Jassel Majevadia: life as a scientist

Jassel Majevadia talks about her work and research, her school and university education, and her hobbies.

Hi, my name’s Jassel Majevadia.  Most people call me Jazz.  I’m a PhD student here at Imperial College, London, and I’m doing a PhD in three different departments, actually.  That’s materials, mechanical engineering and physics.  The problem I work on is delayed hydride cracking, which is a mechanism by which materials in nuclear reactors can become brittle and break.  So the focus of my work is trying to improve the safety of nuclear reactors. [0:31]  My day to day work is quite varied.  I am often doing analytical work, so that’s a lot of pen and paper derivations, coding, so that’s translating those derivations into something a computer can understand, so I’m developing a model, using existing models to simulate materials.  I do a lot of reading for my thesis and I spend a lot of time writing my thesis and making plots for it.  Because I’m a theorist and I can work at my computer or with a pen and paper, I’m very mobile so I can work pretty much anywhere I want. [1:10]  I was born in East London and my parents are actually from Uganda and Kenya.  They were born to Indian parents who had immigrated over there.  I spent my years up until the age of eleven in East London, near the Stratford area, the Olympic Park, and then as I got older, at eleven years old, because my parents, my mum and dad, wanted to seek some independence away from my grandparents and extended family, we moved further east towards Essex.  And that’s where I went to primary school, again for a bit, and then secondary school.  [1:53] When I was growing up the sort of culture of Hinduism and the culture of the Indian community was actually a very big part of my life, and so we would always sort of have family events and have religious events that we always used to go to.  And what I wanted to do was I wanted to try and maybe temporarily just sort of break away from that and explore sort of different cultures, different groups of people, just meet more people outside of that sort of little bubble that I was raised in.  And that’s what led me to apply to St Andrews.  It was geographically the farthest I could go within the UK.  And, you know, what I got there was exactly what I wanted, which was just an experience of meeting lots of people, different languages, different nationalities, and, you know, I got to – I got to grow as a person as a result. [2:47] In my experience so far through my undergraduate degree at St Andrews and now my postgraduate over – over here at Imperial - I mean, I’ve been in education for nearly, like, ten years now, I haven’t in that time experienced any sort of explicit sexism or racism.  I’ve just been very, very aware of the fact that I am a minority, I’m a girl and I’m an Indian, and if anything I’ve actually received sort of the more sort of positive discriminatory sort of comments, like, you know, ‘Oh, it’ll be easy for you to get into wherever because, you know, you tick all the boxes.  You know, you’re a minority and you’re a girl and they love one of those who can also do science and do computing.’  So in – in my entire sort of time here, I’ve always been aware of the fact that I have these differences and that I am a minority and, you know, most of the time I’ve used it to my advantage, but it does – has made me concerned in the past.  You know, I have asked questions like, have I been let in based on merit or based on statistics, you know.  So I have explicitly asked those kinds of questions and have been assured that that’s not [laughs] the case.  But it’s just something that I’m still aware of.  And because I’m one of the only girls doing theoretical physics and I’m one of the only Indian girls doing theoretical physics, it’s just – it’s very easy for me to stand out.  So it’s very easy for me to feel different.  But all I’ve done with it really is just use it as a driver to make myself recognised for my ability rather than anything else, so it’s pushed me to be better. [4:35]  I also play the saxophone and, you know, so throughout my degree and secondary school I was playing in the jazz orchestra, in a jazz band.  I also was part of a band at – in the US and at St Andrews.  I also enjoy doing a lot of science communication, so that’s what has led to things like the Discovery Channel work and sort of teaching schoolchildren.  And I also really enjoy exercise, and sort of not your normal kind of exercise.  I do something called crossfit, which is sort of very varied – varied circuit training based exercises based on sort of functional fitness, so lots of squats and dead lifts and work with sort of weights.  [5:23] Because of the options that it’s enabled me to have, physics was a really good decision for me to take on.  It makes me a very employable person.  It also – it’s enabled me to grow because I’ve learnt to think for myself and I’ve learnt to think logically.  It’s a really cool degree to have.

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