Isvari Mohan 2

Isvari Mohan is working on her master’s degree in international law at the age of 17. (Janani Mohan photo)

San Leandro, Calif. — Isvari Mohan entered the physics program at U.C. Berkeley as a young girl, graduated this past May at the age of 17, and now studies international law at Georgetown University. This big thinker has a limitless perspective on life.

Born in San Jose, Calif., the Indian American teenager grasped the alphabet and numbers at a very early age, and was reading and writing at nearly second-grade level at age 4, her mother told the San Jose Mercury News. Isvari speaks Kannada, French, Hindi, Spanish and German, and served as a research intern at CERN, the Institute for European Nuclear Research; Fermilab; and the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy in Bengaluru; and as an astrophysics researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory under Nobel Laureate Saul Perlmutter.

In her spare time, she writes fiction (her first novel, “The Eyes of Mikra,” will hit Amazon in January), composes music, watches movies with her sister Janani, and ice skates. Isvari, who turned 18 Dec. 22, answered a few questions from India-West in an e-mail. You can read more about her at

Q: Tell me about your decision to switch from physics to political science; if I can believe news reports, so many people in politics feel it’s not their role to be knowledgeable about science, and I wonder if that mindset has presented any challenges for you.

A: I switched because I’ve always wanted a career in politics. I want to run for office someday, and law school helps. Political science was a great foundation for that.

Q: Your LinkedIn profile mentions that you are developing a theory of light. Can you tell me more at this point?

A: I’m not ready to talk about the theory of light yet, though kudos for looking so deeply at my LinkedIn page. Until I have a bit of time to research and publish it myself, I don’t want to say something that’s only partially developed. At the very basic level, I don’t believe that the speed of light is a constant. This concept is actually the basis of one of the novels I’m writing right now.

Q: Since you excel at so many subjects, it might be frustrating when you come across something you aren’t good at. Is there anything that is really difficult for you and how do you deal with that challenge?

A: There are two ways I deal with it: perseverance and acceptance. I used to be terrible at art. I couldn’t draw realistically and I didn’t have ideas. I was a paint-in-the-lines type of kid, not the type who’d switch colors and draw on white paper. And everyone told me I was bad at it. Which made me mad. People now say I’m talented. I’m not — I spent hours and hours drawing, sketching, and painting. Now it does come “naturally” in a sense. White paper is a treasure trove of ideas. If you put your mind to something, I’ve learned, you can get really good at it. That’s perseverance.

The other thing I used to be bad at was sports. I’m still bad at it. Moving the least amount possible to get my books is a skill I’ve seriously developed. I loathe exercise with every non-muscular fiber in my body. Running is painful. That’s a fact. So I still don’t do sports (or exercise) and I’m one of those people who views my body as a machine to move my brain around. That’s acceptance.

Q: Our readers are Indian American, so I wonder if you have any special message for young Indian American women.

A: I do, actually. I have no Indian friends and I had none growing up. Indians are competitive and parents are constantly comparing kids of the same age.

But here is a message for other young Indian women: Academics is only one thing. I bet you’re better at lots of things than I am (like sports, dancing, and Facebook). Don’t let competition prevent you from making great friends, and don’t let the pressures of career and money take you away from the people you want to be with and the things you want to do.

I wanted to be a singer and I’m in law school, because I feel I have to have a master’s degree. Maybe I don’t. Maybe you don’t. Take chances, make mistakes, don’t let other people tell you who you are and where you’re going. I know I’ve watched my childhood race by. Life’s a game and you’re only going to find out if you won at the end. Don’t rush it. Play it well. 

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