2020 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow Pooja Reddy was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Indian immigrant parents. Growing up, she loved to draw and paint and defined herself as an artist. When her family moved back to India, things shifted—she deepened her understanding of family and community, as well as a humbler way of living, but creativity was not encouraged at her school and she found that there were often lower expectations for women than men. Pooja moved back to the United States for high school where she was able to dive back into art and express herself again through creative means. Between her experiences in India and attending high school in a majority white district, Pooja resolved to defy expectations based on race and gender.
Now, a PhD student at Stanford, Pooja’s long-term goal is to use materials science to create new materials and devices for information technology. Advancing the nanoelectronics industry would enable new paradigms of information technology and scientific progress. Materials advances has the potential to enable renewable technologies, batteries and even unconscionable data processing.
We caught up with Pooja about what's next and what the Fellowship has meant to her:
Where are you with your graduate program now? What’s the next step for you?
I'm finishing my second year of my PhD in materials science and engineering at Stanford, so I'll be continuing with my research for the foreseeable future!
Can you tell us more about your graduate studies—what questions are you pursuing?
I grow and then study defects and crystal structures in semiconductors made from group 4 and group 6 elements, such as PbSe and SnSe. The goal is that with better understanding of the structure, these materials can be engineered to have more practical properties for usage in actual devices in the mid IR range of wavelengths.
There are so many paths beyond college—why did you feel graduate school was the best next step for you? Was it hard to take the risk of going to school or something you always knew you wanted to do?
I always knew I enjoyed research and teaching, so it felt like graduate school was a natural way to improve at both of these goals. I also really wanted to hone my ability to learn and explore science independently—something I'm still working on, but I've really been enjoying the process! After two years in the program, my future career goals have softened, and I'm excited to find ways to be a fulfilled materials scientist while still having time to create art and spend time with the people I love.
Over the past two years, what personal or professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of putting my own happiness first, and persevering through the pandemic. I've taken up new hobbies, made lifelong friends, and spent the time to find a lab environment that will really nurture my growth as a scientist—and all these things took time and some real trial and error! I'm hoping to keep finding things to be grateful for every day.
How do you describe The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program to others?
Life changing. It's the only Fellowship I know of where it's a community and people truly care about each other. I've met some of the most amazing people through the Fellowship, and they've always made me laugh and helped me feel inspired. It’s a group of just the most fun people who I genuinely want to be friends with. I only hope to form deeper and closer bonds to my fellow Fellows and to the Fellowship, in the years to come.
Why did you apply to The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans? What ended up being the most important part of the Fellowship?
I applied to the Fellowship to help support my PhD. I initially applied honestly just for the funding and because I qualified. But through the application writing and the interview process, I found this amazing opportunity to examine my experience as the child of immigrants, and really try to understand how that has affected and changed me. It ended up being an invaluable time of self-reflection and growth, and I still carry lessons from the experience with me today.
Who has inspired you from the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship community?
My whole class inspires me. When I am feeling unmotivated or lost, I think about my amazing classmates, and how they have accomplished such amazing things while being so genuine and honest about their struggles and challenges. And it always reminds me that we are all on a journey that is guaranteed to keep changing, and I feel a renewed strength to be willing to change and grow with it. ∎