Unique Scientist: Jiwandeep Kohli

Meet Jiwandeep Kohli (He/Him/His)! Jiwandeep lives in the USA where he works at San Diego State University/The University of California San Diego.

What kind of scientist are you?
I’m a neuroscientist and PhD student in the SDSU/UC San Diego Joint Doctoral Program (JDP) in Clinical Psychology. I am broadly interested in applications of various neuroimaging techniques to study brain structure, function, and their links to behavior across a person’s lifespan in neurodevelopmental disorders like autism. I’m training to become a clinician scientist to effect change on multiple scales, conducting research that reaches broad audiences, and providing clinical services that have a direct impact on individual lives.

What made you want to become a scientist?
I’ve wanted to be a scientist for as long as I can remember. Science was always my favorite subject in school, and my parents love to tell stories about me conducting “experiments” as a small child (sprouting potatoes, germinating seeds, mixing random chemicals, causing general havoc in the kitchen, etc.). As I got a little older, the values my parents helped me cultivate led me down the path to a service-oriented career and, with my passion for science, I thought that meant I would become a medical doctor. In preparing for medical school, however, I fell in love with research and realized that a PhD in clinical psychology would better prepare me to be the kind of scientist I always imagined being, while still allowing me to serve individual people. The paths to becoming a scientist are diverse, and the more we encourage diversity of experience and background, the stronger our science becomes.

“I’m a Sikh, and as such I wear a turban, which is a symbol of my commitment to stand for equality and justice and a sign that people can turn to me in times of need for help. I’m also openly bisexual and come from a cultural background that has historically marginalized sexual minorities.”

Jiwandeep Kohli

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
There are several aspects of my core identity that make me a unique scientist. I’m a Sikh, and as such I wear a turban, which is a symbol of my commitment to stand for equality and justice and a sign that people can turn to me in times of need for help. I’m also openly bisexual and come from a cultural background that has historically marginalized sexual minorities. One of my small advocacy efforts summarizing the things that make me unique recently went viral, leading to a retweet from former President Obama. I hope that with these visibility efforts, I can help increase diversity and inclusion in future generations of science and beyond.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
Outside of my life in research and academics, I’m an amateur pastry chef. This extracurricular activity led to a stint on season four of the Great American Baking Show, where I made it to the semi-finals. This experience really reinforced for me the lesson that being a good scientist doesn’t have to come at the expense of your other interests, and that in fact, diversity of interests can make for healthier, more productive, and more relatable scientists.

“I’m an amateur pastry chef. This extracurricular activity led to a stint on season four of the Great American Baking Show, where I made it to the semi-finals.”

Jiwandeep Kohli

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
The system of incentives in science today is both counterproductive to the conduct of good science and prohibitive for the advancement of diversity and inclusion efforts. We need system-wide, institutional change to rebuild science to value quality over quantity, collaboration over competition, inclusion over isolation, and equity over ego.

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I have been inspired by so many fellow unique scientists along the way to developing my own career. I’m surrounded by outstanding classmates and colleagues in the JDP and at the Brain Development Imaging Laboratories in San Diego. I’m also enamored with the community of #UniqueScientists (@also_ascientist) on Twitter and other social media, with efforts like @PrideinSTEM, @500womensci, and many more that unite scientists and help us to lift each other up.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
This week, I’m in Rome, Italy, to present some of my research at the Organization for Human Brain Mapping annual meeting. I grew up in a working-class family and never had the opportunity to travel much. I’m proud that my chosen line of work now allows me to explore the world through scientific conferences, all while sharing my science with the community.

Jiwandeep’s #UniqueTBT Trading Card!

#QueerInSTEM, #BrownInSTEM #BiInSci

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