Computer Science + Biology — and powerful insights from a Women's & Gender Studies minor
MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
May 21, 2021
When graduating senior Natasha Joglekar ’21 faced some serious medical issues in the fall of 2018, she found comfort in one particular class that term: WGS.229 / Race, Culture, and Gender in the US and Beyond: A Psychological Perspective. “I think that class was sometimes the only time I talked to people all week,” she recalls.
Following a medical leave, Joglekar was able to return to MIT full-time in the fall of 2020, and soon took another class in Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS): WGS.250 HIV/AIDS in American Culture. “That’s the class that made me want to be a WGS minor,” she says. “It was nice to get a broader perspective on illness, one that was not rooted in medicine, treatment, and doctors.”
Insight into societal outcomes
A Computer Science + Biology major (Course 6-7), Joglekar found that her WGS coursework provided her with meaningful insight into the human factors that drive so many societal outcomes. “WGS studies helped give me a framework for understanding the world,” she says, “in the same way that my Physics and Math classes did.” She adds that WGS classes helped her understand myths about various minority groups, as well as the ways children are socialized to believe them.
Joglekar, who was named a Burchard Scholar in 2019 for excellence in her humanistic WGS classes, says she always knew she wanted to study the humanities, as well as the STEM fields, in college. But she didn’t choose MIT only because the Institute pairs extraordinary technical and scientific education with a world-class School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. She was also impressed by the gender parity she saw on a visit to campus.
Support for women in tech
While at high school in a Boston suburb, her techie classes were predominantly male; at MIT, she saw both men and women pursuing science, technology, and math. “You come here and see, omigod, here are all these girls doing all these cool things,” she says. “I knew I would go into a technical field, and I wanted to go to a place with a lot of women in tech and a support system for women in tech.”
One of the supportive networks Joglekar found at the Institute was the lab of Tyler Jacks, a leader in the field of cancer genetics, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology, and Director of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Working through MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Joglekar conducted cancer research in the Jacks lab, investigating the combination therapy potential of a small molecule inhibitor on tumor heterogeneity.
“The lab was a wonderful place to learn,” she says. “They were the community I needed.”
Detail, “The Ties That Bind,” artwork by Ekua Holmes; emblem for MIT Women’s & Gender Studies
Joglekar plans to work as a research assistant in a hospital, and says she expects her experience in Women and Gender Studies will help her understand patients better — and perhaps even address some of the social determinants of health.
Friendship and community
Community is of central important to Joglekar, whose family always emphasized the importance of friendship. That’s why she has spent much of her extracurricular time at MIT supporting community-building efforts. She is on the Executive Council of the Biology Undergraduate Student Association, which runs departmental study breaks and faculty dinners. She also serves on the Undergraduate Student Advisory Group for the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), which works to improve systemic issues, such as departmental communications.
The latter experience in particular gave Joglekar the chance to work directly with leaders in the EECS department. “That has been one of the highlights of my undergraduate experience,” she notes. “They’re all so good at listening and taking feedback, and they have influenced how I want to be one day if ever I’m in a leadership position.”
In fact, Joglekar has served in several leadership roles already. In addition to her committee work, she serves as editor in chief of the MIT Undergraduate Research Journal, the Institute’s only peer-reviewed scientific journal serving the undergraduate population. And, like a good leader she is candid about her journey. “I don’t want people to think, ‘look at this person who’s flying through life.’ Far from it. I struggled at different times for different reasons,” she says. “But I’d still do it all over again!”
Joglekar is now planning to work as a research assistant in a hospital, and expects her experience in WGS will help her understand patients better — and perhaps even address some of the social determinants of health. “WGS gives you the tools to understand so many things, including underlying biases,” she says. “I think everybody should take a WGS class for this reason. it’s relevant regardless of what you do.”