How A Young Boy From Mumbai Slum Became The Youngest Research Scientist At NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Jaykumar Vaidya was like millions who live in the slums of Mumbai but the 25-year-old is proof that consistency and determination can help you reach great heights, in his case quite literally. Jaykumar used to live in a one-room kitchen in suburban Kurla, raised by his single mother, but he was sure that life had bigger plans for him and he relentlessly worked to get a degree in engineering, which led him to live his dream of working with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in the United States.

Jay and his mother Nalini were abandoned by their father at a young age, and the two struggled from meal to meal. Nalini had to work several jobs to take care of Jay and her mother and brother. Despite being able-bodied, Jay’s uncle was not only an addict but also abusive, this forced Jay to grow up at an early age and assume the role of man of the house. At 10 years old, Jay started working at an electronic shop and tried to help his mother in whatever way he could with his meagre earnings.

Jay shares, “It was very difficult trying to take care of everyone, on most days we would eat food and leftovers from previous meals. My uncle used to often threaten to kill my mother and me. But I was hoping it would all end soon.”

While most children living in the slums get frustrated with their difficult living and financial situation, leaving their education and turning to a life of crime, Jay and his mother refused to succumb to their hardships. Jay’s uncle would constantly be bickering in the house, and Jay would have to find other places to study in peace. He used to watch tutorials on an old phone he bought from the electronics shop he was working at. Jay did his engineering from KJ Somaiya College of Engineering in Mumbai where the fees were over Rs 1.25 lakh per year, Jay was helped by NGOs like MESCO Trust that helped him pay his engineering fees. He also earned more than 10 scholarships including Ratan Tata Scholarship for Engineering students, Somaiya Scholarship, and a few more.

Jay was a bright student and would spend all night studying during his exams, however, he was more interested in the practical side of engineering rather than the theoretical. He shares, “I liked researching and creating things, I always questioned stereotypes, and as soon as I finished my degree, I got the opportunity to work as a researcher with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).” Jay earned Rs 30,000 every month, researching nanotechnology from 2016 to 2019. Soon after he applied for a scholarship and got into the University of Virginia in the United States as a Research Assistant, with his CGPA being 3.95/4.00 in the graduate school of Electrical Engineering. While getting his degree he is also making $2,000 every month which is approximately Rs 1.5 lakh.

Currently working at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center as a Research Scientist, Jay also spends his time teaching international students from different countries on various online teaching platforms like Chegg Tutors and Teacheron. He won three national and four state-level awards in Robotics for the construction of a prototype of an agricultural robot vehicle.   
Jay’s life has come full circle in another sense as he now sends money to his mother in India where she is living in a better place instead of slums and the NGO MESCO that helped him pay his engineering fees in India. In the future, Jay wishes to start a research hub in India that focuses on harnessing the advantages of emerging electronic devices to create a non-volatile, low-power, fast switching memory. Jay advises, “There is no point in comparing your life to anyone else’s, if you are in a bad situation all you can do is work hard to make it better.”

This story is submitted by Bilal Khan and edited by Alfea Shaikh. If you like this story, share it and spread positivity. Tell us your views by writing in the comment box below. We read each one of them.

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