HLFF Spotlight: Alumni in Action

Wylder Green

Sprint out of being stuck

Underlying the week of the HLF is a single purpose: Provide some of the brightest minds in mathematics and computer science with the space and time to make connections and find inspiration. Some of the connections made at the HLF will echo into collaborations and projects, with some of those efforts leading to concrete developments. The HLFF Spotlight series will unpack a few of those examples.

A regular day for Pooja Bharadwaj at the Cisco office in Bengaluru.

This HLFF Spotlight shines on Pooja Bharadwaj, an alumna of the 7th HLF and currently a Security Consulting Engineer at Cisco in Bengaluru, India. She has an engineering degree in the IT field and a Master in Information Security Management from Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women. Pooja is a member of AlumNode, a network put in place by the HLFF and the German Scholars Organization (GSO) to nurture alumni in their careers through various projects and funding offers.

Life Sprint is one of those ventures, which consists of a virtual workshop and method-based coaching program to help young researchers reevaluate issues in their careers and strategize lasting solutions. Pooja shared about her experience with Life Sprint, its opportune timing and how it gave her some tools to work her way out of stagnation.

“It’s not about how successful you are or at what milestone in life you are, at any point in your life you can feel stuck. So I think it’s common enough that I or anybody should not feel that they’re alone in this.”

Feeling stuck can be consuming, leaving many people to freeze during those periods. However, there are programs available that demonstrate how to work through the episodes and overcome the obstacles, both actual and mental. Life Sprint is a workshop that shows young researchers which tools help and how to utilize them to break out of the chains of stagnation.  

Pooja found herself in a difficult place a few months ago brought on by working from home and was able to take advantage of the Life Sprint workshop that was offered in July 2021. Though being able to work remotely has its benefits, for some people it leads them toward a position of isolation, removed from the comradery created by a supportive office environment. When the email about Life Sprint appeared in Pooja’s inbox, she did not hesitate to seize the opportunity.

“I was feeling stuck physically working from home, and I was constantly second-guessing the things I was doing, questioning whether I was even happy. If someone could pull me out of the rut I felt I was stuck in, I was all ears, and what could better than the expert support that Life Sprint seemed to offer.”

Pooja at SAP Campus on last day of 7th HLF.

Coming from an industry background, Pooja’s first impression was one of surprise by the talent and diversity of the Life Sprint participants, a spectrum spreading across academia and into industry. Measuring herself against the other researchers, she was slightly daunted by their level of accomplishment.

“I felt like everyone is much more accomplished than me and everybody was doing amazing things and yet they were feeling stuck.”

Pooja is no stranger to a negative self-perception, which can create roadblocks that often only exist internally. Couple those with external factors like increased workload and one can quickly find themselves in a challenging position. In order to provide effective and sustainable results, Life Sprint’s tools take both sides into consideration when working toward solutions. Nonetheless, more often than not, and as in Pooja’s case, it is the internal voice that determines whether someone remains in a negative spiral or is able to break out of it.

“It’s easy to change external factors but changing yourself is a challenge,” she continued, “it’s hard to break out of negative habits or negative perceptions of yourself.”

Walking through such delicate territory can get rapidly unstable, but the workshop minimizes that risk with simplification. At the beginning of and throughout the six-step process, participants were urged to follow the core concept: put their thoughts into words. Following this principle, Pooja and her colleagues were encouraged to pinpoint the source of their stagnation.

“We had to write it down into sentences, ‘Ok, this I what I’m going to do. This is what the problem is and this is how I’m going to get rid of it.’” Pooja was quick to add, “It’s not like you’re going to click your fingers and it will all just go away. It can be a long process.”

To confront these issues, even with expert guidance, is a substantial task and one that can be deterring. However, the creators of Life Sprint designed the program with a support system. In addition to the experts being available after the workshop for correspondence, at every phase during the process there is immediate feedback from peers.   

“We got multiple perspectives on one problem every time. So that way it helped us come up with ideas that we would not have come up with ourselves.”

Pooja and ACM Turing Award laureate Martin Hellman at the 7th HLF.

Pooja found it refreshing to share with fellow participants and hearing their points of view, also being able to offer her own advice to others. This open discourse in a complementary atmosphere boosted her confidence and highlighted the importance of honoring your accomplishments.

“It definitely helped me realize that no achievement is too small, everything is worth sharing. If you don’t market yourself, nobody else is going to do that for you.” Pooja continued, “I found it easier, a little easier, to talk about the good things I was doing.”

Pooja is very aware that there is no magic bullet and that the road to self-improvement is a challenging and lasting one. But, she considers Life Sprint to be a stepping stone to organizing her thoughts and bringing some order to the chaos that those thoughts create. For Pooja, the most profound takeaway was clear and has provided a durable perspective moving forward.

“It doesn’t matter if people are judging. You cannot be shy of sharing the good things you are doing just because somebody is doing better.”

Life Sprint demonstrates what tools are effective in liberating oneself from the chains of being stuck and where problems will likely bottleneck. Still, each individual has to put forth the effort to bring about and maintain change. Pooja knows what methods work for her and she feels that there is no going back to the place she was before. That, is progress.

More inspirational stories are to come in the HLFF Spotlight series, so stay tuned.

The post HLFF Spotlight: Alumni in Action originally appeared on the HLFF SciLogs blog.