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Ridhi Tariyal

Have you ever wondered what a job in STEM might look like? STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. Choosing a career in STEM can be really exciting, but it can also be tough, especially as a woman in a male-dominated field. Just ask Ridhi Tariyal.

Ridhi is an engineer who wants to help other women and girls stay healthy. She patented a "smart tampon" that works like a computer that will potentially detect diseases! Read our interview with Ridhi to learn about why she chose to be an engineer, and what it’s like being a woman in STEM.

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What was your favorite subject in high school? How did you first become interested in science and technology?

Growing up, I was drawn to poetry, literature, and history. I enjoyed my science classes, but I couldn't find a scientific question that kept me up at night. On the other hand, I often stayed up past 2 a.m. reading novels. I got so involved in the characters that I wanted to know everything about them.

My passion for literature led to my excitement about science. In the 9th grade, I read a play by Tom Stoppard. The main character in the play, Thomasina, is a mathematician who talks about several scientific concepts. In order to understand the heart and mind of Thomasina, it was important to me to understand the science that mattered to her so much. So, I went to the library and I checked out books to help me understand the scientific ideas she discussed.

If you are like me, you may have a million questions about how the world works. You also may have lots of ideas about how you'd like to improve the world. STEM provides the tools to think about these questions and begin to answer them.

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You're an engineer. Will you tell us a little about what you do?

I'm an engineer who also studied business. I get to use both types of skills in my company, NextGen Jane, which I co-founded.

As an engineer, I'm in charge of developing our product. This is a "smart" tampon that works like a computer to get information from a woman's body. It may help detect diseases and track a woman's health throughout her monthly menstrual cycle. My job is to try to understand our customers so we can meet their needs. I also try to make sure that our product doesn't break, no matter how a customer handles it.

As a scientist, I think up the questions we want to answer to help us detect diseases. I then come up with experiments to test our ideas. For example, we have an idea about how to detect a disease called endometriosis (say: en-doh-mee-tree-OH-suhs). In this condition, the lining that is usually in your uterus (womb) grows in other places in your body. Now, a woman needs surgery to find out if she has endometriosis. Our plan is that our tampon will collect some of the lining that a woman sheds during her period. We hope that this will allow us to detect the disease without having to do surgery.

As a business professional, I try to figure out how our product could help women. It's important for me to help develop ways to deliver answers that are easy to understand and helpful.

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What's it like being a woman in a male-dominated field?

Honestly? It can be tough, but it's getting better. Society is trying to create more opportunities for women and to create environments where we can flourish. I've already seen the impact of these efforts in my own lifetime.

The men in STEM outnumber the women, so at times you may feel self-conscious or out of place at school or work. For me, these situations fueled my desire to work harder and longer. That way I could prove people wrong who had negative opinions about women being in this field. It seems unfair, but don't let it keep you down. Having something to prove can help you exceed your own expectations. It's a way to make the best of a bit of a difficult situation, and it can have surprisingly powerful outcomes.

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What special perspective do you think women bring to science?

As a woman, you bring a special understanding of your body. You know how it functions, how it fails, and how it responds in different scenarios. For example, women experience heart disease differently than men, and we are affected differently by medications. Also, we have biological functions and abilities that men do not.

Women should participate in the broader scientific community as scientists, doctors, policy makers, and more. That way we can begin to bring our unique issues to light. We also can make sure our special insights drive an understanding of health and disease.

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What advice would you give to girls interested in STEM?

If you're interested in STEM, do your homework and find out all the ways that you can use science and technology. When I was younger, I thought that loving science meant working in a lab. I'm a very social person, and I felt like spending long hours alone might not be best for me. Later, I realized there were lots of ways I could use my STEM education. I could help shape public policy, develop ways to explain complicated ideas, help develop products, or run my own company!

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Why do you think girls should consider careers in STEM?

Many STEM fields will shape what the future looks like in the next century. Technology is an important tool for driving science, social justice, and many areas in between. Girls and women need to be vocal, active participants in determining what our future will look like. That means becoming an expert about the tools that shape our futures.

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Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Raise your hand, and don't be afraid to be wrong or look "stupid." Put yourself out there and, through it all, be willing to learn and receive feedback with a positive attitude.

Does the STEM field sound interesting to you? Learn more about careers in science, technology, and math.

Editorial note: Full interview can be found at NextGen Jane's Medium.

Content last reviewed August 22, 2016
Page last updated August 22, 2016

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.