Dr. Bhavi Modi is a research associate at BC Children's Hospital.
I got the sense of how exciting genetics can be when I solved a Punnett square for the first time in high school. But I didn't know then that genetics would end up being my career path. There was no one "aha moment" for me. Instead, it has been a mix of simple scientific curiosity and always wanting to learn new skills. When opportunities presented themselves, I took them and kept following my curiosity — a strategy that I continue to follow. I had the privilege of being exposed to exciting science early on and having opportunities available to me. I made sure that I took those opportunities.
I'm originally from Mumbai, India, where I completed my BS and MS in Biotechnology. I then moved to the United States to obtain my PhD in Human Genetics from Virginia Commonwealth University. Throughout my master's, PhD, and early postdoctoral experience, my research was focused on understanding genetic and epigenetic mechanisms of female reproductive disorders and pregnancy complications. Now, at BC Children's, my research focus is applied genome analysis for the diagnosis of rare pediatric disorders. I am a research associate in the Turvey Lab with the Department of Pediatrics.
Join me as I reflect on some highlights of my career. I'll include tips and advice for young women considering a career in science.
What I love most about my work
In my current role, the most gratifying aspect of my work is being able to provide answers to families going through diagnostic odysseys. Some parents will struggle for years trying to find out why their child is suffering. They will have visited countless doctors and healthcare providers, without knowing what is going on. I love being able to find answers for these parents and help open up avenues to treatments and support.
When I'm not working
Outside of the lab, I love spending time with my family. I am also an avid reader, I love to sketch and paint, build elaborate puzzles and work on small home decor projects. I previously served on the board of the Society for Canadian Women in Science & Technology (SCWIST) as the Director for Immigrating Women in Stem (IWIS). I'm a strong advocate for making STEM equitable for women. (continued below)
Women in STEM and the importance of a support system
I have always been fortunate to be surrounded by motivated female science professionals who appeared to be seamlessly managing the competing demands of their lives. Based on my experiences of working with them, they all share the qualities of having a strong passion for their work and an equally strong support system at home and at work. This support system is absolutely key.
A strong support system — a network of people who respect you and are willing to assist you with advice or day-to-day support — is the most potent motivator in getting through difficult circumstances and supporting resilience. All too often we talk about challenges in women's lives from an individual perspective, or we say that the woman was strong for being able to successfully get over those hurdles and juggle everything at once. And then we tend to blame those women who aren't somehow able to do the same. This is evidence of a failed system, not a failed woman.
We need to start developing a culture where facing all life's hurdles and competing demands on our time is not placed on an individual woman alone. It takes a community of people to support the individual in science.
My advice to young women considering a career in science
Surround yourself with strong female role models. They don't have to be Nobel Prize winners and they don't even have to be scientists. Seek out supportive mentors who are willing to guide you and are not afraid to give you honest feedback.
Science is not only academia, and academic publications are not the sole measure of success. There are so many ways to do science and stay connected to the world of science. Work on broadening your understanding about what a science career entails.
Academia is perhaps the most brutally challenging as far as trying to maintain a work-life balance and has the most skewed applicant success ratio when it comes to grants, scholarships and awards. But there are lots of non-academic science careers that are research-driven and may be more conducive in promoting better work-life balance.
Don't be afraid to try out different things and find out what excites you the most. Don't get tunnel vision when it comes to your career goals. Be curious, be assertive and, most importantly, be true to yourself!
While competing time demands — for everyone, not just women — make networking a challenge, I have found that networking has been valuable for me. Networking has helped me in developing a support system and finding mentors that help navigate challenges from a career growth perspective. Even focusing on networking for a short time early on in your career can ensure you're off to a great start.