These WOC are Challenging the Stereotypical Asian Definition of Success

What does success look like to you? Generally, you would expect a unique answer from most people you ask this question to. But for many children of immigrants and their parents, their response to this question echoes one of the most deeply-rooted stereotypes socially constructed within immigrant cultures. Too often, children of immigrants are pushed to compromise their intellectual passions for a highly skewed definition of success — to entirely achieve financial stability. Pursuing traditionally practical career pathways, most notably within STEM, is extremely prevalent and forced upon within Asian cultures. A 2018 report by the United States Institute of Education Sciences broke down categories of university majors by race, revealing Asians made up the highest percentage of STEM majors, at 33 percent. Despite students of Asian backgrounds making up the lowest numbers in the humanities, social sciences, business, and even law fields, I do not believe this is because they have little interest in these fields. This is where the notion of achievement behaviour comes in. 

Achievement behaviour is defined as behaviour on tasks where individuals believe or feel their competence, or perception of competence, affects their outcome in life. Children of immigrants struggle with achievement behaviours in unique ways. Many are raised with the mentality that they have to make their parents proud, rather than their parents just being proud of them. This causes them to believe their worth as a human is tied to their success. I personally know far too many people in the South Asian community who were raised by parents who only focused on certain degrees and achievements that are deemed acceptable or worthy by their culture. As a result, these children may grow up never being encouraged to be independent, creative, or curious. They internalise their parents’ expectations as their own needs and pursuits. They create their self-worth around what they do and achieve, rather than their values as a person and how they treat others. 

As the years have passed, there continue to be low numbers of POC occupying professions in the humanities, social sciences, business, public health, and counselling fields. Because of this, I believe the stereotypical definition and understanding of success constructed within immigrant cultures is costing us our representation in these fields and in the world. So many children of immigrants are too afraid to work in, or are not given a choice to work in these fields because of their parents and preconceived ideas of what success looks like. I often find myself imagining a world where this wasn’t the case. A world where kids are raised to work with agency and integrity in whatever field they choose. Not one where they are forced to sacrifice their independence and wellbeing for the sake of money and reputation. Imagine the number of Indians, Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, and many more that would have graced our television screens by now. That would have sat in front of and listened to other Asians struggling to fight depression in a culture that shuns and silences mental illness. That would have become the next politician, award-winning journalist… the list goes on. The definition of success in immigrant cultures is not only toxic and destructive, but it is costing POC the chance to be represented in the fields of work we desperately need them in. 

Despite the constraints of their family or culture, these nine women are not only examples of that world I so frequently dream about, they are the reality of it. 

. . .

Washington, D.C.

Shriya Bhattacharya (24 years old)

Shriya

What is your ethnicity/background?

I identify as Indian-American. I was born and brought up in the United States and currently live here, but I’m originally from Kolkata, India, and spent six years living there before college.

What did you study, or are currently studying at university?

I majored in international relations with a concentration on conflict resolution and minored in dance at Agnes Scott College, a small, liberal arts women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Why did you choose to study these degrees?

I had no intention of studying international relations before college because I didn’t know exactly what it encompassed. In high school, I was considering journalism because I loved writing and interviewing, and law because my mother wished it. However, in my very first semester of college, I fell in love with one of my classes for my liberal arts degree, Introduction to World Politics. I learned about all kinds of issues, from genocide, terrorism, economic development, gender, and more. Another reason was because of my World Politics professor. Countless hours spent in her office discussing my future persuaded me that I could use my knowledge of global issues to help the world’s most underprivileged communities, those that don’t have a voice for themselves. She also helped me understand that having a well-rounded expertise of economics, politics, and history, which makes up an international relations major, would not only help me grow as a professional, but as a person. Learning about how communities in different parts of the world are affected by third party actions would teach me compassion, build my analysis skills, and more. Due to my interest in global politics, my goal was to join the United Nations because of its emphasis on global cooperation to solve the world’s most challenging problems. All of my six internships in college were geared towards this, including working with NGO communication teams to learn how to craft sensitive messages and lobbying firms to learn how to petition the U.S Congress on global issues. I ultimately did graduate with a job offer from the United Nations Foundation.

In your own words, describe your occupation and work.

I work on sexual and reproductive health and rights at the United Nations Foundation in Washington D.C. My team’s mission is to protect and strengthen U.S foreign aid for global, sexual and reproductive health to help the world’s most marginalized girls and women and by association, their families, communities, and economies. As the coordinator of this team, I manage various projects under the four umbrellas of communications, advocacy, partnerships, and our private sector action for women’s health and empowerment initiative. The latter works with top-tier companies that have disproportionate numbers of female workers employed in their global supply chains to make the business case for investing in the health and well-being of their female workers, including sexual and reproductive health. For the past two years, I’ve done everything from planning events in India, Canada, and Kenya, driving the digital communications strategy through managing our website and social channels, to assisting with press fellowships where we take journalists to conferences or different parts of the world to report on sexual and reproductive health. I’ve worked with and met UN officials, company CEOs, and most importantly, women in developing countries who are advocating for their basic healthcare rights. I’m very mission-driven, so I’m grateful to be in a profession that works to increase gender equality through a health care lens. 

Has anyone ever questioned and/or doubted your choice in degrees/work? What have they said?

Throughout high school, my mother would sometimes request that I pursue law. Her reasoning behind this was it would be great to have a lawyer in a family of doctors and engineers, since being a lawyer is considered a respectful, coveted profession in South Asian culture. Also, lawyers made good money so I would never be in a financially unstable situation and I could help my family financially, if needed. Once I made my choice to major in international relations and go into public policy, she was a little disappointed because she envisioned my life as a lawyer. However, she respected my choice in the end, especially because in the first few months of college I used to tell her what I was learning in my classes and what I intended to do with this major. She’s now very proud of the work I’m doing in my current role. 

Why do you think there is a lack of children of immigrants in the humanities, social sciences, business, and public health fields?

I think it’s because of the concept that having a “good job” breaks a family’s cycle of poverty, and the meaning of what a “good job” is was defined by our ancestors, not by us. For the longest time, only white or very wealthy individuals pursued professions like medicine and engineering because a) it was socially acceptable for them to do so and b) the profession required a higher level of education that not everyone could have because of wealth, lack of access, etc. As a result, if you were poor, you remained poor because you were born into a family that couldn’t afford to give you a proper education, meaning you didn’t have the skills necessary for a high paying job and so the cycle continued. Because of this, immigrants work so hard to push their children into careers they know for certain will generate wealth and improve their social status. Today, more emphasis is put on finding fulfillment in a job and pursuing one’s passion. For many, this is in the humanities but because these fields don’t generally pay well unless you are extremely good at what you do. The concept of job fulfillment is also quite modern for more traditional societies. For example, in India, some parents put pressure on their children to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer even if their children tell them they don’t want to. We are taught to think of our family/society as one unit, and the concept of finding fulfillment in a job is quite individualistic.

How do you respond to assumptions that non-STEM related work is less financially stable and practical?

I think that any job, STEM or not, can be financially stable if you are great at what you do and always think one step ahead in your career. To me, the assumption that non-STEM related work is less financially stable is just that, an assumption. We forget that we know STEM careers offer a lot of money because there are so many South Asians in those professions. But if there were the same amount of South Asians going into architecture as there were in medicine, we would be hearing more stories about successful architects. To me, it’s all about the love you have for your work and your willingness to put extra effort into succeeding. If you’re really great at what you do, the money will come. 

What does “success” mean to you? 

To me, success is about the number of lives you touch, both personally and professionally. I tend to think more about the purpose behind my work instead of how I am benefiting from the job. For example, most people will tell you success means money, power, leadership, or a combination of all three. While these factors are all important and do matter to me, they affect the individual directly. In my view, success is about who I’ve impacted. If someone reads one of my articles, will they change their behavior or way of thinking in line with the message I’m trying to convey? If I host an event, how many people can I draw to our cause so that more women can access essential healthcare services? These are the indicators that I rely on.

Despite facing any negativity or doubts from people in your culture or community, what motivates you to continue the work you are doing?  

What really motivates me is who I am working for — the bigger picture. In my current role, I think of myself as an advocate for the voiceless, those women who need essential sexual and reproductive healthcare but don’t have it, either because they can’t afford it, can’t access it, or aren’t allowed to use it. If I — among others — don’t use my power and privilege to advocate for them, who will? 

Tanvi Banerjee (23 years old)

Tanvi

What is your ethnicity/background?

I am Indian — half Bengali, and half Marathi.

What did you study, or are currently studying at university?

I studied international relations with a concentration in Asia and international development at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Why did you choose to study these degrees?

Raised in a family of entrepreneurs in New Delhi, I grew up in an environment where foreign policies of nations often had a direct and palpable impact on the people around me. For instance, a change in visa-regimes facilitated a bountiful tourist season for my parents’ small travel agency, but border-tussles led to a tsunami of booking cancellations. I wanted to understand why and how seemingly intangible global policies affected local communities. So, I decided to study international relations in college. Thankfully, my degree allowed me to specialize in regional and thematic areas of study. I chose to combine my passion for Asian politics and foreign affairs with development studies. These concentrations helped me explore the immense geo-political and socio-economic diversity of Asia while teaching me about the complex challenges facing communities in the region.

In your own words, describe your occupation and work.

 I am a research specialist at a due-diligence and business intelligence firm. At my current job, I monitor and evaluate political, financial, and reputational risks to individuals and businesses in several emerging markets.

Has anyone ever questioned and/or doubted your choice in degrees/work? What have they said?

A lot of my relatives and family friends question my decision to pursue a degree and career in international relations and public policy. Although perceptions of social sciences are improving in India, students pursuing these fields still face judgment. I have heard all kinds of comments, including “Dreams don’t feed you”, “You are an only child, so you should do something more stable,” and the classic “Be practical.” Occasionally, a well-meaning relative continues to give me advice, “Just study science in college, and then you can make a career in whatever you want.” I have had to have a lot of conversations with my immediate family members about my reasoning for pursuing social sciences. 

Why do you think there is a lack of children of immigrants in the humanities, social sciences, business, and public health fields?

A lot of immigrants who have benefited from STEM industries appear to have internalized the idea that if a career in STEM worked for them, it should work for their children too. Additionally, in many communities, there is a lot of emphasis on having a stable career and being risk-averse. These concerns manifest in different ways and often result in parents pushing their kids towards the “path-most-taken.” I also think a lot of careers in fields such as humanities, social sciences, and business are “invisible.” People do not intuitively understand the impact of these careers. In some cases, parents just don’t know that these diverse opportunities exist! I remember telling a relative about how big tech companies spend a lot of money on good public-relations professionals. He was really shocked to learn that public relations is a legitimate profession. These societal expectations, learned notions of stability, and lack of awareness impede immigrants and their children’s decisions to explore different career paths. In my personal experience, I have seen a lot more children of immigrants starting to pursue non-STEM related careers including politics, public health, and development studies. I think as awareness about different opportunities increases, we will be able to see a lot more people exploring new careers.

How do you respond to assumptions that non-STEM related work is less financially stable and practical?

I always try to have conversations about my industry with people holding these assumptions and explain the many different opportunities that are present in my fields. There are so many professionals in the field of public policy and international relations who have done phenomenal work. I try to use them as examples to explain that no one person’s professional journey is the same. I also try to be candid about my experiences and tell them where my passion for the work comes from. At the end of the day, I try to not let these assumptions get to me. Even if non-STEM work might be less financially stable or practical, it’s what I choose to do and it’s what makes me happy.

What does “success” mean to you?

To me, “success” is ever-evolving and ever-present. I find it in small things like writing a good report for a client as well as in the fulfillment of my long-term goals such as becoming more adaptable and resilient.  It can get very hard sometimes but I avoid using conventional yardsticks like wealth or academic achievements to measure success.

Despite facing negativity and doubts from people in your culture or community, what motivates you to continue the work you are doing? 

I started my journey in the field of international relations because I wanted to understand how macro-level policies impacted communities at a micro-level. As I get more involved in this field, I realize there are so many complex challenges facing human societies that need to be studied and resolved. The belief that I might be able to make a positive impact on a community through my work is what drives me to pursue a career in international affairs.

Brisbane, Australia

Beatrice Valek (20 years old)

Beatrice

What is your ethnicity/background?

My mother came to Australia from Sri Lanka just at the beginning of the Sri Lankan Civil War which lasted from 1983 until 2009. My mother’s side of the family left everything behind in Sri Lanka so that my generation would have a better life, free from racial discrimination and ethnic tensions. My father is from Austria. He came to Australia as a backpacker and met my mother at work. They came from very different backgrounds and both of their perspectives and experiences have shaped the person I am today.

What did you study, or are currently studying at university?

I study a double degree in Arts and Social Science at the University of Queensland. Within my Arts degree, I major in political science and sociology, and in my social science degree, I major in global development.

Why did you choose to study these degrees?

My decision to study in the humanities was based deeply on my mother’s experiences in Sri Lanka and her transition to life in Australia. My mother would tell me stories of sacrifice — how far she would have to walk to get to school, why they changed their surname to be more palatable for a Sinhalese society, stories of preventable deaths, memories of what human hair on fire smelt like and what it was like to come to a foreign country with nothing to build a new life. She taught me the strength of brown womxn who plant seeds of prosperity for the future generations to receive all the flowers. These experiences deeply humbled me as a young girl and still do today. I want to be able to continue this legacy by being part of creating a more equitable and sustainable world for future generations to be able to receive the flowers that our generation will sow. For me, this looks like dismantling systems of structural and usually colonial oppression that benefits from exploiting Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, but especially womxn of colour.

In your own words, describe your occupation and work.

I wear many different hats. In short, I am a cultural and gender equality educational advocate and activist. This means I help people understand the inequalities within society through educational workshops and seminars. What I continue to notice is that people have good hearts and good intentions. However, this does not mean we are not engaging in oppressive behaviours. Education is not apolitical, it is highly political. If we are constantly teaching the histories, perspectives, representations of Western culture but not the other perspectives, then we are propagating an environment for inequities to be sustained and ignored. People must be taught the skills to identify and actively resist oppression and inequities. If we don’t, what are we truly preparing ourselves for?

Has anyone ever questioned and/or doubted your choice in degrees/work? What have they said?

Constantly. I have been discouraged, doubted, and questioned many times by people within my community.  I have gotten everything from disingenuous smiles and nods to being told to change my degree and my work for the sake of my family and to not be a burden. This really took a toll on my self worth and confidence in my abilities. It is something I am still working on every day. I think it is important to continue doing our best to make a difference and encourage others to pursue their visions for their futures without being perfect, without waiting for elders or even your peers to deem you worthy of doing this. I understand and I accept the negativity I have faced and still face in my choice of work and study. What makes me different is that I choose to encourage others and not project the same negative energy onto others.

Why do you think there is a lack of children of immigrants in the humanities, social sciences, business, and public health fields?

I feel that there is a lot of pressure on children of immigrants to perform in ways their parents measure success. I felt a deep sense of guilt and pressure to study law, as from a young age, I showed a deep connection to social issues. My mother and her parents risked and sacrificed so much to leave Sri Lanka. They came to a foreign land to start from the beginning, only to lose everything again in a cyclone. My mother told me stories of her siblings being separated in different houses because my grandparents couldn’t afford to keep them under the same roof at first. Everything that was sacrificed was for my generation to be able to succeed and live a happy life in Australia. Due to this, I feel there were a lot of emotions and worth tied up in the idea of monetary wealth equaling success and therefore, personal happiness.

How do you respond to assumptions that non-STEM related work is less financially stable and practical?

I am the first person in my immediate family to have the opportunity to go to university. While I do feel pressure to study to make the choices my mother sees as ‘right’, I also remind myself that my happiness and my freedom to choose what I do is a large part of why my mother moved to Australia from Sri Lanka.

What does “success” mean to you?

Success is a deeply personal relationship with myself. If I am creating a life that I have decided is worthy, that I have chosen, that I am making a difference in and I love, then I am becoming the woman I have always wanted to be. Whether my mother realises it or not, I am becoming the woman she hoped I could be.

Despite facing negativity and doubts from people in your culture or community, what motivates you to continue the work you are doing? 

There is so much work that needs to be done and so much I want to contribute to this work. My family risked everything to get me to where I am today. To me personally, it is my duty to my ancestors and to the future generations to dismantle systems of oppression so that they can live a more equal life.

Ishara Sahama (21 years old)

Ishara

What is your ethnicity/background?

My ethnicity is Sinhalese (Sri Lankan). However, I have mixed cultural heritage from my paternal side: Tamil-Malay Sri Lankan. I identify as a Sri Lankan-Australian womxn.

What did you study, or are currently studying at university?

I graduated in December 2018 from The University of Queensland (UQ) with a Bachelor of Science in Geographical Science, majoring in Urban & Feminist Geography. In 2019, I returned to UQ to complete my Honours with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography, with a focus on Urban & Feminist Geography and social science/justice research. 

Why did you choose to study these degrees?

I was first introduced to the subject of Geography in Grade 10. I fell in love with the discipline and have continued it ever since. Geography is an incredibly multidisciplinary discipline. But unfortunately, I have found in my own experience, it’s not as inclusive of its humanities and social sciences side. I noticed the core issues that people were subjected to, such as but definitely not limited to, gender/racial discrimination, civil rights injustices, land/resource abuse, and Indigenous community oppression, were not nearly given as much integration and recognition of its assimilation with the physical exploration and analysis of environmental processes/abuses/regulations. 

So, it got me thinking, what can I do with my undergraduate studies, where I can marry my own interests of socio-cultural inequities and its inherent impact and integration, with our natural/environmental services? This eventually became my core drive to complete a geography degree that provided me with independent research opportunities to explore and report on an inequity that I’m passionate to change. On top of that, my experiences of observing and generating a unique perspective of an issue that crossed borders, as well as this degree further developing my critical thinking, analytical and ethnographic observations skills, meant I could dedicate my energy to focusing on something that was more achievable for me to comprehend. It also symbolised me stepping into a space where I feel challenged but also intellectually stimulated.  

In your own words, describe your occupation and work.

With the current living and working conditions of COVID-19, I have settled into a routine of using half my time on personal development and the other half on work in the social change (startup/social enterprise/NFP/NGO) sector. My current occupations are quite multifaceted. In the past few months of 2020, I have dedicated my time to entrepreneurial skill-building through mentoring students or providing feedback/test-run for social change learning programs. Another position of mine is in online community organising. I love to educate and organise around topics that I’m passionate about and I want people outside of my networks to learn about and take action on them. I’m deeply involved in grassroots community building for a few youth-led initiatives, which focuses on intersectional justice for modern-day slavery issues and water/Indigenous land rights in Oceania.  

Beyond those current occupations, my career pathway (prior and ongoing experiences) centre around changing the narrative and broadening the focus of how decisions, planning, and development are all made for people and the environment. My final year Honours thesis work was really the catalyst of what I wanted to dedicate my energy to for the foreseeable future. It focused on understanding and collaborating with the urban development and planning sector and how it needs to better incorporate community and socio-culturally sensitive deliberation, concerns, and fundamental land rights. There is currently very little work on or recognition of the need to prioritise Indigenous voices, cultural practices, respect for the land, as well as the multiculturalism and community needs of other POC. 

Has anyone ever questioned and/or doubted your choice in degrees/work? What have they said?

My parents doubted what I was ‘getting into’ or whether I could be employable by diverting my academic interests into the social science and human geography aspect in my undergraduate degree. I still think they do, but the tone and understanding behind it has changed. Previously they were skeptical about anything that isn’t STEM-related. I have seen how people view geography and environmental management/science as a foreign concept in STEM because it’s not a conventional area of science, at least to my parents and cultural community. Throughout my undergraduate degree, my parents accepted this was my chosen pathway and that I was pretty adamant about it. However, when I made the decision to complete a Bachelor of Arts for my Honours, that’s when the skepticism arose again. Eventually, after working hard in this field and gathering an array of professional and academic experiences, my parents grew more understanding of my work. From time to time, they still question it, as it differs drastically from their perception of success. 

As for other people, the skepticism and questions around my career pathway is because it’s controversial. It’s seen as controversial because I’m challenging long-term practices and assumed, unconscious social conditions that have made the systems and decisions that we see in our environment. People are always going to question and be reluctant to change, that’s human nature. But eventually, the change that needs to arise and be accepted, will be. I think the beauty of it all is that those who were initially skeptical, are now starting to see the value of my work and the people in it. Sooner or later they will have to learn to accept it, because times are changing. 

Why do you think there is a lack of children of immigrants in the humanities, social sciences, business, and public health fields?

Firstly, the humanities and social sciences are areas not commonly culturally and socially associated with socio-economic stability and reputation. Secondly, these are areas in which some South Asian parents associate with high risk, in that their child may be at higher risk of instigating discrimination and marginalisation towards them, especially if it’s around studying politics, civil rights or justice. On the other hand, public health fields are one of those ‘on the fence’ options, as it’s technically in the health sector, but it’s not medicine or biomedical science. For example, my parents typically associate medicine, law, traditional forms of science, and engineering to be the ideal pursuits for tertiary education and a career. This is because these fields are associated with job security, professional respectability, and ‘success.’ Granted, while there’s no push to go into public health fields, it’s not questioned the same as when a child, i.e. myself, is pursuing the humanities field. Based on observations of my extended family and other South Asians, business and law are fields that I call ‘substitute fields.’ If you didn’t get in, or are not academically inclined towards engineering or medicine, then it’s either law or business, or a combination of both. I’ve been asked multiple times by my immediate family and those in my community whether I’d pursue law. I usually reply with, “it’s never been a passion of mine to enact change within law.” I think I’ll continue to get such comments and questions until I finally land a job that reflects the themes and issues I’m following in my career pathway. 

How do you respond to assumptions that non-STEM related work is less financially stable and practical?

I usually end up reversing this assumption back to the person who is asking, whether they’re in my cultural community or not. If people think focusing on bringing intersectional justice, helping people in need, politics, social science or community development is not worth the same level of respect and financial support as STEM-related work, then how is that fair or just? Isn’t working with others to address and fix inequities, such as subsidised housing, gender-sensitive development, community-responsive decision-making, or social work, equally as important to work in STEM?

When I hear such assumptions from people younger and even a few years older than me, I really have to muster a lot of courage in not engaging in a futile debate. Young people, specifically up to the age of 30-35, are at a stage where the future of work is changing to reflect the societal, technological shifts and environmental changes occurring worldwide. Most of the time, working in the social and environmental change sectors is unpaid until work has been done to make it a space where everyone gets paid. Which is why for me, the idea of work is a clear-cut comprehension that work is work. What I mean by that is, volunteer/unpaid, contract, freelance, and paid work are all valuable and valid forms of work. As someone who is fortunate to be able to mentor others and facilitate entrepreneurial, system change/thinking and resilience around the ‘future of work’, I often have to emphasise to others how important it is to be proud of all forms of work you do. This also helps to reinforce how important it is for anyone and everyone, especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour), to understand and appreciate all the things you do to grow personally and professionally. 

What does “success” mean to you?

I’ve always been the ‘defiant’ child in my family — the one who didn’t follow the Asian stereotype of studying a traditional STEM degree. Because of this, I have struggled with the perception of success. The concept of success in my family and most of my community is that it means you are in a position where you have received an education, are able to secure a stable job after, and can then save up and buy/own a home. However, this perception, particularly in the context of my parents’ experiences, is synonymous with ‘survival.’ My Thathi (Dad) often says getting a good job, after achieving the highest form of education, is the only way we — as brown people who immigrated and worked from the ground up — can survive in Australia, because “no one can take your education from you.” 

As I networked extensively, built connections, and studied abroad throughout my undergraduate degree, my perception of success changed. I was fully aware that the idea of success I knew was my parents’. But growing up with a dual identity and living in a multicultural, Westernised country, this definition of success didn’t match with my values. It’s synonymous with ‘survival’ and ‘security’, but all in the context that you do things that allow you to live and work without any risk, unnecessary attention and discrimination, even if it means not being as aspirational in your career and life goals. I was raised to not be too aspirational or too ‘radical’, and to accept things the way they are out of fear of discrimination and even the threat of being stripped of our citizenry — even though my Thathi made jokes about it, I don’t think he was joking. Obviously, this way of thinking had to stop. I couldn’t live my life in fear because I simply wanted to be as aspirational as all of my non-BIPOC peers. It came to a point where I eventually determined that ‘success’ to me means I’m doing something that makes me happy and genuinely brings joy and constructive impact to others. Anything else that follows, i.e. getting paid, is simply a positive consequence of that joy and hard work. 

Despite facing negativity and doubts from people in your culture or community, what motivates you to continue the work you are doing?

What motivates me to do the work I do, both for my current occupations and my own career goals, is that it’s not about me. The issues I focus on in my work were never around what I wanted to achieve for myself. Instead, they centre around what positive impact could be created to help and amplify the voices of those who aren’t represented and included in decision-making around the built environment, land/natural resource rights, or community building. I have always been compelled to help others when they’re faced with injustices or inequities. What motivates me the most is the fact I am in a position where I can connect with and learn about the concerns, grief, and injustices of the community. Listening to and empathising with the community, especially BIPOC and gender diverse people, is the most poignant and meaningful experience I carry through my work. I hope others are able to find things that captivate them and bring them meaningful experiences through their work too. Because that’s when it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ in the sense that it’s a must do for living, but a craft you have molded into your values and passions, and it just so happens to support you for life things. 

Mary Harm (25 years old)

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What is your ethnicity/background?

I am a proud South Pacific Islander woman of Samoan and Chinese descent. My mother was born and raised in Samoa from the village of Sataua, Savaii and my father is of Chinese descent, born and raised in Suva, Fiji. I was born in Vancouver, Canada, and migrated to Australia with my family at the age of two. 

What did you study, or are currently studying at university?

I graduated from The University of Queensland with a Bachelor of Communications majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Event Management. 

Why did you choose to study these degrees?

I identify as a multipotentialite — someone with no one true calling but rather many interests and creative pursuits. Growing up, this reality was often misinterpreted as indecisiveness or lack of motivation, so it has taken me some time to live my truth and be okay with navigating several spaces, often simultaneously. So naturally, I found it very difficult to choose a degree. What gravitated me to finally choosing a Bachelor of Communications was my passion for storytelling and creating social change. I believe public relations is a business of persuasion, storytelling, and narrative curatorship but that alone isn’t going to create change, hence the event management. Everyone remembers a great event and everyone remembers a horrible event. Events are a perfect way in creating the right space or conditions for your message or story to be heard, told, and seen. A Bachelor of Communications for me was my ticket into any industry, to move between worlds and ideally merge worlds together. 

In your own words, describe your occupation and work.

I have often struggled to answer this question, simply because my work is ever-changing and the lines between what is work and what is community work are often blurred. For some, work only encompasses what they make a living from but for me, work also includes volunteer and community work. This is work that I contribute, if not more of, equal amounts of time and effort towards. It is work that I am passionate about, work that keeps me connected to community and culture and work that I hope will continue to feed generations after me.

I am a community organiser in the climate justice space with day jobs in community pharmacy as a pharmacy assistant and at a local college as a Pacific Liaison Officer. My work centers around community by creating a more just and inclusive society, ensuring our young people have the spaces they need to create what is most meaningful to them, and using my privileges to re-write narratives and retell stories in a way that is true and authentic. 

Has anyone ever questioned and/or doubted your choice in degrees/work? What have they said?

All day, everyday. From the moment I decided to take the road less travelled, I have been questioned time and time again on why I do what I do, sometimes even asked repeatedly, “what do you even do?” as if to imply that my path to “success” is not success at all. It is often hard for friends and family to understand why I do so much “unpaid” work or why I don’t just stick to one “secure” 9-5 job or why I went to university and of all things chose to study something so “below my potential.” I’ve been told that my degree was a “waste of time and money” because I apparently haven’t used it (I beg to differ) and have often been asked why I didn’t do medicine or something in the health industry. I have been questioned why I spend so much of my time rallying and protesting for issues such as climate justice. Family and friends have tried to “silence” me by advising that my participation in such things will be “detrimental to future jobs.” I ask — what future job will I have if there is no future at all? 

Why do you think there is a lack of children of immigrants in the humanities, social sciences, business and public health fields?

Growing up, I was constantly encouraged to work hard so I wouldn’t have to struggle and face the same challenges and barriers my parents did when they were growing up and even more so when they migrated to Australia. I know and understand the responsibility that comes with being a child of an immigrant. My parents gave everything they had to ensure I had the best education. I was always encouraged to follow my heart but there was also this responsibility to be able to contribute financially to the collective and this may be one of the reasons why we see less children of immigrants pursuing jobs and careers in these fields than STEM-related work.

How do you respond to assumptions that non-STEM related work is less financially stable and practical?

STEM-related work is so important and perhaps yes, more financially stable. But non-STEM related work is just as important and if not MORE practical. Times are changing. More than ever, industries that once never/rarely communicated with each other, are now working together to find solutions to our worlds greatest issues. Issues like climate justice are often seen as the problem for scientists or environmentalists to solve, when in fact it needs all of us — the facts and the science are no longer enough. 

What does “success” mean to you? 

Success — it’s a word that evolves for me as I learn more about the world and my place in it. Once upon a time, success was solely about having enough money to be able to fly my parents back home whenever they wanted to and as frequently as they wanted to. Although I want to be financially stable, success to me right now is about doing meaningful work, being genuinely happy, feeling connected and knowing that I am contributing towards something bigger than just myself.

Despite facing negativity and doubts from people outside of your culture or community, what motivates you to continue the work you are doing?  

My ancestors did not navigate oceans and survive all they did for me to just live a mediocre life defined by others. I continuously draw strength from them and the many cultures and places I am privileged to call home. It is what I fight to protect and preserve and the reason why I do what I do and will continue to do. 

Rachell Hansen (31 years old)

Rachell

What is your ethnicity/background?

I was born in Australia and my mother is full Filipino and my father is British. 

What did you study, or are currently studying at university?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Business from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in 2012 as one of the Top 20 Business School students (Marketing) and was invited to do Honours. However, I decided to continue to build my career in the Queensland Government. This year, I completed QUT’s Pathways to Politics for Women scholarship program. Modelled on the Harvard Kennedy School program, ‘From Harvard Square to the Oval Office’, the QUT Pathways to Politics for Women is an independent program run by QUT, which aims to redress the lack of representation of women in Australian politics. I also just completed the Future Directors Institute’s Board Ready Program, which aims to build a community of high-performance directors and boards, accelerating global change.

Why did you choose to study these degrees?

Originally, I was accepted into a double degree to do a Bachelor of Business and Bachelor of Creative Industries. My favourite subjects at school were art and dance and anything in the creative arts. At the time of making my decision, I had just completed a part-time school-based traineeship with the Queensland Government and then accepted a full-time traineeship when I graduated. The option to study part-time was only possible with a single degree, so I had to make a choice between the two. While my heart was with creative industries, my head chose to study business as it’s a universal skill to have that can be applied to anything you want to do. I figured I could pursue creative industries later in life, or as a hobby, but my compromise around this was to pick marketing as my major, which was a great discipline that enabled me to tap into some creative juices in a business sense. After completing my degree, I decided not to do my Honours but instead, start a side-hustle while working full-time. I had an itch I wanted to scratch for many years and that was to start my own business to apply all the knowledge and skills I picked up from uni and put it all into practice. I established a white-glove, silver service in the luxury event industry that brought designer linen to the table to complement our clients’ reputation, Emrajo Linen, which I ran for almost 5 years. 

In your own words, describe your occupation and work.

I am a Carbon Neutral Project Manager, leading a project that will see a State Government department achieve the Australian Government’s Climate Active Certification. Put simply, this process involves measuring our emissions, reducing them and offsetting the rest. Prior to this, for the last 10 years I’ve worked in the not-for-profit sector and this has embedded values in me to always make a positive impact in the community in my day-to-day work. I am also the first female Founding Curator in Australia for the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community and started the Global Shapers Gold Coast hub in July 2019 and have since grown the team of over 21 young leaders, mobilising to create dialogue, action and change. Our Good Karma project leverages Queensland’s Containers for Change refund scheme, so that the community can donate 10c from every bottle and can to support our work by presenting our charity Scheme ID at any collection depot. Our aim is collect and reinvest container refunds back into the circular economy to do good on the Gold Coast. We are also attempting a Guinness World Record next year and launching a Climate Museum and dinner. 

Has anyone ever questioned and/or doubted your choice in degrees/work? What have they said?

No, only me when I had to choose between Creative Industries and Business. I am grateful to have received two scholarships this year that put me in a place to learn more about women in leadership from politics to the board room. What drove me to look into this, is that I feel in order to make the greatest change in the areas I am passionate about most, such as health, climate change and shaping the future of our cities, one needs to have a seat at the right table where decisions can be made and influenced. Often this is in the boardroom or at a political level. What I’ve noticed through my career and through Global Shapers is that while we are becoming more and more progressive, women are still largely underrepresented in politics and in the boardroom. But on top of this, WOC in Western societies at these levels are also lacking — not to mention, the voice of the youth. Diversity offers a richness in perspectives and insight when decisions need to be made, and can improve adaptability, performance and productivity. 

Why do you think there is a lack of children of immigrants in the humanities, social sciences, business, and public health fields?

When it comes to higher, senior-level leadership positions in politics and the boardroom, I do see a lack of women and also WOC. Perhaps there are more barriers to gain entry, but I feel there is a need to have more Indigenous women and WOC to represent the voice of the underrepresented. 

How do you respond to assumptions that non-STEM related work is less financially stable and practical?

I was fortunate that my mother wasn’t too strict about my career path, but I appreciate this is the case for some people. I believe everyone should leverage their strengths to do roles, tasks and jobs that they’re good at, and passionate about. I believe when you channel that energy to do something good, you can add more value and increase your own productivity levels, which benefits everyone and society. As someone who has worked in non-STEM related work for over 16 years, I feel I have had a very successful career that has been, financially and practically stable but most importantly, has fed my soul or personal and professional development, allowing me to add more value in the work that I do. 

What does “success” mean to you? 

Success means that I am content with my life. Not everything will always be perfect, as challenges and problems are always part of life. But I don’t need all the riches to feel like I have everything, or the need to compare my life with another person. Looking back at how far I came and what I started out with as a child of an immigrant mother, I didn’t have a lot growing up and neither did my mum when she came to Australia. We lived in housing commission which was filled with cockroaches, we never had a car until I reached high school, we op-shopped and lived off a single-parent pension with no child support from my father, who left the home when I was two. I missed out on a lot of things and had to be resourceful as a child. However, this taught me to be creative, resourceful and work hard for what I wanted in life. Mostly, it taught me to dream and believe I can change my future. Now, I have built a house, I’m happily married with a gorgeous little three-year-old son. Family means a lot to me and I have a great circle of friends where we uplift and empower each other to focus on the things that matter and support each other through growth. Most importantly, we mobilise this privilege to do good and give back to others, to the community, and this is something I find so incredibly rewarding. 

Despite facing negativity and doubts from people in your culture or community, what motivates you to continue the work you are doing?  

Mistisa is often a term growing up to describe a half-cast. While I don’t feel I have any negativity or doubts from people in my culture or community, this isn’t really an issue for me now but when I look back in life there were some aspects relating to identity that I did feel uncomfortable with. When I played with full-Filipino children, I never felt like I fit in, as I couldn’t speak tagalog (apparently I did when I was two but my father told my mum to stop teaching me because he couldn’t understand what I was saying — which is a real shame!). Similarly, when I played with white children, I didn’t look like them. But I have always been quite independent and determined in life, and my mother has always supported my learning, development and choices. What motivates me is to have a sense of purpose behind anything I do. Be it study, work, volunteering… it has to feed my soul.

Durham, United Kingdom

Meera Navlakha (22 years old)

Meera

What is your ethnicity/background?

I’m Indian by ethnicity. My parents both grew up in Kolkata, West Bengal. I was born in the United States and grew up between New York City and Singapore. 

What did you study, or are currently studying at university?

I studied English Literature at Durham University, where I’m in my final year. 

Why did you choose to study these degrees?

I have always been inclined towards writing which led to a natural fascination with reading. I was always sure I would study something along those lines in university. The subject became a fixation for me early in life and this degree has proven to be a perfect blend of literature and my infatuation with the written word. 

In your own words, describe your occupation and work.

While I haven’t started my career just yet, I began freelance writing while at university. I would classify myself as a freelance writer at the moment, and I’ve been lucky to have worked with a range of publications to write about culture, identity, and politics. I have had essays published in the New York Times, Slate Magazine, i-D, gal-dem, Vogue India, and VICE. 

Has anyone ever questioned and/or doubted your choice in degrees/work? What have they said?

I do think many people are surprised that journalism is the path I want to undertake. I’ve heard comments that compare the annual salary of a journalist to that, or say, a banker or someone with a more lucrative, ‘stable’ career. Others have said I may have to fall back on a more traditional job and journalism will have just been a phase. Of course, English students worldwide are often questioned or asked where they think the degree will take them. But I also think people are evolving to realise a degree doesn’t necessarily dictate profession, and more people are opening their eyes to the vast benefits of a degree in the humanities. 

Why do you think there is a lack of children of immigrants in the humanities, social sciences, business, and public health fields?

I think it is almost an expectation that children of immigrants or expatriates will land into a set of roles that their parents before them have had, or that traditional families would expect them too. This is an expectation that has carried itself out into several generations. Many children of immigrants will want to provide a life for their parents that they may not have had, and a career in law or the sciences is a proven way to do so. I have been fortunate to have the complete support of my parents and to have grown up attending institutions that have supplemented my passions. I believe more families and societies are evolving and reevaluating what the correct trajectory should look like. 

How do you respond to assumptions that non-STEM related work is not financially stable or practical enough?

My father always tells me that as much as ‘do what you love’ is a cliché, it can also be a philosophy for both happiness and success. I think I acknowledge that my chosen path may not be the most stable, especially in the sense that the media industry is undergoing several changes and a digital revolution as we speak. Acknowledging this does not take away from the fact that I will continue to pursue it as a viable career option.

What does “success” mean to you? 

This is something I am still navigating, particularly as a recent graduate. But I feel immense gratitude from seeing my byline printed in a publication. This is an overwhelming feeling that motivates me to excel even further in this field. I don’t believe success can be confined to money or power. 

Despite facing any negativity or doubts from people in your culture or community, what motivates you to continue the work you are doing?  

As I mentioned, the sense of accomplishment from seeing my written work or being able to tell a story that reaches people worldwide — that feeling is affirming and motivating, simultaneously. 

Toronto, Canada

Samantha Satgunaraj (23 years old)

Samantha

What is your ethnicity/background?

I was born in Canada and my background is South Asian. However, I mainly identify and connect with being Tamil. My family hails from Sri Lanka and with the genocide and continued torture against my people, there is a lot of hesitation to mention that I am specifically Tamil Sri Lankan. While I believe the land still belongs to my people and we can never relinquish our claim to it, the general population of Sri Lankan Tamils have chosen to state our background as purely Tamil.

What did you study, or are currently studying at university? 

I just recently graduated with a degree in commerce, specifically with a focus on marketing and finance. In addition, I obtained a minor in justice, policy, and order. While the title sounds a bit fancy, the teachings of the minor are mainly around law and political science.

Why did you choose to study these degrees? 

My mother had initially presented multiple degree options and stated that I would have to choose one of them or she would not pay for my schooling. From that list, business was listed and was the one I had a slight interest in. Therefore, I chose that. Though my mother had a hand in my degree choice, I was able to choose the program and school which I would attend. I can see how it looks like I was forced into the degree but in hindsight, if I had a strong passion for a specific field at that time I would have been able to successfully argue for it. My indecisiveness is what led me to that degree and my mother just helped me choose, despite it being delivered in a slightly forceful way. Knowing what I know now, I would have probably gone into computer science or a field reliant on coding. My first dream as a kid was to be like Neo from Matrix — a hacker. Despite all this, I did enjoy my current degree and adding a minor helped make the experience better. As for the minor, my interest in law had grown from a young age. I grew up watching a lot of court shows: Judge Judy, Judge Mathis, and Divorce Court, you name it! That interest then expanded to the criminal side as I grew invested in shows such as Criminal Minds and the Mentalist. It was clear I had a huge interest in behavioural analysis and criminal law. Watching criminal shows made me very aware of police officers and the power they held over us. What strengthened my interest in law was my realization of my minority identity. 

Despite Canada maintaining a fairly nice image, it’s riddled with its own issues, racism being an obvious one. I aimed to learn law in order to protect myself and make sure I knew my rights. If they wanted to, they could abuse my ignorance and take advantage of that. That was actually the premise of a Tamil movie called “Thamizhan”, which highlighted how far officers could go when people are unaware. It’s unfortunate that educating myself further on the legal system and rights will only help me lessen my disadvantage but will never level the playing field. These factors as a whole contributed towards my passion for law and the perusal of my minor. All in all, I have no regrets regarding my educational choices.

In your own words, describe your occupation and work. 

I just graduated from university less than a month ago. However, due to COVID-19, my original plans and job search have been halted. Thankfully, I was able to extend my contract with my current part time job. To describe my job in general terms, I work for the government and carry out tasks that assist superior officers with their files. In simpler terms, it is a desk job that works with both accounting and law. Due to the confidential nature of my job, not that it is overly secretive, I am not allowed to mention details or what sector I work in publicly. Though in general, despite having a job, I still identify as a student. This is because my current job is not in my desired field or a full-time post graduate position. My goal is to achieve a position in the marketing field where I am able to combine both my business and legal knowledge towards a shared goal.

Has anyone ever questioned and/or doubted your choice in degrees/work? What have they said? 

I’ve had a lot of questions and doubts from older coworkers and family regarding my job choice. Most comments are dismissing a job in marketing and doubting the career path I have chosen. The common rhetoric is that I will be unable to find a job or that the job will soon be obsolete. They insist on me continuing my job with the government as they view it as a safe choice. However, I know I would not want to continue it for the rest of my life. Their opinion is understandable and it has been historically viewed as a great choice for employment. With regards to my family, it has more to do with their initial immigrant struggle. They were individuals who escaped a war and built their lives in a new country by doing any job they could get — regardless of their skill level. Both my parents had higher education levels and trained skills than the jobs they initially worked as there were no other options. To them, survival and security is the most important, so a government job is highly appealing in that sense. My parents and other similar families are stuck in survival mode despite successfully creating a stable life. It has taken many conversations to try and convince them I am able to pursue an alternative job choice due to the stability they have created for our family. That I am able to dream and explore my interests because of their sacrifices and hard work. I have not convinced them as of yet but I believe one day, I will get through.

Why do you think there is a lack of children of immigrants in the humanities, social sciences, business and public health fields? 

I would actually disagree with this statement, as I would say most children of immigrants are pushed into the main sectors of sciences, health and business. As the old saying goes, there’s only four jobs — “doctor, engineer, accountant, or lawyer.” I think there’s a lack of children of immigrants in the other fields such as arts, media, literature, social sciences, etc. I usually see this for three potential reasons. One, the sector is unappealing and not widely accepted by the immigrant population. In other words, unstable or considered lower-tier. Second, there is a barrier that is inhibiting a child of an immigrant or a person of colour from entering. For example, sectors that are predominantly caucasian which deters other people from pursuing it. Third, they simply did not know of the job. There could be a disparity of numbers emerging from people simply not knowing that those jobs or sectors exist. I can only speak for myself in that most of the South Asians around me were not exposed to a lot of career paths growing up. I found out the most variety of jobs when my school had made us take an employment compatibility test and I had been given over 100 potential matches. Until that point, I was only aware of the higher arching jobs and had missed all of the minute jobs. I essentially had own seen the tip of the iceberg and missed its entire body.

How do you respond to assumptions that non-STEM related work is less financially stable and practical? 

It is a difficult conversation to have as often as people refuse to listen to reason and argue with incorrect statistics. I also feel I am expected to have my own evidence and statistics prepared that I can call upon immediately when questioned. The worst part of the arguments are when individuals bring up personal anecdotes of people they know or children who have struggled to find jobs or be financially stable in non-STEM related work. Considering the climate and the freedom Canada has provided me, I have chosen to simply dismiss the conversation if it arises. If they are not willing to have a supportive dialogue regarding the issue, then I feel no need to waste my time further. Regardless of the assumptions and biases, I will still pursue the same direction. Though dismissing the conversations could create trouble for individuals as South Asians, especially the women, are taught not to talk back to elders/others. If you do, it is seen as disrespect and depending on your family situation it could create a negative name for yourself. Canada has given me freedom in that I have adopted certain Western values that, although I believe in respecting elders/others, I still feel confident to carry through arguments despite societal repercussions.

What does “success” mean to you? 

I have a complicated definition of success and feel it cannot be fully encompassed within one statement. For example, you can be successful career wise but be unsuccessful in your personal life. I would say I have certain requirements in my life to believe I am successful. Financially, I have always had a certain calculation in my head to act as my guiding scale. To be financially stable, I think that an individual should be able to meet 100% of their needs and 20-30% of their wants. The reason as to why wants are included is that, if I were to only have enough money to support my needs I am not necessarily stable per se. With one wrong turn or a sudden change to my lifestyle would uproot the temporary stability I had. However, if I were to have enough to support 20-30% of my wants, that can be reallocated towards my needs if the situation arises. My family has raised me since young to be financially independent so I think that it’s one of the most important factors for me personally, to be successful. However, this is a ratio I can create because I have been awarded certain privileges in my life. There are many individuals who were raised in lower-income homes and are unable to break free from this cycle. It is not as simple to just save parts of your paycheck and expect to break through into another income bracket. So while I use this as a personal meter of success, in no way would I use it to gauge others people’s level of success. I think having a good group of friends and a future family that depends on me is a symbol of success. I think having people around who choose to keep me in their lives and value me are signs that I am doing something correct. Building a new family with a potential future partner is also gratifying and is another set of proof. In other words, I will feel successful if I am able to sustain and create memorable connections that are a part of my future ideal. 

Despite facing negativity and doubts from people in your culture or community, what motivates you to continue the work you are doing? 

Personal satisfaction and family responsibility. I love working and the feeling I get after coming home from a long day at work. Maybe it is because of the “Toronto hustle” but I feel I always have to be on the move and it gives me satisfaction to be fairly busy or have a packed schedule. While there can still be pivots or changes, the personal satisfaction I would receive from attaining a job like Marketing Analyst is very high. That end goal is motivating in itself. The idea of my family and supporting my future family keeps me motivated. Regardless of people not agreeing with my choice, I have made my bed and have to lay in it. As I have chosen this path, I have to succeed no matter what and that is another reason that pushes me to continue the work I am currently doing. While I am out of school, I have taken extra courses and applied for various other post-graduate diplomas that will assist me in reaching my desired job. So while I do not have a concrete item to showcase, I am still motivated by those factors to continue my journey in the business field.

New Jersey, United States

Shruti Kumar (20 years old)

Shruti

What is your ethnicity/background?

While I am now an American citizen and reside in the United States, my ethnicity is Indian.

What did you study, or are currently studying at university?

I am currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland College Park (UMD) with a double major in information science and multiplatform journalism.

Why did you choose to study these degrees?

Throughout my childhood and into my teenage years, I had always maintained an indescribable passion for words. Whether it was having my nose stuck in a book or writing out literary analyses for English class, I found it difficult to imagine pursuing any different art form. When it came time to seriously consider universities, I began to research the study of journalism, a field that perfectly combines my love for language and my need for standardized, logical information. I applied to UMD for its top ten journalism program in the nation and its large, ethnically diverse student population (not to mention its beautiful campus). Upon acceptance, I realized there was no doubt in my mind that UMD would be the perfect fit!

During my first year as a multiplatform journalism major, I signed up for an introduction to computer science/web development course for the sake of fulfilling a degree requirement. Little did I know this course would open my eyes to another field that I would fall in love with. After blocking out my schedule for the next three years and determining which programs work better for my interests, I decided on a double major in information science, a study that finds the intersection of computer science, business, and humanities principles. I found myself easily able to bridge the gap between journalism and technology to utilize learned skills from both majors in my career, despite people mistakenly believing that there lie vast differences between the two studies. 

In your own words, describe your occupation and work.

I am always intrigued by the prospect of finding opportunities with an intersection between journalism and STEM. As a current undergraduate student, I am switching between internships and part-time occupations to prepare for full-time positions after graduation. Currently, I am a user experience (UX) developer intern for Dnar, a Ghana-based startup that is creating a digital money system to integrate mobile money and digital currencies for countries in Africa. As this internship is coming to an end, I realize I have loved every minute of it. From designing mockups of Dnar’s mobile application to editing content for app descriptions, I have truly enjoyed working with a team that allows me to build on my skill sets. By mid-June, I will be starting as a broker relations summer intern at Point72, an asset management company. Although asset management is completely out of my realm and a field I never thought I would find myself venturing into, this position’s description conveyed the need for both efficient communication and detailed analysis. I’ve been incredibly lucky to be working with amazing, encouraging teams and I look forward to having the same opportunity at Point72 this summer!

Has anyone ever questioned and/or doubted your choice in degrees/work? What have they said?

My parents have definitely received most of the community-wide doubt and bias in my initial choice of study. The liberal arts are unfortunately an uncommon route for people of Indian and even South/Southeast Asian heritage to pursue. While my family’s close-knit circle of friends and relatives were incredibly supportive of and encouraging toward my decision to pursue my passion, larger social circles proved to be filled with backward thinking and narrow mindsets. My mother once ran into an Indian acquaintance whose son was also graduating from my high school and chose to pursue computer science. She was appalled when the acquaintance casually blurted, “so, is your daughter studying to be an engineer or a doctor?” My mother reacted maturely and calmly before moving on with her day. Yet, it was so eye-opening to me and even my parents, since none of us expected such traditional ideologies to have followed immigrants in the ethnically diverse community in which we live.

Over time, I came to realize how deeply ingrained such biases are, as I began to witness more implicit criticism, even in younger generations! While I receive my fair share of genuinely interested peers and friends inquiring about the meaning of multiplatform journalism, I’ve also been shocked by blatant ignorance and backhanded questioning: “So, you just write papers and stuff?” “So you basically read and watch the news?” It’s disheartening to hear because I know how much work it is to pursue journalism and other liberal arts, especially in the current social and political climates. Despite the bias and sometimes infuriating commentary, I find it best to turn socialized resentment for the humanities into more open, educational conversations. My family members always choose to maintain their composure, educate and support — a method we can all guarantee is more effective at combating bias than taking up an argumentative tone.

Why do you think there is a lack of children of immigrants in the humanities, social sciences, business and public health fields?

Although I can only speak for the South/Southeast Asian communities, I know these communities generally associate intelligence and success with STEM-related fields. We see so many children of immigrants pursue business, computer science, engineering, etc. — all of which are incredible pursuits but also common to the point where they are expected. Going to college has taught me that while so many of my peers love what they are pursuing, they jokingly guarantee they would not have received communal or parental support if they had chosen to pursue a non-STEM field. There is a clear social stigma against people who choose to pursue these fields, despite the fact that these students are often equally as intelligent and motivated as those pursuing STEM fields. Although I happened to realize my passion for technology and am incorporating STEM into my career, I continue supporting journalism and minorities pursuing liberal studies because these are the fields/people that target traditional mentalities.

How do you respond to assumptions that non-STEM related work is less financially stable and practical?

The idea that non-STEM career paths are less financially stable and practical is infuriating but is understandably a valid concern for minority communities. Coming from a family that has no journalists to look up to or gain advice from, I know I am at a disadvantage in the journalism world compared to some of my classmates that come from journalistic families and backgrounds. However, I am genuinely a strong believer of the cliché phrase: “hard work pays off.” I believe those who choose to pursue their passion and strive to combat the biases of their cultural communities are strong-willed and incredibly powerful. Although it is unfortunate that these individuals have to put more effort into “proving” their worth and success in comparison to STEM majors in minority communities, they have the ability to educate their communities and pave the way for other young community members to pursue their passions.

To those who are willing to listen, even for a minute, it’s imperative we explain the harmful implications of idolizing people who pursue STEM. I respond to these assumptions by educating my parents on how to combat such mentalities, offering personal examples to younger students facing similar issues and dedicating myself to correcting negative commentary when appropriate. For example, I’ve learned to say that no, I don’t “write papers and stuff”; I learn how to gauge audiences and synthesize accurate, bias-free information among numerous other tasks. The advice I would give to others in similar situations: educate whenever possible!

What does “success” mean to you? 

To me, success is striking a balance between passion and determination to produce work you are proud to call yours. Although some cultural communities have predefined ideas of success, I believe success is subjective because it is incredibly important to factor in numerous individual points — socioeconomic background, cultural background, level of parental support, etc. After accounting for all of these external factors, my belief is that if you are proud of who you are and the work you are able to produce, you are succeeding.

Despite facing negativity and doubts from people in your culture or community, what motivates you to continue the work you are doing?  

In all honesty, my parents have been my greatest motivating factor. Despite the bias against non-STEM studies, my parents have held their strong belief that my career path must be my choice. They have constantly vocalized their pride in my decision to pursue my passion, even throughout the period of invasive questioning they experienced when my peers and I began committing to universities. My family has been my biggest support system throughout all of my career decisions. Although I am currently pursuing more tech-based positions, my parents never fail to remind me that they are proud of both my majors and will continue to support me if I incorporate journalism into my career path. I am motivated to keep them proud of my nontraditional educational choices as a minority so that we can encourage others in similar positions to overcome negativity and bias.