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Physicist and Capco product manager, Rads Patel, on empowering women in science

Rads Patel: Product Manager at Capco

Radhika Patel (aka Rads) grew up in London, pursued all of her education at University College London, and now works in the FinTech industry in London — a true “Londoner through and through,” which can be a rare find in such an international hub! Save for her time as postdoc at Durham University, London has been a constant in Rads’ life; that, and a deep love for physics.

A Young Girl in Search of Big Things

Rads has been fascinated by the mysteries of the universe since she was a kid. In physics she saw the promise of objective truth. The “subjectivity of the humanities gave me a lot of panic,” Rads shares, “because you never know if you’re right or wrong.” Unique among the sciences was always physics; though her family had once expressed their desire for her to enter medical science, physics brought her a “joy” and a “fire” that medicine never did. Training as a physicist offered her the opportunity to seek answers to the science’s grandest questions and pursue her own part of a unified model of how the entire universe exists as we know it.

An education in physics presented its fair share of challenges. There is a high barrier to entry — or as Rads prefers to call it, a “high activation energy” — simply by virtue of the fact that it’s not easy, to put it bluntly. This is exacerbated by a lack of diverse representation among notable working physicists both historically and presently; physics continues to be a male-dominated scientific field. Rads did not necessarily notice this when she was young, as she went to an all-girls school. Further into her education, however, she felt the effects of this lack of representation just as many women in science experience. Rads notes that spending so much of your time with colleagues who have not shared or cannot empathize with your lived experience creates a “compounding effect” that makes you feel increasingly isolated. It does not help that the higher up the academic ladder you climb, the fewer female physicists you find, and Rads does not think this has changed much in the last ten years or so.

Rads once spoke up about this gender disparity to a supervisor, and was told that while addressing this unequal representation was a worthy cause, he just did not see that many young girls interested in physics. Having been interested in physics herself from such a young age, Rads believes it is important for women in science to put themselves out there to show these young girls that they can be scientists, too. She emphasizes the importance of reaching out to children. “That is when the seed is sort of planted… that [there isn’t] a barrier for you to be part of this [field],” just as it was for her when she was a kid.

Physicist in FinTech

In a jump from one male-dominated field to another, Rads now works as a consultant in the FinTech — or financial technology — industry. In consulting she finds the satisfaction of being able to help others solve their problems, and enjoys meeting and getting to know new people on a regular basis. She wasn’t certain that consulting would be her calling as she finished her PhD, but saw an opportunity to work in a field that bridged many industries and could give her a sense of what was going on in the world to inform her next career step if need be. She also felt that she wouldn’t necessarily get to meet many different people if she stayed in academic physics, as academia can be isolating at times.

You can’t hit the ground running if you’re learning [the technical skills] from scratch.

Rads Patel

It may seem an unintuitive transition to go from physics to FinTech consulting, but as is so often the case when a scientist leaves academia, Rads finds that her scientific training gives her an edge. She informs us that consulting firms like the one she works at will sometimes have separate hiring streams specifically for PhDs, since consulting firms know that with that doctoral training often comes experience in building models and technical data analysis. Such experience is hugely beneficial –“you can’t hit the ground running if you’re learning that from scratch,” Rads explains.

Asked if she had advice for current graduate students in science, Rads had this to share: “don’t be afraid to ask for help.” She feels that she did not follow this advice often enough when training to get her PhD, and in retrospect it was an unnecessary burden during an already difficult experience. That difficult experience is worth it, though. Rads says that her PhD experience gave her the “priceless” gift of self-confidence. The resilience that it takes to successfully navigate graduate school is something that stays with her in the FinTech industry and will help any scientist tackle the challenges of whatever job they ultimately pursue.

Rads’ Favorite Books

Once a Scientist is made possible by support from our listeners! Each week, we ask our interviewee to tell us about their favorite books. If any of these reads catch your eye, you can support the show by using the links below to buy a copy for yourself!

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Notes for this episode were written by Caroline Sferrazza.

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