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Apr 28, 2011

Women in Science

Biotechnology was still the future Buzz word in 1990 when I entered masters program in Biotechnology at MSU. Only 7-8 topmost Indian Universities offered this degree.  Like my fellow students I had some pride for being selected for DBT fellowship on the basis of All India Competitive examination. We were 8 girls in class of 14. Our senior as well as junior class had only three boys out of 14. Similar  ratios were common  in Chemistry and all other branches of life sciences in most  Universities across India. In research Institutions and Universities  representation of women graduate student who finished their Ph. D., published papers of equal merit were almost equal or more in comparison to male students. After two decades, that ratio of women majority is not reflected in Indian academia.

In India, there are less than 15% (sometimes less than 7%) women scientist employed in research institution and about 25% in Universities. I wonder where more than 50% of these bright girls have disappeared? Slowly, I came to know how gender discrimination played role in filtering out most women from science. There were many personal conversations with some male scientists who told me that women should not aspire for high achievements, should only work if they are unmarried, have a widowed mother, do not have a brother and so on. Some of my friends were told by a famous Vice Chancellor of a University that for a women working means extra pocket money and he will prefer to hire someone (a male) who is the provider for the family. I was personally reminded many times that women should have more tolerance.

Interestingly working hands of women scientists are prized as a graduate students, postdocs, technicians etc. (all short term positions) but their brain is not entrusted as much for leadership positions and permanent positions.

We looked at Western Society as a model of gender equality and hope. It’s been now 14 years since I am part of American Academia. There is again the same problem. the number of women postdocs and graduate students is not reflected in leadership positions.  Every now and then there is a gathering of women scientists ranging from graduate students to professors pondering on why women are in minority in science here as well? or how to survive and succeed in science? Typically, a successful Women professor narrates story of her struggle. The  end of the story is "I made through a route full of unfair deals, insults and negative attitudes,  so there is a light at the end of the tunnel".

I wonder what the meaning of these stories for young students is. If I have known those stories when I was 20, I may have embarked on path of secure and less struggling career. More than inspirations these stories give you blues, deprive you of hope and aspiration.  Academic achievements of women scientists should bring hope and sense of happiness to their life not a sense of martyrdom. Surprisingly no body talks about the structural changes that are  needed to make situation better for next generation. It is often a lesson given to individuals to cope with and continue.  Many successful model women scientist have successfully emulated the male behavior and have become one of the boys. I wonder if this is the idea of equality after all? 

Picture (source:Wikipedia): is of Nobel Laureate Barbara McClintock, who survived great difficulties, and excelled, often a great source of inspiration for all scientists).


  1. 1. The problem is not specific to field of science. The leadership positions, anywhere in industry, are still a male domain.
    2. An interesting pattern is observed when an industrialist allocates devisions of his industrial empire among his children.... what do they hand over to the girl of the family..?? HR? PR? Research?... and the contrast is evident when there is only daughter and entire empire is entrusted to the son-in-law..... just because he happens to male or ....??? any answers?

  2. Barbara McClintock never got maudlin over her past ,struggled and got Nobel one day on her pioneer work on jumping genes!
    If she is your idol why such feelings?

  3. @Arvind Mishra
    Its not about past, Its an attempt to understand present and future and how we can inspire younger generation of women scientist, How can we rationally pin point social hindrances and contribute in paving in just path for future generation and learn from our experience and mistakes, a process of becoming enrich or enlightened.


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