International Women’s Day | Dr. Shawna Pandya | Solve for XX: A call to future leaders to #BeBoldForChange

International Women’s Day is just around the corner, and this year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange. It’s a call to action to forge a better way of life – a more inclusive, gender equal world.

Throughout the month, we’ll be highlighting some of our acclaimed Women in STEM/STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) speakers, who are breaking boundaries while inspiring other women to pursue their passions. 

Today’s guest blog comes from Physician, Scientist-Astronaut Candidate and “Doctor Cosmonaut”, Dr. Shawna Pandya. Armed with specialized expertise in neuroscience, space, entrepreneurship and medicine, Dr. Pandya has led a life devoted to technology, innovation, social development and, of course, adventure!

Dr. Pandya’s Education & STEM presentation draws on her own personal experiences in STEM. This inspiring presentation is aimed at teachers, youth, and audiences interested in the power of science, technology, engineering, arts and math. 

A call to future leaders to #BeBoldForChange this International Women’s Day

A few years ago, I was invited to keynote at a leadership conference for teenaged girls. I titled my talk “Solve for XX,” because I wanted to draw these young women’s attention to the challenges that women still face in this day and age. But I also wanted to empower them to become the leaders who drive that change. I feel the spirit of this talk is particularly fitting with this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #BeBoldForChange, so I want to share some of the lessons that I have learned through my own experiences in space, medicine, entrepreneurship and leadership.


  1. Learn to be a doer. When I was starting out as an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley,  the best advice I ever got was from a friend who was CEO of her own start-up. “Don’t ask, ‘how can I help,’ rather, ask ‘what needs to be done,’  and then go out and do it.” She was right. If you want to be a problem-solver, you have to learn to be a doer. Learn to be active, not passive. If you want to learn more about a particular issue, read, Google things, attend meetings, ask questions, write letters.


  1. Learn to love learning. Learning to learn – and learning to love it – is probably the most important skill you can develop. We live in a world that is changing exponentially, and becoming a ‘lifelong learner’ is no a longer a choice, but a necessity. We also live in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips, be it through internet searches, massive online open courses (MOOCs), online videos, hackerspaces, DIY movements, podcasts, e-books – the list is endless. Know yourself, figure out how you learn best, and then take advantage of the resources out there to help seek mastery in your chosen field.


  1. Break things down. We are often told to ‘think big,’ but sometimes, in so doing, we intimidate ourselves with the enormity of the task that lies ahead. To get around this, in my start-up days, my co-founder and I jokingly developed the “sushi principle,” – that is, break things down. The best way to break a 1000 mile journey down is to start with a single step. Nobody becomes an expert and virtuoso overnight. That comes through hours of labour and years of practice. So whether you want to learn to play the piano or how to be an aerospace engineer, the key is to break things down into bite-sized pieces – just like sushi (or tofu-shi, for us vegetarians).


  1. Stay humble. When I interned at NASA, I was lucky enough to meet Commander Chris Hadfield, who, as an astronaut, space station commander, former fighter pilot, musician and best-selling author, is quite possibly one of the most accomplished human beings on the planet. He is also one the most down-to-Earth and genuine people I know. What has always impressed me most about him is his humility. After a last minute meeting once, he said: “…thank you for being flexible and thank you for your time.” It astounded me that he would say that, but it was also a reminder to stay humble, no matter who are you are and how successful you become. Remember those who have helped you along the way. No one achieves success on their own.


  1. Don’t be afraid of hard work. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty, do hard work or menial tasks. Whether you realize it or not, everything you do has value. Maybe you have a part-time job working in retail. And maybe someday you want to be a CEO. Everything you learn about customer relations, inventory, operations, and organization will help you in this endeavor. Every experience you have will shape you. Learning discipline and hard work are hands down the most important things you can do for yourself, and if you can master these skills, you will go far in this life.


I offer these lessons because even now, in 2017, there is no shortage of problems to address in this world. Even as we continue to achieve and celebrate advances in women’s rights, women across the globe still face considerable challenges when it comes to gender equity, education, employment or healthcare. It’s why we have designated March 15th International Women’s Day – both in recognition of progress we have made and in cognizance of problems yet to be overcome. But  I also firmly believe that ‘problem’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘potential.’ And I suspect more than a few of you, as future leaders, are up to the challenge. This International Women’s Day, I say to women the world over:

“Be fearless.  Be courageous. #BeBoldForChange”

For more on Dr. Pandya and how she can inspire your IWD audience to #BeBoldForChangecontact us.

Check out our other featured Women in STEM speakers for IWD:

View more of our inspiring International Women’s Day speakers here.