Spotlight on Nitasha Syed / by Haley Smith

Meet Nitasha Syed - the founder of Unboxd, the “Cosmo for STEM.”

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Tell us about Unboxd.

Unboxd is the Cosmo for STEM. It all started when I went to see this documentary called 'Debugging the Gender Gap' with some girlfriends. It went to young girls in the United States and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. These girls answered with a wide range of option that all had one common theme - they did not aspire to go into STEM. When asked what they thought of engineers, or scientists the girls said that they see those woman in the media and they feel those woman are 'anti-social', 'hard to get along with' and 'nerdy'. I remember thinking to myself 'that sucks - I am getting stereotyped'.

Countless studies have shown the effects of media on the younger generation and the media has been disassociating beauty and intelligence for decades. We tell young girls they can be the one that has it all, is popular, beautiful etc (but that girl doesn't go on to win the noble prize) OR they can go on to win the noble prize but that girl doesn't have a lot of friends, gets bullied and isn't very popular.

I wanted to change that, so I created Unboxd - a monthly lifestyle/fashion digital magazine that features women that work in STEM fields (or have STEM backgrounds). I spend a lot of my time interviewing and photographing women so that I can share out their stories and show the world that beauty and intelligence are not mutually exclusive.

If you could go back in time and give your younger self advice, what would it be?

 Chill out. I've been an impatient person for most of my life. I've wanted everything all at once along with a crystal ball to see what the future holds. In grade school I skipped 3 grades to get to college. I spent my summers studying and wanted to fast forward to college because I wanted to know what it was like. In college, I finished my four year computer science degree in 2.5 wanting to get into the workforce. I wanted to fast forward all these moments and see what the next phase of my life is like. Even now, sometimes I want to see what 10 years down the road looks like and understand where my company is and where I am. Will it be successful? Will I have made an impact on how many girls decide to go into STEM? Will I be able to change the way the world thinks about role models? Can I find out the answers to all those questions yesterday?

The answer to that is No, and I've learned to come to terms with that. I sometimes wish I could replay parts of my life because they went by so fast while I was trying to move ahead, but I can't. For those of you who are like me, I encourage you to be more in the moment and learn from it. Fast forwarding your life won't give you a better shot at being successful. It's learning how to get through those long and difficult moments without a crystal ball that will be the key to a successful career.

What are your top strategies for networking?

I think of networking as a 3 step process:

1. Do your research
Don't go into a networking event without knowing who is there and what they do. Identify who you want to connect with and why. Even if you're reaching out on LinkedIn, make sure you have a framework developed around who you should reach out to. (Are you stuck in the same role and are wondering what your next steps are? are you having trouble with leading a team? are you trying to understand how your product will work in the international market?). Find people who have experience in those areas and reach out to them to ask them for their experience.

2. Put yourself out there
This is the hardest part - but reach out to them. Whether that means introducing yourself at the event, or sending a cold message to them introducing yourself and asking to grab a cup of coffee. The line 'I'd love to treat you a cup of coffee pick your brain a bit about X' has resulted in so many amazing meetings.

3. Follow up
So you found who to talked, you spoke to them, and now what? You need to build alliances in your career and the way you do that is by following up and not with just a thank you note but with an actual result of what happened when you took their advice. That's how you get people to invest in your success. You're basically telling this person 'hey I not only appreciate the advice you gave me, I actually valued it so much I used it and this is what happened' - that feedback makes the person feel like they had a hand in helping you succeed and they begin to root for you.

 Go-To Strutting Down the Street, Confidence Boost Power Song: Magic by B.o.B

Words you live by: Lead by example

Best trip you ever took: Italy