"Trust yourself in the decisions you make, because ultimately, you know what's the best for you."

One can listen to others' feedback to incorporate it where necessary, but ultimately, it is a person's own call to decide on their life's course, said environmental scientist Darshanaa Chellaiah, 30.

She should know better. Darshanaa, who holds a doctorate in ecology from Monash University, is currently doing her postdoctoral research at the Swedish University of Agricultural Science in northern Sweden.

"In life only you can do what is best for you, and no one else can. Doing so does not mean that you are disappointing others," she told Astro Ulagam during a recent phone interview from Sweden.

Darshanaa grew up in Kuala Lumpur with three siblings - two elder sisters who became doctors, and a younger brother, who is an engineer and a Master´s graduate.

According to Darshanaa, she did not have any particular ambition, as she was growing up - but she had goals.

"I was a child who wanted to do everything, and could do everything. You could say I did not put myself into any mould.

"All I knew that I wanted to something purposeful and that was good for everyone," she recalled.

Like all children, she too loved animals, but her passion for beasts went beyond the typical cats and dogs. She was interested in the whales and penguins, and the polar bears.

But as she grew up, she never knew that there existed a job which could bring her closer to nature, until she found the course for environmental management at Monash University.

In fact, she did a double degree - in Biotechnology, and Environmental Science,. Only when she excelled to the extent of securing a scholarship in the field did her father become convinced to let her fully pursue the path, she recalled.

"I knew I had a purpose and I wanted to achieve it. There was no pressure from my family, or even relatives to shape me into their mould. All were very supportive of my choice, as they knew I could make it."

Learning never stops

Darshanaa had been in Sweden for her postdoctoral research the last two years,.

Currently, she is mainly confined in doing her research in her apartment in the cold town of Umeå, where the temperature can dip to below zero in winter, and rise to 4 Degrees Celsius on a “sunny day”.

She has yet to decide on her next career path when she returns home, but first, she is keen to take a break "by the beach", with "good Malaysian food."

Since her current Swedish stint also sees minimal human contact, due to working from home - no thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Darshanaa said she is also eager to meet and "hug" her family members.

Her days back home will not be idle either, as she has a list of things she has planned to learn.

"I plan to volunteer at NGOs and learn how to deal in the stock market. I want to spend time with my loved ones but I would still like to use my time optimally," she said.

An avid traveller

Darshanaa is also independent, travelling solo to many countries - the snippets of which she shares in her personal Instagram account with a sizeable following.

According to Darshanaa, she had faced harassments during her solo travels, but there had been more people helping her out, rather than harassing.

"I'm used to taking care of myself, and avoiding trouble. In fact, more people have come to my help when I was travelling. I’m very assertive by nature,” she added.

During her spare time, Darshana keeps fit by hiking, weight training, yoga and she also picked up many winter sports like skiing, skating and ice climbing.

Asked for tips for women to succeed in the field of their choice, Darshanaa said there are three qualities one has to fulfill.

"Be determined, work smart, and be passionate about what you do.

"Without passion, there can be no determination.”

Darshanaa's interview is part of a series of inspirational tales of women that Astro Ulagam has been highlighting in collaboration with talk show PENGIRL ROCK, a talk show that premiered on March 19 on Vaanavil HD CH201.

Photo source: Darshana Chellaiah