Jugnu Jain’s letter to her 14-year-old self

Dr. Jugnu Jain recently returned to her native India and co-founded Saarum Sciences, based in Hyderabad. Prior to that she was a research fellow at Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, MA, working as a multidisciplinary disease expert on multiple sclerosis.



Dear Jugnu,

As you near 15 and contemplate what excites you, exploring the world tops your list. You dream of becoming an air hostess because they fly around the world and visit exotic places that beckon you. You do not know of women pilots yet so the possibility of flying the plane does not cross your mind. You know studies are a necessary part of your life but there are SO MANY other things you want to do! What to choose and how to choose it seems daunting. You do well in science but neither of the two common career options — engineering and medicine, excite you. You have two high-achiever sisters ahead of you. Some of what you like and dislike is perhaps influenced by trying to establish your own identity?

Don’t worry so much about choosing a career just yet. At each step the next step shall become clearer to you. You will find one area or subject that you like more than others – go for it!

“Trust your instincts. When you like something, you naturally do better at it.”

Physics or biology or languages…learn each to the fullest before making up your mind. Your liking of a subject is intertwined with the teacher. Your chemistry teacher is not inspiring. You blame him for your lack of interest and avoid it. I suggest you work at it on your own because, as you grow up, you will wish you had absorbed more of it.

Continue doing activities you love even if you are not competitive in each of them. Hobbies help you to enjoy the fullness of life and have a different perspective from pure academics. Many hobbies like drama, badminton, swimming, reading and writing, will stand you in good stead later in life because they help you relax during times of stress. Also, you will make a diverse set of friends spanning different cultures and age-groups through them, whom you will cherish throughout your life.

Coming back to travel which you so want to do, writing an essay on a ‘travelling car’ (tho’ you have never heard of an RV), you will get to see the world through your chosen path. Focus on being the best you can be in whatever you choose and the rest shall follow. While it seems to you right now that scientists toil away behind closed doors and never have fun, a career in science will take you to the most beautiful and memorable places, and to meet interesting, curious, passionate people across the world. So don’t worry about having to give up travelling by choosing a career in science – in fact, it will pave the path for realizing many dreams.

“And this habit of yours of asking too many questions – this will actually be a good thing in science!”

Get comfortable in your skin. I know it’s not easy with all the changes you are going through. Have faith in yourself and own your choices. You will be the only woman in a class of 20 with less-than helpful classmates. You will be in a foreign country, learning their ways, trying to decide how much to change while staying true to your roots. You will be the only person of colour in some meetings. Experiments will fail more often than work, leaving you wondering what made you come so far away from home. Relying on scholarships, you will not even have much money to call or go home when you are homesick. At times like this, it will be very important to have the courage of your convictions to keep going. And to believe in yourself. To have friends that support you. And pursue hobbies that make you happy.

Don’t stop asking questions but remember to ask them constructively so that you engage with your teachers and seniors in a problem-solving mode. Create opportunities. Don’t accept the status quo – in order for you to realize your potential, you must go where other girls haven’t. Observe what you do naturally well and build upon those core strengths.

Remember those who have helped you and try to stay in touch with them. Right now letters are the only means of communication. They take 2 weeks to get across continents. Can you imagine a time when phone calls will be cheap and a form of letter that is instantaneous will be available? Maybe even see people on a phone? These technologies will enable you to rediscover people you have enjoyed knowing at various stages of your life – that shall be such a joy. So don’t be sad about moving every few years. The adaptability and resilience that come with change will be your strength.

You are going to have lots of fun and memorable times as you explore yourself and the world around you. It is limitless. As are you!

So keep smiling and working hard. You have a treat in store, girl; you will love going to work!


P.S. Remember – A stranger’s just a friend whom you do not know… 🙂


Dr. Jugnu Jain recently returned to her native India to co-found Saarum Sciences, based in Hyderabad. Prior to that she worked for 15+ years in the United States as a research fellow at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. She is a versatile scientist who has worked on Multiple Sclerosis and Inflammation, Molecular Genetics and Plant Biology. She is a named inventor on 3 patents and has published more than 20 peer-reviewed papers in leading scientific journals. Dr. Jain has been an active member of the community, volunteering her time and efforts to mentor entrepreneurs, scientists and girls.

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