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Ph.D. Alumna Handeep Dhoot Fills STEM Education Gap With Storytelling

Handeep Dhoot pictured with her books
Tuesday, February 11, 2020 (All day)
This story was originally published in the UC Davis magazine.

Looking ahead is all in a day’s work for Handeep Dhoot, Ph.D. ’14.

As a strategic planner at Intel, she works on inventions and patents, having discussions about artificial intelligence, blockchain and space travel. “I’m always thinking two to eight years out at any given time,” shared Dhoot.

When Dhoot became a mom in 2018, she began thinking about her daughter’s future, too. “I thought a lot about what kind of world I would bring my daughter into,” she said. Dhoot began looking at educational children’s books, but noticed that the science and technology books were focused on the basic fundamentals of science — but didn’t talk about emerging technologies that are part of the future.

So she decided to fill the gap, starting a book series called Tinker Toddlers targeting infants to fourth graders. Dhoot, who is part of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, has self-published seven books on Amazon. Currently, she’s working with an international team of experts to write textbooks for preschoolers to second graders on artificial intelligence. UC Davis Magazine editorial intern Janelle Salanga recently spoke with Dhoot about her process and the impact of her scientific career on her writing.


An Interview with Handeep Dhoot
 

Janelle Salanga: You were at UC Davis for over six years completing your Ph.D. in organic chemistry. How has that experience affected your writing?

Handeep Dhoot: Endurance was the best nontechnical thing I walked away with after that program — knowing how to start and finish something, dividing it up into projects that are realistic with a realistic timeline, and that’s what I do with my books. I also come back and volunteer in the FUTURES program, with Ph.D.s and postdocs in neuroscience, as well as the entrepreneurship academy, and all of that work gets my mind going about topics I want to write about. I might integrate a field into the illustrations, inspired by agriculture here, or take someone I meet and use them as motivation for an illustration or personality.

JS: How do you choose the topics you write about and conduct research?

HD: First, I prioritize topics I feel are most important or of interest to me, then write down everything I know about that topic. I engage in conversations with my coworkers at Intel who are involved in the future and technology, but also care about children’s education. I also have a lot of books that I read for my own interest. If I get stuck, I might listen to audiobooks and get inspired by [Isaac] Asimov, or other science-fiction writers.

JS: How do you present your subjects?

HD: I don’t want my books to be a lecture, but a story, though they do have a glossary in the back. I also write for two levels of learning — most families have more than one child, and some people buy books for themselves, because many adults don’t know how these things work. There are two levels of complexity with color-coded text so parents can choose what to read. And my husband’s pretty awesome, because he reminds me, what’s the one thing you want people to walk away with? If they can remember what I’m trying to convey, it’s a success.

JS: What themes appear in your stories?

HD: One theme I try to drive is kindness toward machines. We teach a lot about kindness to ourselves, animals, family, friends, but we also need to be kind to things we don’t understand. I also try to make sure that my characters are diverse. I also cover mistakes a machine can make — diving deeper into the technology and trying to show that looking for bias and training a machine are both important. Me and my team are diving into more ethics and trying to find out how to stage the situation at a basic level, so it becomes part of a child’s DNA to think like that.