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An Interview with Yeshi Choden

Yeshi Choden is the first Bhutanese Space/Satellite Engineer. She is at present working as a Space/Satellite Engineer with the GovTech Agency. Her current incumbent demands to develop satellites, process the data that they collect from satellites, and transform these data into valuable information to be used by the different agencies and sectors.

Since Yeshi specializes in the technical field which apparently is male dominated domain therefore, she represents and vanguards in promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) particularly to the young aspiring females- women in Bhutan STEM.

Q. Engineering is globally still considered as a male dominated profession, however in our country, you helped break this stereotype by becoming the first women satellite engineer. How do you feel about this?
A. At first glance it doesnโ€™t feel any different. At the point when I decided to be in this field, there was no such barrier about being a man or a woman as the opportunity was open for all. I actually feel very glad that I took up this opportunity because I managed to be that woman who can advise and recommend other girls to come forward and take up opportunities. So I feel grateful and proud of myself that I chose to embark on this journey and take the risk of being the first person (Bhutanese).

Q. Was becoming an engineer your aspiration?
A. Yes, I have always wanted myself to be working in a dynamic work environment. Normally when we grow up we think of our work as a lifelong kind of profession, for instance, if you become a doctor, you become a doctor for lifetime or if you become a teacher you serve as a teacher for the rest of your life. However, for my purposes, I generally envisioned my career to be a dynamic one and that is likewise coming from my innate nature of being inquisitive and adventurous which is why I always look forward to new opportunities and experiences. I have first prepared myself as a civil engineer in undergraduate, then, at that point, I proceeded to be a public health engineer and finally I embarked onto the journey of being a space engineer and I think my journey has not come to an end yet, therefore I am truly amped up for where Iโ€™m going to go next.

Q. What are the challenges you faced as a space engineer?
A. I look at it from two different perspectives. It will be difficult and it will be challenging without a doubt. At the same time, a similar measure of challenge and difficulty puts forth your attempt beneficial. So the impact that you can create being the first person is hundred times greater than being the second person. When you choose to become the first person, more than the technical challenges of being in this kind of job, you are breaking the barrier, thus it comes with a responsibility as well as the valuable chance to break through that membrane and open the world to entirely different domains of chances. Thus, it was testing, but extremely energizing as well. When I look back at when I initially began this excursion, I think I had a lot of fate and hope in what could be the potential outcomes rather than what might have been the challenges and the negativities. That truly helped with having an impact on my point of view of checking difficulties out.

Q. Apart from your profession, you are also empowering women through STEM. Do you have anything to say about that?
A. We have this group called Women in Bhutan STEM which is a volunteer initiative stemming very close from my personal experience of being the first women space engineer in the country and through a shared interest from similar women who are represented by very few in their field. Everywhere the representation of women is very less, so we met up on the grounds that this is an issue and it is upon us to do something about it. To that end we began this gathering called the women in Bhutan STEM and our objective is to promote women and girls who are already in this field and empower those women who are not yet here to embark on this wonderful journey about contributing towards the worldโ€™s development through science and technology.

Q. Do you think technology has a promising future?
A. It is going to be the future. The question that we truly need to pose to ourselves is where we see ourselves in the future since technology is something that is happening at a global scale. The entire world is moving towards technology and industrial revolution 4.0, so it is really up to us whether we want to be part of the revolution or we want to be out of it.

Q. Do you have any upcoming projects that you are working on?
A. My main focus at the moment is my job at the space division and furthermore with the women in STEM. If we look at statistics, at a global scale UNISCO published this report saying that the enrollment of girls or women in STEM is less than 10% internationally. So in Bhutan we definitely have to work towards that and make that issue disappear. I am really looking forward to addressing this global issue not only in Bhutan, but all across the world so that we can impact women and girls in the world. It is a truly tremendous and energizing project and Iโ€™m really looking forward to working more on that.

Q. Considering your profession, to be very specialized with sizable scope in the country, how do you see yourself and ease of working?
A. In terms of professionally developing in this field, it is very challenging. The knowledge transfer happens from those who have experienced more and then it becomes easier for the younger professionals. Anyway in Bhutan, being the first or pioneer in this field, we generally have to put forth an additional attempt to learn about things and in that respect, it was really helpful that we started off this space program as a joint multi-nations project in Japan. International cooperation is very important. So in our second project also, we partnered with the government of India and correspondingly later on, we desire to partner with many agencies across the world so that we not only share our experiences, yet in addition learn from the expertise in different agencies across the world.

Q. Since you are in this field, how do you see that country can leverage and have potential for its expansion?
A. Especially when it comes to space technology there is a huge potential. If you look at the space industry as of now, it has also entered the new age called the new space age where things are quite different from how it used to work. In the traditional space age, it was only the big and powerful countries because space is a huge investment sector. One satellite used to cost millions of dollars so it was practically impossible for small and medium sized players to enter this field. However, in the new space age there are many private companies as well as smaller countries and developing countries who are now the members of the international space community. In that respect, I think we have a lot of room to look for opportunities and we have entered space at the right age.

Q. What is the countryโ€™s status in the field of satellite and are we on the right track and time?
A. As of now, we have launched two satellites and we have been receiving data from them and expecting to work on more projects. We started in 2016 from group zero. Basically, we have nothing, no space engineers, and no human resources. As of now we have quite a bit of people in it and we are actively working to expand the space industry and we are exploring many new opportunities so I hope we are on the right track.

Q. Would you recommend young Bhutanese to take up this profession?
A. Definitely! If we look at all the services that we use from weather forecasting to mobile communication, all these technologies are actually originating from satellites that are orbiting the earth at the moment. To realize the impact of technology in our lives and to do something about it would be a good opportunity. When we have the gift of space, I would really encourage everyone to explore and find opportunity for ourselves in this very big industry, it is beyond the sky so there is no shortage of opportunities.

โ€œIn Bhutan we have gender equality, in the sense there is no rule or regulation that is suppressing participation of women across all fields whether it is in politics or science, everywhere women are given equal opportunities. No matter what circumstance you choose, you have to face any challenges and there will always be a set of risks. Therefore, I would encourage everyone to be brave and continue to make choices that you are interested in because at the end of the day, these are opportunities and chances you are going to take which will make your life worthwhile instead of choosing the easier way.โ€

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