Dr. Arti Agrawal is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Data and Electrical Engineering at University of Technology, Sydney, and is the Director of Inclusion, Diversity, and Involvement at Anthony Nolan.
How did you first get interested in science?
My first memory of science is probably watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos series on the television—I was absolutely fascinated by the episodes and by space. And my earliest memories of wanting to do anything were to be a scientist, by which I meant an astronaut. I was too young to know the difference.
What experiences led you to your current career path?
My current career path is a mixture of doing science, as well as social justice. I've spoken about my love for science in the previous question. In the university where I studied, astronomy was not a major that was offered, so I went into optics.
I carried on with optics and that became my professional life, but when I started doing my postdoc I began noticing the lack of diversity and the lack of inclusion for people who were different. I didn't think that was right, and I started doing small-scale volunteering around these issues.
That work in volunteering just grew over the years and first culminated in my becoming more involved with the professional bodies in optics around diversity efforts, then in my role at University of Technology, Sydney, as Director of Women in Engineering & IT, and now finally as Director of Diversity at Anthony Nolan.
What is your current research on?
My current research is exploring coupling between surface plasmons in graphene and surface phonon polaritons in silicon carbide nanowires. I enjoy doing this because the coupling mechanism and the behavior that we saw from the nanowires was not immediately obvious, and we had to build a model from scratch to understand it. I enjoy trying to understand why things are the way they are to satisfy my curiosity.
What do you do in your role as Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Anthony Nolan?
In this role, I set the strategy for Anthony Nolan around various aspects of diversity, inclusion, and involvement. This covers all our stakeholders: our patients, our stem cell-donors, our staff, our volunteers, and our supporters.
The key thing is to see that we treat people in an equitable and inclusive manner and ensure that our work improves and saves the lives of people with blood cancer and blood disorders. So I'm concerned with our policies, our strategies around gender, sexual orientation, race, disability, neurodiversity, and so much more. I then have to think of ways to operationalize the strategy.
A lot of my work is in collaboration with my colleagues from human resources, register development (who encourage people to become donors), our scientists, etc. I enjoy doing this work because it is in line with my values and it makes a difference to the lives of so many people. I enjoy the intellectual challenge of creating strategy which includes evaluation of the measures we take to improve diversity and inclusion.
Why was it important to you to contribute your story to the 500 Queer Scientists project?
The work that 500 Queer Scientists does is so very important. We need role models for young people, and for others who identify as queer or who are questioning their identity. Being able to see someone they respect who shares some aspect of their identity can make a lot of difference in a person's life.
There are very few visible, out, South Asian, gay scientists, and very few out women. The lack of visibility of queer, Asian scientists is damaging and creates a sense of isolation. I grew up with that sense of isolation and internalized homophobia. I want to do what I can to make it easier for the current generations and those to come.
There has been progress in LGBT rights in many countries, and that is extremely encouraging. However, we still need to remember that there are places where the progress has been very slow or non-existent. We must not forget the people living in those countries and areas. That's why 500 Queer Scientists is an important project.
The other key thing to remember is that the LGBT community is not homogeneous. Many of us have an intersectional identity, and it's important that the diversity within our community is visible and celebrated.