By Tanvi Gahlot, ISW Youth Reporter
In this interview I spoke with Professor Jagan Srinivasan, a professor at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) where he teaches students Biology and Neuroscience. In our conversation he described the basics of teaching and the importance of giving back to the community.
Tanvi Gahlot: What would you look for in a high school or college student if you were to hire them to work in your lab in the summer?
Prof. Jagan Srinivasan: I would look for interest and motivation. Expertise is not required for my lab.
Tanvi Gahlot: Do you need a PhD to work in your lab after graduation or are there opportunities for students with other degrees?
Prof. Jagan Srinivasan: No, people of all types and ages are welcome in my lab. Ranging from a retired person to a young middle schooler or even a high schooler. As I said earlier there are no qualifications, however, your interest to find something new is key. You need to have a “kid in a candy store” mentality, your curiosity must drive you. It basically comes down to being interested in finding out and seeing how science works.
Tanvi Gahlot: What advice would you give to high schoolers who are interested in having a future career in teaching, like you?
Prof. Jagan Srinivasan: My one piece of advice is don’t think of life as a straight path. Everyone learns at some point or another that it’s never a straight path, you need to go through all the zig-zags and curves. As long as you're able to maintain honesty in your profession, a little bit of enthusiasm, the ability to bounce back, and don’t be demotivated by hurdles. I believe that the field of teaching is one of the more noble professions because you are influencing future minds. For instance, as doctors and engineers discover new things, teachers put in those seeds of curiosity which lead to these discoveries. So as a teacher we are responsible for cultivating these seeds and creating curiosity in young minds. For example, Steve Jobs, one of the most famous figures in the STEM field had an interesting background when it came to college. He went to a community college and knew he wanted to make computers, but he wasn’t interested in any of the classes about computers or the science behind computers. So he decided to wander around and ended up attending an art class about fonts, this class allowed him to develop some of the best fonts for Apple.
Tanvi Gahlot: What hobbies do you have that allow you to get your mind off work?
Prof. Jagan Srinivasan: Outside of work I love doing a lot of things such as running, cooking, and doing puzzles. I especially enjoy solving 1,000 piece puzzles with my family as a family activity.
Tanvi Gahlot: What led you to pick your particular topic that you teach?
Prof. Jagan Srinivasan: Although this might strike some people as odd, but when I pick a subject to teach I don’t look for something I know a lot about. This makes me a student of the subject as well, which is beneficial for me since I myself am curious about the topic, so I am motivated to learn and teach about the topic to others.
Tanvi Gahlot: You’ve been volunteering at ISW and also been the general secretary and currently the vice president, what are your thoughts on the importance of giving back to the community?
Prof. Jagan Srinivasan: I personally don’t join ISW to be the vice president or secretary, because that is just a title; I mostly volunteer because it completes me. For example, if we look back at ancient times it can be found that our body was not created to do one major activity, it was created to do 2 major activities. One of them is called “क्रिया (kriya)”, this would include things like providing for our family, working, earning money, basically doing things for our benefit. However, the other activity is called “कर्मा (karma)”, this would include things like volunteering and giving back to the community, basically doing things selflessly and not expecting something for the work you’ve done.