Young Change Makers: Why and How Arnav Chakravarthy Is Helping To Change Our World
Grit, passion, and persistence: If you have these three qualities, you are all set to start your organization. When you love your idea so much and you have the grit to make it something big, you are laying the strongest foundation for your company that you possibly could. Shifting your mindset to persevere while having a passion for what you do makes you invincible; you don’t need to worry about other challenges, everything tends to fall into place once you train yourself with this mindset.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arnav Chakravarthy.
Contrasting to others his age, 15-year-old Arnav Chakravarthy has set out on an entrepreneurial journey early in his life. An avid science-tech enthusiast, Arnav founded and is the CEO of SciLynk, the world’s first science social network whose mission is to connect students, educators, and industry professionals in the scientific community. Arnav has worked tirelessly on the site’s development and logistics and has overcome several obstacles during his journey to the site launch. SciLynk has its heart set out on providing students and researchers in the scientific community opportunities and a means to progress in science as a whole.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Hey everyone, I’m so excited to be here! I was born and brought up in California’s Silicon Valley, an extremely innovative and fast-paced environment. Growing up, I was a voracious reader; books were portals to me, they would take me to all kinds of places, from fantasy adventure lands with dragons to thrilling mystery worlds. As I went to school, I started to take my academics very seriously and developed a curious nature about almost every phenomenon. I used to ponder about all kinds of things, ‘how did the weather cycle work?’, ‘why do my friends and I look so different if we are all humans?’, ‘if the earth is round, why do the people on the bottom not fall off?’ and the list went on. Right now, these questions seem extremely self-explanatory and in a sense, foolish — however I believe this curiosity for how everything works is what sparked my love for science. Science had the answer to every question I had, it was truly amazing! Whether it was physics or biology, I always learned something new. And the best part was that scientists discover new things every day! My childhood was in a way shaped by science, and currently, my heart is set on pursuing a career in research.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
This is an extremely tough question for me. As I mentioned, I love reading, and there are simply so many fantastic books to choose from! Thinking about it right now, several books had a significant impact on my years growing up, however, I believe two really shifted my entire view of the world and what could be possible. The first is a classic science fiction thriller, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. While the book provided an adventurous depiction of an island with dinosaurs, it also made me wonder if it was possible to replicate such an adventure in real life. The book not only focused on the thrills and adventure, but it also gave me a huge view into the ethics of science and how powerful our minds can be. The other book is Dr. Jennifer. A Doudna’s A Crack in Creation. This book was a nonfiction story on how Dr. Doudna discovered a new way to edit the genome, and how she plans to continue from her discovery. A Crack in Creation was actually a huge inspiration for me to pursue a career in science. It widened my eyes on how everyday people like me can discover groundbreaking breakthroughs from things like curing cancer to slowing down climate change effects!
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To me, making a difference can mean a variety of things, no matter how small or big the action you do is. Making a difference is when you leave a positive impact on others, whether it is millions of people or just one person. You have to go above and beyond the “norms” and cross barriers you never have to leave lasting impacts. Creating something millions of people can use for free is a perfect example of leaving a lasting positive impact. With SciLynk, I wanted to make sure that every science lover has the free networking and collaboration tools online to help them progress through their scientific journey. And I firmly believe that by me pushing the boundaries as a student entrepreneur: creating a science social network that is accessible by all — the difference I made will now allow so many others to make differences in their lives and perhaps even catalyze progress in science as a whole!
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Yeah definitely! SciLynk is a science social network that aims to fill the void in online Scientific communication. I founded it as an effort to make online access to the scientific community free and accessible. SciLynk hopes to provide every single science lover a place to further their science knowledge and careers, no matter what point in their career they are at. If a big science name, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, wants to share someone with his science following, what better place is there to post it than a science social network. Our goal is to be an all-in-one science platform that can host every piece of science content so that we can help make science accessible and create progress with others online.
I personally want to see SciLynk as a platform with millions of users, where people think of it as a go-to site for anything science related. The scientific community is huge, and I thought creating a massive online space for it would be the best solution to the lack of online scientific communications!
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
For sure! As science enthusiasts ourselves, my co-founder Arvind Kumar and I were discussing ways we could land science internships to help us gain experience in the careers we were passionate about. We started discussing a platform, where students and professors could message each other to help students with advice and opportunities. Soon, the idea evolved into something much bigger: a social network that students, professors, and professional researchers could all use to help further their scientific lives. Every science enthusiast would have a go-to hub to ask and answer questions, view their favorite science content, and keep up to date with their favorite science creators. It was a dream come true for a science-lover like me!
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
Oh, yes there definitely was! I vividly remember the night of July 3, 2020. I had woken up at 1 am, thinking about the ideas Arvind and I had discussed on creating a messaging platform for students and professors. It suddenly hit me, ‘What if there was a way for all science-lovers and content to be centralized in one location?’ I started thinking of a huge platform with ambitious features such as job boards and science-specific forums. At this point I was excitedly pacing around my house beyond midnight, trying to contain my excitement and not wake up my family. As I had nothing else to think about due to the time and circumstance, I started thinking of the impact I could have; a high school student creating a massive science platform designed for all science enthusiasts. That was my moment. This was the time where I would ignore obstacles such as my age & resources and work toward building something I love and something I believed was a significant cause!
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
Definitely! As a student, there were several challenges and to be very honest, I felt like it was a struggle in the beginning, juggling all my school work, extracurriculars, and working on SciLynk. But throughout the duration of my work on SciLynk, I learned valuable concepts that helped me improve the efficiency of managing my organization.
- Heart and Passion: Your company should be something that you look forward to working on every time you wake up. I believe that when you have a passion for the project you are working on, the impact that you can have is potentially limitless. A common question that arises is, “How do I know if I am passionate about this?” The best answer I can give is that you haven’t yet found your passion if you have to ask that question — which, by the way, is totally fine! As a young changemaker, you have so much time to explore your passion, through joining existing organizations or even researching problems that caught your attention.
- Jumping over the Hurdles: Whenever you start something new, you always have to go into it expecting all sorts of challenges and obstacles. It is something that is pretty much guaranteed to happen in all aspects of life. The best way to alleviate this is by working on your mindset and planning. Try brainstorming your path and all the obstacles you may run into, and work on solutions to those before you hit them. By doing this, you eliminate the problem before it completely hits you by surprise, thus improving your chances of success and efficiency.
- Organize, Organize, Organize: Organize! I cannot reiterate this enough, when you aren’t organized, you are bound to forget things, lose track of progress, and create so many problems that wouldn’t have existed before! I learned this the hard way; when I first started out with SciLynk, I used to have so many ideas and tasks that I wanted to do. Unfortunately, I forgot many of them, and I even made embarrassing mistakes, such as not responding to important emails. I now use productivity apps that help me note down my future ideas and the status of the daily tasks I have to carry out. Organization skills are one of the most important skills you need to have when starting your own venture, no one should ever overlook them!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I remember this instance when I was talking to an online friend, who like myself was also an avid science-lover. He was a senior in high school and being interested in chemical engineering, he was talking to me about how he felt extremely let down about the lack of science opportunities online. “If I Google ‘software engineer internship’ right now, I would get millions of results, but when I search for chemistry lab internships, I only am forwarded to paid programs,” is the message he sent me. Me being a bit skeptical went to sites like LinkedIn and Indeed, where I was extremely surprised by the lack of science internships. I then found and contacted a chemistry professor at a nearby university, asking if I could assist him in his research and possibly gain some invaluable lab experience. To my surprise, he responded saying he would absolutely love that, and that I was the first student in 5 years to contact the chemistry department at that university for a lab internship. I was a bit puzzled by this, so I asked him why he didn’t make a job listing on LinkedIn or another job site. He told me that very few would view the listings they posted, and the only applicants they got were spam. He proceeded to tell me that the very same university’s business and computer science department would get hundreds of applicants monthly. Researching this strange issue a bit more myself, I set out on making internships and job listings a major component of SciLynk, creating a solution to a problem that if not for this experience, would have never existed!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
When I first started developing SciLynk, I came across dozens of amazing third-party softwares that I could use to create the site. I had configured and installed almost every single one I could find, however I came to realize some of them had faulty code that would send the users to a broken link. I panicked at the time and thought I had messed up everything, and that I was being targeted by hackers, however I came to realize it was a simple matter of deleting a plugin and just searching up the solution and prevention. Looking back at it, I find it quite amusing that I would act like a little kid at a toy store and install all the softwares I could find without even thinking. Luckily, it was a small programming error, and I now have several security protocols in place to make sure issues like that never occur again. Safety and security really do come first!
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Someone who was there with me throughout the development of SciLynk was my COO, Arvind Kumar. He is one of the smartest and supportive people I have ever met, and I am proud to call him not only a partner, but a close friend. Collaborating and sharing ideas and plans with each other has created the unique and successful environment which SciLynk is in today!
I think if there was anyone else who helped me on my journey, it would definitely be my mother. She has been the biggest support and in a way advisor throughout the way I ran SciLynk. Hearing my mom’s thoughts and opinions on the decisions I make have been the most invaluable pieces of advice and has made her my biggest mentor.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I met a student online through LinkedIn, and seeing that I was the CEO of SciLynk, she inquired me on what it was. I explained to her the idea and showed her how she could register, and I was pleasantly amazed to receive the compliments for the site. She told me that it was a brilliant site and that she would definitely be using it to scout for internships soon! Receiving the positive feedback from her is something I will always cherish and will serve as a motivation for me on my journey at SciLynk!
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Absolutely! I believe that several things can be done to address the root of the lack of opportunities and communication in STEM:
- I believe society should make accessibility to university-level STEM research accessible. I have seen so many workshops for all kinds of niche careers, from art to computer science. I love the idea of students being able to work hands-on with things they are passionate about. Unfortunately for things like science, the only way you could ever gain any sort of lab experience was through usually acquiring a degree and then working an internship. I believe that universities and even private science companies should host community workshops where students will be able to gain hands-on experience through lab procedures and experiments
- At a government level, politicians should change the way science courses are structured. Just like there are so many options for math courses, ranging from geometry to calculus, I think there should be several more required science courses per school that go beyond just Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Although I love all three of them, science is so much more than just three categories! Students should be able to explore topics like astronomy and immunology without taking online courses. Unfortunately, the way the education system is structured right now only allows for students to explore the “Big 3” of sciences, and the only way to change that would be a political reform in the education system
- We should use the full potential of the online world. The online world is extremely powerful, and as we have seen in the pandemic, can keep us connected with the rest of the world remotely. There are so many things we can do online that we could never do in person. Using the online world to host virtual STEM events and accessible science resources would be ideal. Just imagining the progress that could be made if researchers could collaborate online instead of in physical institutions leaves me in awe. There is almost nothing you cannot do virtually, and I think it is best if we as a community utilized that to our best advantage!
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
- Help is not your enemy: When I started SciLynk, I was very headstrong about my skills and the way that I manage things. There was always a thought at the back of my head, ‘Who would believe in your goal enough to even help you?’ I came to realize however, several people thought SciLynk was a brilliant idea and offered their assistance whether it was feedback or development. I began to develop a mindset where whenever I would run into an issue, I would always try to find the solution myself, however always ask a couple of people about their thoughts. This has enabled me to see so many more perspectives and ideas that I would have never seen before had I not reached out and stayed headstrong!
- Create detailed timelines: This is one of the most important organizational skills I developed as a CEO. My mother once told me you should create flow charts of what your next plans are, and the potential obstacles and tasks you would need to get done to get there. It seemed extremely cliche to me at the time, and I brushed off the advice. I later started to implement it in the way I managed my tasks and boy did it make things so much more efficient! Every time I have an objective, I draw out every possible way to get there, no matter how ridiculous it seems. I then write down the pros and cons of each pathway and select the best option from analyzing every possibility. This allows me to see so many more possibilities and organize the tasks I have to do to get there in a way that I never have before.
- Tune in and out at the right times: As a young entrepreneur, you will hear a lot of peoples’ opinions on what you are doing and what you should be doing. I always listen to everything everyone says, but at the same time I will always tune out when someone tells me to quit or that what I am doing is useless. My company is at the end of the day my creation, and the only person who has the authority to tell me what to do with it is myself. Keeping that in mind, however, you should still always have an open mind and be open to thoughts and suggestions from others.
- Never have ulterior motives: When you start your organization or company, your goal should always be to nurture your idea like it is your child. Starting a business with a thought like, ‘This will boost my chances of getting into an elite college,’ will limit the scale of your idea immensely. It pretty much defeats the point of even starting an organization — so always make your company your first priority.
- Grit, passion, and persistence: If you have these three qualities, you are all set to start your organization. When you love your idea so much and you have the grit to make it something big, you are laying the strongest foundation for your company that you possibly could. Shifting your mindset to persevere while having a passion for what you do makes you invincible; you don’t need to worry about other challenges, everything tends to fall into place once you train yourself with this mindset.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I think our generation and the future generations to come have the power to create change wherever they go with access to things like the internet and social media. And currently, there are so many global issues such as climate change, world hunger, civil rights, poverty, and so much more. So instead of watching these problems develop, everyone should in a way step up, and “unlock” the changemaker inside of them. No matter how big or small you are, no matter how rich or poor you are, and no matter how smart you think you are, you will always have the power and ability to create change, and in doing so you will leave a positive impact that not just you, but several others can appreciate!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
There are so many people I look up to, but if I had to pick one, I would choose Sal Khan. He has been my hero for a long time and I hope to have just as big and positive of an impact that he has as I grow up. I admire his passion and dedication to providing free quality education to everyone. Several people have monetized education, and I think Sal Khan is a rare gem that really does care about impact before the money. I would love to chat with him over science and innovation and see his thoughts on several topics I love. Meeting Mr. Khan is one of my biggest goals in life, as he is literally a superhero in my mind. He is truly an inspiration to the way I hope to create my impact and I try my best to model my work after him!
How can our readers follow you online?
I would really appreciate that! They can follow our work online at our site https://www.scilynk.com, where they can sign up for an account and other important information regarding our work. They can also see updates on our social media pages — Instagram: @scilynkig, Facebook: @scilynkfb, and LinkedIn: SciLynk
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you so much! I’m really grateful and honored to be interviewing with you today!