Visible Spectrum is a series to spotlight talented and dedicated women employees across the Lab
December 7, 2021
Deepika Awasthi is a biologist project scientist at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) within the Biosciences area whose day-to-day responsibilities include performing bench experiments, mentoring students, and reading and writing papers, reports, and grants.
When she’s not working in Emeryville, Deepika enjoys reading fiction, history and mythology, baking and cooking for friends and family, and hiking on the weekends. She’s also currently teaching herself how to paint with watercolors and acrylics.
What inspired you to work at Berkeley Lab?
Berkeley Lab is a pioneer in biosciences and a prestigious institution given its history of research accomplishments and Nobel Prize-winning scientific talent. After I received my Ph.D., I applied for a job at the Lab because I was drawn to the idea of being able to do fundamental science with the greatest minds. Something that continues to inspire me is the fact that as much drive there is to explore the untouched or unheard of fundamental concepts, the Lab is equally dedicated to bringing science to industry through commercialization.
What does your current scientific project or research entail?
My work is focused on designing and reconstructing microbes to give them abilities they do not naturally possess, which in a way almost turns them into ‘superheroes’. Most of my projects involve designing strains with the goal to produce more sustainable and eco-friendly biochemicals and fuels that can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
What have you been most proud of in your work?
Personally, I am proud to be the first woman in my family to get a Ph.D. in science and to do it abroad no less. Work-wise, I was proud to be able to pivot from focusing on biofuels research to joining a project to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, which is one of the biggest challenges today.
Another gratifying aspect of my work is being able to mentor students. While some have moved into industry roles, I’ve kept in touch with a number of them and it warms my heart to hear that I’ve given them the confidence they needed to succeed.
We all want to make a difference in this world and I’m thankful I’m able to say I really am helping to solve some of the biggest science problems today.
Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter and/or succeed in your field of work?
While there are educational courses you need in order to be foundationally knowledgeable, it’s also important to keep an open mind and be curious. As a scientist, I think it’s important to feel confident about your knowledge today, but recognize that new technology and findings are happening every day. So that means you have to keep learning and be open to adapt to it.
How can our community engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
To encourage and empower women, it is important to showcase those who are accomplished in their fields and be an ally. Empowerment is a two-way street and by engaging everyone of all genders and role-modeling upstander behavior, we can continue to have a more expansive and inclusive community and collaboration.
Personally, I’ve learned more about diversity and inclusion being at the Lab. The cutting-edge equipment available allows me to think beyond the day-to-day nuisances and mechanics - the spirit of team science means I can (and do) collaborate and ask others who have different knowledge and expertise to help move research forward. Team science isn’t just a written value, it is truly lived at the Lab and I feel welcomed and included for my expertise and skills.