PhD student Nikita Hari reflects on her journey to Churchill College and shares her vision to uplift society through education and inspire other women, particularly from developing countries, to pursue a career in STEM subjects.
Nikita joined Churchill College in 2013 to study Electrical Engineering. Her research focuses on making systems called ‘Power Electronic Converters’ with novel devices called ‘GaN’, which can efficiently convert and conserve power. ‘Gallium Nitride’ devices (2014 Nobel prize) have the potential to jump-start the next generation of smaller, faster, lighter, cheaper and more efficient power converters — helping to create a more sustainable energy future by meeting the world’s ever increasing energy demands along with energy savings.
Originally from Pazhankavu in Vadakara, India, Nikita graduated with a Masters of Technology from SRM University in Chennai in first place, winning a University gold medal. Going on to work as a lecturer and electronics and instrumentation engineer at the National Institute of Technology, Kozhikode, Nikita aspired to expand her academic career by studying abroad. Having received offers from Oxford, Harvard and MIT, Nikita chose to take up an offer from Cambridge to work with world-leading researchers in her field.
Inspired by Dr Kalpana Chawla — the first Indian woman to make it to space, Nikita was determined to break from many of the traditional expectations placed on Indian woman and follow her passion for electrical engineering.
“I wanted to be a scientist …an independent woman who wanted to explore this beautiful world.
The intrigue, fascination and excitement to fathom the unexplained ‘electric shock’ I received as a kid motivated me to take up electrical engineering as my specialisation; starting off with an undergraduate degree, then moving on to do a Masters and now pursuing a PhD in the same area.
I’m excited about my work as it has the potential to influence the world and our way of life, as electric power is ubiquitous.”
Nikita hopes to make a positive contribution to society through technology and education, not only with her research but by inspiring others to follow a career in science. Her vision is to educate, inspire and help socially disadvantaged children around the globe, especially young girls to take up scientific studies and research.
“Through my work I want to tell the world that ‘electric power knows no gender… science knows no gender’!”
Nikita was the first Chairperson of the EPSRC Centre for Power Electronics Post Graduate Forum and currently serves as the Secretary of IEEE-Cambridge. She is the Conference Director of Beyond Profit Society and a member of the CamAwise Steering Committee. She enjoys giving talks at the Cambridge Science Festival, GSA Girl conference and STEM events to increase visibility of women in STEM fields and to inspire and motivate girls to pursue engineering and research. Nikita also finds time to consult for an online tutoring initiative for Syrian kids and tutors first year Engineering undergraduates at Churchill and Trinity Hall.
“I realise I have come a long way…from a little girl who had sleepless nights because she liked to dream with eyes wide open, to someone who is now, working hard to live her dreams and aspirations about making a positive contribution to this world through education. Cambridge has been in many ways an incredible experience!”
When asked what advice she would give to aspiring female scientists and engineers, Nikita believes self-belief and determination are key:
“Your destiny is your decision! Do not allow societal stereotypes to stop you from pursuing your passion. Let nothing stop you from doing what you love most. Let the wings of your dreams fly high!”