ChBE alum, now Harvard postdoc, attends MIT workshop for women targeting faculty positions

Chemical and biomolecular engineering alum Aditi Chakrabarti ’17 PhD participated in the 2019 Rising Stars in Chemical Engineering program, a prestigious academic career workshop held annually by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Chakrabarti, who is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, was one of 20 candidates selected from an extremely competitive pool of top female PhD students and postdoctoral researchers who are approximately one year away from submitting applications for faculty openings. 

Over the course of the two-day program in October, participants attended presentations on researching, networking, and communicating given by MIT chemical engineering faculty and  leadership, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers. 

“It was really nice to meet other women in chemical engineering who will eventually go on to become your future colleagues,” says Chakrabarti, who hopes to become a professor after she completes her postdoctoral research. “Everybody was excited to discuss the problems they’re working on and other issues about how you can become a good professor. It was very exciting to meet people from all different backgrounds, especially women.” 

According to the National Science Foundation, women make up only 21 percent of full professors in science fields and 5 percent of full professors in engineering even though they earn about half the doctorates in science and engineering. MIT Rising Stars aims to correct this discrepancy by encouraging the best and brightest female postdoctorates to, in Chakrabarti’s words, “apply everywhere and see how it goes.” 

“[The faculty of MIT Rising Stars] clearly pointed out that women leave themselves out and don’t apply to big schools because they judge themselves as not good enough for this place. So they tried to remove that part from our mind, saying, you deserve to be here,” Chakrabarti recalls.

Manoj K. Chaudhury, Lehigh’s Franklin J. Howes Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Chakrabarti’s PhD advisor, has no doubt that his former student will accomplish this next goal. 

“Aditi is poised to be a leader in academics in the following years,” he says. “I can easily compare her with some of my finest students. She is one of the few who excels in theory, experiments, and computation.”

Yet for all of her early success—publishing fifteen papers in high-impact journals such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Physical Review X, and the Journal of Mechanics and Physics of Solids over five years at Lehigh—Chakrabarti started off her academic career uncertain of her path. 

When she first enrolled in college in India, she figured she would study economics. Within a week, she decided to change course. 

“I didn’t like it at all,” she recalls. 

Realizing her true passion lay in the physical sciences and its real-world applications, she made the switch to chemical engineering and hasn’t looked back since.

Chakrabarti’s desire to pursue a doctorate in chemical engineering led her to the Rossin College and Chaudhury. Deeply impressed by Chakrabarti’s work and dedication to the field, Chaudhury sent her to France, where she conducted research with eminent mathematical physicists including Yves Pomeau, Basile Audoly, and Serge Mora.

The experience was energizing. “The professors were so open and trying to help me understand theoretical concepts. I learned a lot by interacting with them.” Chakrabarti made the most of her time in France, developing new skills in nonlinear bifurcation analysis (which she used to characterize a unique type of pattern formation in soft materials).

In addition to studying with physicists at the top of their field, Chakrabarti attended conferences representing her research, where she honed her communication skills and gained additional exposure. Chakrabarti says her Lehigh education went beyond  “learning how to do good science” but also taught her “to be ready to present her scientific work and talk to people.”

Despite the complicated nature of her work, Chakrabarti is keeping her approach to her future career in academia simple and hopes to inspire the future generation of students in STEM from diverse backgrounds. “I think the main thing is to have the goal, dream big, but then not worry about the results. Just take a little at a time and do your best.”

—Junmoke James ’23 is a student writer for the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science

Aditi Chakrabarti at MIT Rising Stars

Aditi Chakrabarti ’17 PhD (center) participated in MIT’s 2019 Rising Stars in Chemical Engineering program for top early-career women on the path to faculty positions. (Photos: Gretchen Ertl/Courtesy of MIT)

Manoj K. Chaudhury

Manoj K. Chaudhury, Franklin J. Howes Jr. Distinguished Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Lehigh University

Chakrabarti at Lehigh

As a PhD student working with Chaudhury, Chakrabarti discovered that the forces governing the movements of particles she was studying were the result of the cooperative effects of surface tension, elasticity and gravity.