Don’t give up! We need women partaking in the conversation that is science. You are not an imposter!

Who is Rutendo Jakachira?

Although I attended an all-girls’ high school and did not have to “compete” with the supposedly “smarter sex”, I know what it feels like to have doubts hung over your head by virtue of your sex. I went to an academically rigorous school. There, I failed my first physics exam. It’s hard to forget because that was technically my second physics exam. I, along with my classmates, had written my first “real” physics exam a week prior. We had to retake our physics exams as our teacher had been attacked by a gang of thieves. They had been after his briefcase expecting to find a wad of cash. They must have been disappointed to find my class’ exam papers instead. But the point I am trying to make is that I was discouraged from taking physics at the advanced level by a close family member as he had taken it at this level and recalled it being an uphill battle in which he felt he never reached the top. In his eyes; if he couldn’t manage, so a woman like me, couldn’t possibly manage. After all, physics was made for men! Or so he believed. Society was telling me that I would never thrive as a physicist. I went on to be awarded the top physicist award at the end of my senior year. I did more than just get by. It was around then that I fell in love with the challenge that is physics. Having my ability to do physics be attached to my gender would be one of the many hurdles I would have to clear on my journey as a physicist.

Educational Background

Bachelor of Science (Physics) expected December 2019

Special Awards

Novartis Science Scholarship (2018), Robert Fenstermacher Summer Research Fellowship (2018), Presidential Scholarship (2016-2020).

How did you choose to pursue this field?

I just followed my heart.

Who was your inspiration or role model that guided you to this field?

When I first decided to study physics I felt like I had no role models who closely resembled me. Being the only black person amongst the students and the faculty of my undergraduate physics program didn’t help either. I always felt like an imposter to some extent and even more so during the first few years of my program. Somewhere along the line, I had a mental shift where I realized that I belonged. I understood that my role as a physicist went beyond my own experience. I felt like I had to be the role model I never had for the generations of black female physicists to come.

Did you always have the desire to work in this field? If not, what was your intended field? Why did you change careers?

Oh yes! When I first started studying physics I knew! In fact, when I was in the fourth grade, I was asked to write about my favorite subject for a yearbook article. I wrote, “I just love math. I like it because I am good at it. I make some silly mistakes sometimes but luckily I always check. When we are doing math I always feel happy.” This love for math metamorphosed into an obsession with physics. However, when I would express my love for physics to those around me they would always make me doubt myself. “Physics gets harder! You won’t finish your degree. Men are better than women at physics. You will never make it to the top!” They would say things like this to me. I just want to prove myself right.

What do you love most about your job?

I love the “ahhhaa” moment that comes with figuring out physics problems. Doing physics problems/ research makes me feel relaxed yet accomplished!

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your job or career?

Giving back through mentorship and service is the most rewarding aspect of my career

What things would you change about your job?

Nothing… yet

What has been the most difficult or disappointing aspect of your job?

Feeling like an imposter has been difficult.

How have you combated the stigma of being a “woman of color” in STEM?

I have embraced what makes me different. Being a minority in my chosen field has helped me embraced my “pink princess” and “girly” side as well as my silly, determined “wanting to beat the boys at anything” side. It’s made me strong yet soft, confident yet insecure, a leader and yet a team player.

What tips would you offer for anyone thinking about entering into your profession?

Don’t be afraid to follow your heart.

What advice would you give your younger self about your career journey as a “woman of color” working in a predominantly white, male-dominated field?

Relax! You belong!

Can you provide some words of wisdom to young ladies thinking about entering a STEM field as a career choice?

Don’t give up! We need women partaking in the conversation that is science. You are not an imposter!

What is your favorite Quote? How do you apply this to your life?

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” I do just that. I do what excites me and it positively influences my mental and physical well-being.

What are your future goals related to your career?

I’d like to get a Ph.D. in physics/ engineering. I’d also love to start a mentorship program for minorities in physics/ stem.

What are some interesting facts about yourself that you would like to share?

I am in my final semester of my senior year. I was recently accepted into Columbia University’s engineering program however, the given the current state of the Zimbabwean economy (which is where I’m from), the money fell through and that’s okay. What’s mine will find me!

Contact Rutendo Jakachira for any further questions:

Email: rjakachira@drew.edu

We hope you enjoyed learning about our latest “STEMsation”, please comment about how her experiences have inspired you, how your experiences can inspire others and nominate our next “STEMsation to spotlight their amazing accomplishments.

 

 

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