thrilled to be where I am in my career (I eventually landed at an innovative biotech company engineering bone grafts from stem cells), it’s clear that coaching and guidance would have been a gamechanger, especially from a female mentor. The STEM field notably has a significant lack of diversity in its leadership ranks—something that was so apparent it led me to believe that my options were limited. If I had that female champion helping me open doors, I might have been more comfortable with my future career ambitions and taken more risks.
Through my conversations with this soon-to-be college freshman, I realized that this absence of mentorship still exists today. However, I’m excited to fill this void for her. I no longer feel the need to be “qualified”—I’m simply an individual who has gone through the same highs and lows that this student would soon be going through. My hope is that by sharing my experiences with her, I can help fend off her apprehensions about the journey ahead.
While the virtual world may have introduced me to mentorship, I don’t plan on abandoning it once we are back in person. Mentorship not only lays the groundwork for future generations, but helps those in the workforce become better, more empathetic leaders. My hope is that individuals, especially women, do not shy away from these acutely needed leadership opportunities. Every path is unique and every person who has come before has something to share that shows anything is possible.