By: Esther Liu, Contributor
The Silhouette: What is a moment that made you a stronger person?
Sowmithree Ragothaman: After I finished my first year [of health sciences at McMaster University], I was looking to apply to jobs so that I could get my first work experience and make some money during the summer so I wouldn’t have to be so reliant on my parents. But, I feel like I was really unaccustomed [to] what would be expected of me. I had no clue how to write a resume or a cover letter
I would scroll through millions of jobs on Indeed and all those platforms to try and find something in line with what I was hoping to do in the future, but also something that I would be actually qualified for. Honestly, it was really frustrating and kind of disappointing because I didn’t get any responses for months and months on end. I think I just kept trying because I was too proud to admit to myself that maybe I should give up and try to do something else.
I felt like it was the first time where I felt I had been challenged like that . . . I was really upset and I feel like my emotions were all over the place during that summer where I just didn’t know what to do with myself. So the next year, I worked on becoming much more involved in the community and I tried my best to go for positions to build up my level of expertise on all the different skills that I wanted to work on instead of being passive about [them] all.
It worked out: I got a job the next summer! I felt a lot more prepared and it was a job that I genuinely enjoyed doing. But I think having that failure in the first summer was what inspired me to start building on my foundations and find other ways to succeed than just the ways I expected.
What is something you’re really passionate about and want to act on?
I’m really interested in making improvements to the education system and to make it more accommodating for students with different learning styles. For a long time, I volunteered with students who were in an alternative learning program. The students I worked with were essentially ones that had difficulty coping with the normal school environment so they were using this alternative pathway to achieve a high school degree.
I really enjoyed interacting with them and I think that the program was beneficial for them overall, but I often felt frustrated by the kind of resources we were given. A lot of it was shifting towards being more tech-based [learning], but there were a lot of [technical] issues . . . So I felt it was really difficult to teach and include technology when the technology didn’t even work . . . So looking forward, I really do want to become involved in education at whatever level I can and hopefully advocate for resources that are more accommodating and more suited to every learner.
When you were younger, what did you think you would grow up to be? Has this changed? If so, why?
When I was younger, our school used to have these assemblies. Sometimes students would get a chance to introduce themselves and talk about what they wanted to be when they grew up. I was really influenced by that – anytime anyone said anything, I would go “oh, I want to be that!” So, I feel like my choices would change weekly, cycling from teacher to doctor to lawyer to astronaut.
Then, as I grew a little bit older, I think my main aspiration was always to be an architect. I grew up in Dubai. There are so many different types of buildings and I used to marvel at those. It was really difficult for me to even wrap my head around the fact that it started from a design on a piece of paper and then you see it realized in real life. I also loved drawing, painting and creating with my hands, so I thought that architecture might be a good way to develop and invest in those talents in an actual career.
I also think that at a young age I was really interested in environmental sustainability. So I wanted to become an architect but also encourage sustainable design and architecture through my own design. I stuck to that all throughout high school as well.
The first time that my options changed and that I felt a little less sure about architecture was when I was applying to university programs. Architecture was a no-brainer option — I applied to architecture schools and urban planning schools but I had some doubts at the back of my mind. I think the reason for that was that I always really enjoyed science, the human sciences especially, but I had never really thought about going into anything that was even relevant to healthcare or human services.
But when I was in Grade 12, I had a really really wonderful biology teacher. She saw my interest and she made sure to really nurture it. I realized that architecture wasn’t the only option I had and that, on the other hand, going into something healthcare-related worked better in my interests in terms of serving the community and biological sciences. I’ve also come to realize through that process is that a career option doesn’t necessarily have to be something you stick to throughout your whole life and that there’s always room for you to change and develop. So I got to be a little less afraid of not getting it right on the first try.