Time to meet Subha S. Raj (She/her or They/them)! Subha is an atmospheric scientist and a PhD candidate from India!
What kind of scientist are you?
I am an Atmospheric Scientist studying the particles in the atmosphere and their ability to become cloud droplets. I am in my fourth year of PhD in IIT Madras, India.
What made you want to become a scientist?
Even though I developed an interest in Science in high school, I could not pursue it for my bachelors degree due to the adverse conditions my family and I were in. So as the quickest solution to get a stable income and help my parents I got into Engineering with a scholarship ( the other backward class reservation for socially and educationally disadvantaged castes in India was my saviour). After the 4 year professional course I got a stable job in an IT company and my family was slowly getting back on track. So with their support I quit the IT job after a year and pursued teaching. While teaching I cleared the exam for Masters with scholarship and did Mtech in Remote Sensing and GIS, after which I taught in a national institute for a year. Then I wanted to do better which rekindled my dream to become a scientist. My family was reasonably stable by then and I took the big leap to pursue research in Atmospheric Science. I am literally living my dream right now!
“I have had dysphoria from puberty and I had pushed it in the back seat to deal with it later. But now with my wonderful partner whom I am married to, I realized that I have been queer all my life.”Subha S. Raj
What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
Well.. I have struggled a lot in my childhood and in my college days due to alcoholism in the family. Our home was ostracized by relatives and neighbors for a really long time. (I’d rather not specify the person suffering from it because it might show my loved one in poor light). With support and selfless love we could bring the loved one back to sober life. But my childhood was traumatic and it always felt like living in danger (I understand that most people have it worse than this). Then our family was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which helped us find a community who accepted us the way we were and helped us get back to life. It has been more than 10 years since we are with AA and life has been never better. Slowly I started focusing on myself and the things that I should have addressed years ago. My gender dysphoria. I have had dysphoria from puberty and I had pushed it in the back seat to deal with it later. But now with my wonderful partner whom I am married to, I realized that I have been queer all my life. That realization was a moment of peace and it put an end to a lot of questions I had about myself. I feel that I am extremely lucky to have wonderful parents and a partner who has extreme faith in me. For a first generation learner with my life experiences, PhD is not the status quo. But with the support of my family I went for my dream and I am doing quite well so far. Also in IIT Madras which is one of the best (but very conservative) institute, being a queer scientist coming from an under privileged background is not a cake walk. But again life has been good with Science!
What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I like to dance freestyle and it is one of the things which make me the happiest. I also used to paint and do Kungfu. But after joining for PhD I rarely find time to do these. After coming to IIT Madras which is located in the city of Chennai, I could take part in various environmental/cultural activities by the collectives which work on spreading awareness and deals with environmental issues. I find time to get involved in this though I wish I could spend more time in such activities.
I also love to ride bikes (my father taught me to ride one). Women riding bikes is very rare and sometimes frowned upon in my home town in Kerala.
If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
Often I felt intimidated by the big shot research institutes in India. Back in school I was so convinced that there is no way a person like me could get into IIT. I used to think only those people who got special coaching from high school (or even before that) could get an admission. However even if you get in the fees is not quite affordable and one might end up with student loans. Therefore I feel quality education is not quite accessible to children who don’t have much social or cultural capital (or any capital). Even though we have caste/class based reservation system in education, we are far from its goals. The percentage of PhD scholars from scheduled/backward castes and classes is very small when compared to their population share in our country. Therefore I really wish that we could reach out to those young people and tell them that you have chances. Not let their dreams die!
“I am literally living my dream right now!”Subha S. Raj
Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
My inspiration in life is none other than my wonderful mother. She is the one who gave me hope even in the darkest of times. She has this unique ability of being funny without being inappropriate even when your world is tearing apart. That one person had kept me going. She is now in her fifties and is catching up on the things she missed out on her younger years. She now practices music, yoga and travels. She is the most kindest and quirkiest individual and I am so damn lucky to have her as my mother.
I also would like to mention that one other thing that kept me going during my childhood was reading Harry Potter books. Yes I am a huge Potterhead!
Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
This week I have unlearned and learned a lot of concepts right. This makes me so happy and proud because I know that there is progress in my understanding. Other than that I have won a scholarship to go to Max Planck Institute of Chemistry in Mainz to work on some wonderful data I collected and analysed as part of my PhD. With this I feel that my work is accepted and it has given me so much confidence and boosted my self esteem.