- My book is a collection of some of my experiences along my journey, as an engineer but also as a parent, as a science advocate and as a thought leader.
“And… I want to write a book.” Whether it was essays, interviews or dreams, as long as I can remember I would talk about writing. While growing up, I never thought of myself as the “science and engineering type.” I knew I wanted to help people, improve lives, and make the world a better place. It was no surprise that I gravitated towards fields where this contextual pull is strong. I didn’t necessarily associate science and engineering with such goals. But, somewhere between Greek tales and Indian mythology, between the fables of talent and the goddess of learning, I pledged that I would put any innate skills I would be blessed with, to good use. I remember the exact moment, gazing up as a young girl at the abode of the deity with multifaceted talents, near Laxman Jhula, on the banks of the river Ganges.
I had strong parental guidance that directed me to engineering, despite what I perceived as my lack of affinity for the field. I did however have the willingness to follow the path laid out before me and give it my best. And, after college came graduate school, and marriage and kids and work and life. As a milestone birthday approached, with no book in sight, I had a sense of uneasiness. I know this feeling; it throws me off-kilter. I am then consumed with doing something about it, about making it happen.
“I’ll be fine”
With immense help from my amazing husband, I compiled some of the nursery-rhymes I had transliterated into Hindi for my kids. Accompanying illustrations were made by my son, with creative input from all, including my then kindergartner daughter, and it was right before the stroke of the midnight hour we uploaded the book into a self-publishing site and there…it was my birthday and I had a book to my name. Namaste! Namaste! Thanks to my friends and family who bought copies. We matched the funds from the proceeds and donated the small amount at the deity’s altar.
And life went on. Then came 2020…a year of reckoning in many ways for virtually all of us. I am assuming everyone has gone through some cycle of shock, numbness, denial, anger, fear, panic, guilt, gratitude and hope… and then the intense desire to help and be productive… with purpose. I have written about the multitude of crises, the global pandemic and its fallout, and, the raw and real exposure of systemic-racism on the world’s stage, this year threw many of us off-kilter.
In my case it often goes something like this:
Crisis -> Cry Sis -> Cry Cease -> Seize -> Carpe Diem
I know that feeling. I needed to do something about it. Acta, non verba.
See, after completing my bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, I moved to the U.S. to pursue a graduate degree. While I was doing my masters I encountered a strong sense of this feeling, “Am I doing what I thought I wanted to be doing?” For years, I looked for a term to describe this experience, thinking, somebody has to have looked into this, and then I found the concept of communal goal incongruity in psychology. When you sense dissonance within your communal mindset, you tend to reevaluate what you are doing and how you could or should change it. Essentially, you are missing something; something just doesn’t feel right about what you are working on and where you seem to be going.
At the time, it was only a sense of commitment, tied to my work ethic, that allowed me to continue and successfully complete that given project. So, when it came time to make a decision to continue towards a Ph.D. in the same area, I made the scary decision to switch fields. I knew I would be starting over in some ways, but I was more inspired by the research topic, in that, I could build a context around it – what I am doing will help others.
I got a job offer from 3M after a successful summer internship there, and it happened to be in a completely different area from my doctoral work. Though I wasn’t aware that I would be moving closer towards goal congruity, by then I knew instinctively that my communal mindset would guide me to learn, grow, and contribute. I accepted the job, not really appreciating how fortunate I was to end up in a culture of innovation at 3M where empowerment and collaboration were embedded in the systems, integrated in the processes, and woven into the cultural fabric itself. It allowed me to succeed, authentically, by creating communal context that has not traditionally been easily available in STEM.
Now in my role as 3M’s first-ever Chief Science Advocate, and with all the accolades that have come my way, I take this message wherever I go. Everyone can be the science and engineering type. Don’t let pervasive stereotypes deter you. There is no single experience of what science is, what scientists do, and who enters, persists, and excels in science. We need diversity of thought and experiences to solve the problems we face as humanity. We need to provide that communal context to STEM fields and careers. In fact, the 2020 results of 3M State of Science Index show that people expect not just the government but corporations, academia, NGOs and individuals to step up and solve societal problems.
What I learned along the way was that I could bring the context building and the communal mindset with me wherever I went, and it would be at the heart of my success. Of course, there were other requirements. If you want to be successful, you have to work hard and be resilient. What I have also found is that my message resonates and that compels me to share. A collective sense of communal goal incongruity, and the visceral compulsion to do something about the issues that revealed themselves this year, has led to many positive outcomes in 2020.
It is also what prompted me to make a call to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and suggest that we collaborate on this book, with all sales to go for a scholarship for underrepresented minority women in STEM. It took late nights and weekends to finish it up with help and guidance from the quickly assembled team. We have now launched The Heart of Science – Engineering Footprints, Fingerprints, & Imprints published by SWE.
This book is a collection of some of my experiences along my journey, as an engineer but also as a parent, as a science advocate and as a thought leader. Everyone’s career in these fields will be unique, centered around their technical proficiency and anchored by their specific roles as well as organizational goals. For that reason, this book is not about my technical work or the scientific explorations and product inventions. Instead, I share what has enhanced my own learning, and provided me rich context to develop easy, memorable ways to incorporate insights into my own vocabulary, thoughts, and actions. I also give points to ponder on the following topics:
State of Science
On the Need for STEM Advocacy
On the Need for Convergence of STEM and Humanities
On the Need for Leading from Our Own Rung of the Ladder
On the Need for Developing a Growth Context
I compiled this book for young dreamers and changers who want to solve real problems that matter in the world. If nothing, 2020 has taught us that we need more people with communal goals and aspirations in STEM than ever before to meet the myriad challenges we have ahead of us. To all young folks, especially women, who wonder if they should consider STEM or leave STEM because humanities may feel more intuitive, this is for you. For all the professional women in STEM, or those poised to start, wondering if they can succeed in a corporate career, this is for you. Let me tell you, you can change the rubrics, you must alter the metrics, and you will transform the optics.
With immense gratitude to my kismet and my karma, I hope we can grant the gift of education through this scholarship for underrepresented women of color in STEM, using the sales proceeds from my book.
It will be a new chapter…and, I hope many can join in this communal goal by ordering your copy.
Jayshree Seth is a Corporate Scientist at 3M and leads Applied Technology Development for Industrial Adhesives and Tapes Division. She has a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Clarkson University, New York and holds 70 patents for a variety of innovations. Jayshree was appointed 3M’s first ever Chief Science Advocate in 2018 and is using her scientific knowledge, technical expertise and professional experience to advance science and communicate the importance and benefits of science in everyday life. She was recently awarded Society of Women Engineers (SWE) highest Achievement Award for her “visionary, sustainability-focused contributions to adhesives, release, and fastener technologies; for creating, championing, and teaching new methodologies for product and technology development; and for deeply influential STEM advocacy.” In 2019 she was inducted into the Carlton Society which is the 3M Science and Engineering ‘hall of fame.’ Jayshree is the 4th woman and 1st woman engineer to be inducted. She is sought-after speaker, globally, and also the author of The Heart of Science – Engineering Footprints, Fingerprints, & Imprints, published by the Society of Women Engineers, and all the sales proceeds will go to a scholarship for women of color in STEM. Jayshree has two adult children and her husband is also at 3M and they live in Woodbury, Minnesota.