Payel Chatterjee is a PhD student at the Norwegian university of Science and Technology (NTNU).
As a child when asked about her ambitions, Payel always replied with, “I want to become a scientist”. The idea of wearing a lab coat and working in the lab has always been very fascinating to Payel. At school, Payel mentions that she only wanted to study science and nothing else. Even though science has always been her favourite subject, there was a moment when she was in grade 8 when Payel ended up scoring 44 out of 100 in science. This shook both Payel and her teacher, as they believed that Payel could maybe get that score in one of her other subjects, but never science! The teacher checked again, and indeed there was a mistake and Payel had actually scored 88. Payel’s teacher’s faith in her made her believe in herself and her competency. Payel considers herself to be one of the lucky ones, as she has always had good mentors to look up to. But her main inspiration remains her mother. Payel’s mother raised her as a single mother, even though she faced many harsh situations she never let those moments impact Payel.
Payel holds a MSc degree in Physics from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT Delhi) in 2016 and started working as a research fellow at Defence Metallurgical Research laboratory (DMRL), Hyderabad. In 2018, Payel decided to pursue a PhD and she started her research at the Norwegian university of Science and Technology (NTNU). At the moment, Payel is a 3rd year PhD student. Her research in within the field of experimental condensed matter physics. Her research focuses on the study of low dimensional spin textures, such as skyrmions, in magnetic thin films grown by Molecular Beam Epitaxy, for Spintronic application. As an experimental physicist, Payel spends most of her time in the lab. They have an ultra-high vacuum chamber for growing magnetic thin films. It is called Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE), and it requires a lot of maintenance. Sometimes they spend weeks on fixing broken equipment. A lot of different instruments are attached to the chamber, so it also involves heavy lifting. They usually work as a team and always need a good understanding and coordination between the group members to maintain the MBE lab. On the side, Payel also runs her blog called “The Paranoid Electron”, which you can check out here: https://www.facebook.com/science.stories.from.the.lab
STEM to Payel means, “knowledge, liberation and empowerment.” Payel believes that STEM gave her the wings to fly. In fact, if there is an achievement at which she looks back at and thinks “I’d love to go back in time and tell younger me that this was possible”, then it is the fact that she became the first person in her family to receive a post-grad degree in STEM. Payel is also the first one in her family to leave her home country to pursue higher studies abroad. While in school, all of these felt like a fantasy to her. Payel would now like to give a message to her younger self that all her fantasies and dreams hold the power to become a reality, and they will but she only needs to believe in herself and work hard.
To make life easier for women in STEM, Payel would like to see the following changes:
1. As an experimental physicist who needs to wear PPE on an everyday basis, sometimes it's hard to find the correct size. So, all the labs should consider having PPEs of different sizes.
2. Once I worked in a lab where I had to go to another building to use the toilet. This makes life even harder! All the women in STEM should have easy access to clean toilets at their workplace.
3. Academia as a whole should become more gender-neutral and inclusive. People should try to understand each other's socio-economic background and become more empathetic towards each other.
Furthermore, to encourage girls to join STEM fields Payel believes that the women working in STEM should get more involved in public outreach activities. While growing up, Payel did not have any female role model who worked within STEM. Payel had to therefore pave her own path which made her journey even harder. Payel suggests a mentorship program specially designed for helping young girls to pursue a career in STEM can help to achieve gender equality in STEM.
Lastly, here are Payel’s closing words of encouragement for young girls who want to join a STEM field:
"We all have a Marie Curie inside. You just need to identify your strengths and keep chasing your dreams. Also be ready to accept disappointments, rejections and few personal sacrifices.”
You can contact Payel Chatterjee on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chatterjee-payel/
Or through her blog: https://www.facebook.com/science.stories.from.the.lab
I thank Payel Chatterjee for taking part in this project and answering all the questions in a very informative manner. I hope, your experience and STEM story will inspire a young girl to join a STEM field and excel just like you have.