Building a Career in STEM One Experience at a Time

By Stephanie Stevens

Name: Richa Upadhyay
Age: 17
High School: La Costa Canyon High School

Understanding how people’s minds work – both psychologically and biologically – is a passion of Richa Upadhyay. And while most incoming college freshman would choose one path or the other, Richa wants to pursue both avenues of scientific exploration by majoring in cognitive science and bioengineering.

In the summer of 2018, Richa took part in the Reproductive Oncofertility Summer Academy (ROSA) program that takes place at UC San Diego and is administered by UC San Diego Extension. ROSA started in 2008 as the National Institutes of Health grant funded Oncofertility Saturday Academy and has evolved into a hands-on educational program designed to inspire junior and senior high school girls to become the next generation of scientists and physicians.

Richa credits the program with opening doors for her, noting that it gave her a chance to meet and make connections with professionals from all over the world. And, most importantly, that it played an important part in enriching the substance of her college applications and increasing the chances of her being accepted to multiple universities.
How have you been able to use the work you completed at ROSA?
Attendees had the opportunity to create a meta-analysis research poster on any topic related to oncofertility and give a presentation to the judges. The judges then awarded four ROSA participants with the opportunity to present their research at the annual conference based on their research, their topic, and overall presentation. I was so excited when I realized that I would be able to share my ideas at Northwestern University and meet the founders of this emerging discipline of science. It was my hard work, time, and passion that I invested in my meta-analysis that gave me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! 
How did attending the conference change your perspective on college? Did it give you any insights you can share?
Attending ROSA confirmed my passion for science and made me realize that I love research and trying to find better options for treatments and cures. It also exposed me to the branch of medicine known as reproductive health and oncofertility, subjects that aren’t usually taught in school. And the Oncofertility Conference was an amazing experience! It was a trip of firsts: it was my first time traveling on my own, presenting my research, and attending a conference like this. 
And I saw the collaboration of a variety of professions that make up the oncofertility consortium. It opened my mind to the limitless possibilities to become involved and different fields I could pursue. ROSA also served as one of my inspirations to want to participate in undergraduate research while in college to share my ideas and interests and engage with faculty.
What colleges have you been accepted to and where do you plan to attend?
I have been accepted to Stanford University and San Diego State University. I plan to attend Stanford in Fall 2020.
What will your major be?
As of now, I am interested in bioengineering and cognitive science because I love the fusion of business, psychology, biology and technology. I am also hoping to minor in business or public health.
How did you select the major that you chose and why?
In high school, I really enjoyed taking AP Biology, AP Psychology, and Anatomy and Physiology. And ever since I was young, I have been drawn to science. I decided on cognitive science and bioengineering because I am considering a career in biotech or medicine, and I wanted to choose a major that I am interested in, and that will keep my options open.
What career do you hope to pursue when you graduate college?
Currently, I am interested in pursuing a career in healthcare, biotechnology or biomedicine, and I hope to eventually practice in a hospital as a specialist or surgeon, conduct research, or work in a biotech company. Specifically, I am interested in endocrinology and cognitive science, where I can spend time advancing the landscape for infertility and discovering new treatments or incorporating artificial intelligence with human behavior. Although both fields will allow me to combine research, practice, and business. However, healthcare is a vast field that is ever-changing, therefore I’ll be able to narrow down my career path after being exposed to different professions. I know medicine will continue to inspire me. Even though I know I have many years of education—and exams, sleepless nights, and hard work—in front of me, I could not be more excited about my future in healthcare.
Would you recommend the pre-college programs you participated in to others?
I highly recommend participating in pre-college programs! Not only does it expose you to fields you didn’t know existed, it also simulates what college life is like. Through ROSA, I realized that cancer biology and reproductive health fascinates me, and how rewarding research is for me. It also opened the door for me for other opportunities; I got to visit Northwestern University. I met Dr. Teresa Woodruff and made connections with professionals from all over the world. Students with niche interests should definitely take advantage of pre-college programs to explore their passions further. These programs can help a student narrow down what they like and dislike, which is equally important when heading to college soon.
Do you think they played a factor in your college applications?
I think ROSA played an important factor in my college applications. It shows that I went above and beyond by spending my summer researching Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and what I learned from the experience. It also shows admission officers that I am committed to science and that I take the initiative when looking for opportunities, and how I will certainly participate in research when I am in college. 
What advice would you give to other students if they plan to make the most of their education and pursue college?
The biggest myth I heard when I was a freshman in high school was that colleges like to see students who are involved in everything: sports captains, valedictorian, perfect GPA and test scores, community service, internships, a job, etc. However, the greatest piece of advice is that rather than spreading yourself thin, choose a couple of subjects and interests that you are passionate about and invest in them. For me, that was science and culture: I am an intern at a hospital and am the president of the Young Leaders of Healthcare Club at my school. And for culture, I am an avid Bollywood dancer and volunteer as a Princess or the House of India. Similarly, I highly recommend joining clubs and making strong connections with your teachers.
And as for college, start your applications early! I can’t emphasize that enough. And lastly, don’t be afraid to take risks. Growth only comes when you’re outside of your comfort zone and sets you apart from others. Good luck to everyone!

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Posted: 2/26/2020 9:50:27 AM with 1 comments
Filed under: art, bioengineering, cognitive-science, college-prep, engineering, math, ROSA, science, steam, stem, technology

Vipashi Trivedi-Sheth
Congratulations Richa! You are a great inspiration for future generations.
4/13/2020 9:21:26 PM

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