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Indian women in science and technology often don’t have the path easy – here are some talented young Indian women who have successfully gone on to break inherent biases and gender stereotypes in the STEM fields.
The latest Kelly Global Workforce Insights survey on Women in STEM presents the shocking revelation that as much as 81 percent of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) jobs in India are victims to a gender bias in performance evaluation and are more likely to quit jobs at a mid-career level.
In an environment where misogyny percolates through all levels, women are mostly discouraged to take up careers in STEM, leading to a visibly wide gender asymmetry in the field. Of the 500 recipients of the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize, India’s premier Science award, only 15 are women. Kate Marvel cheekily reflects on the ‘Parallel Universes of a Woman in Science‘, a commonality worldwide and echoes my sentiments completely.
This, however, hasn’t stopped Indian women from fighting biases and establishing themselves in the STEM focus areas. Here I have curated a list of 6 phenomenal young Indian women in science and technology, who are achievers in their own right and have received multiple accolades and validation from the scientific community.
Prerna Sharma was featured in the Forbes 30-under-30 India list this year – a validation to her hard work, her passion for physics and her unique choice of vocation. She opted for a career in pure sciences, specifically around the study of soft condensed matter physics – materials such as creams, gels, shampoos, and cell membranes that have a similarity to simple fluids, but are not.
Sharma has been named ‘The Scientist of Small Things’, and very rightly so – She is intrigued by the “little things”, which may not answer the seemingly big questions in the universe, but are no less majestic. This 29-year-old is an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
Her journey is not run of the mill. She was not born with an interest towards this subject and often struggled as a student at St Stephen’s, Delhi. It was only when she started researching at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, did she realize that physics came naturally to her.
She has seen many women scientists falling out of the pipeline because of the social biases associated with marriage. However, she argues that gender should not be a factor when it comes to producing brilliant research.
Ankita Mishra features in the HeforShe scholarships awarded to young women in STEM every year by the University of Waterloo. She hails from Lucknow and her passion for computer science stems from “the idea of creating the most complex programs that run the world today, with the simplest ideas as building blocks.”
Negative reinforcement is very common in STEM fields for women and Ankita has witnessed it firsthand. She understands the difficulties of witnessing sexism, and the burdens of being a victim of even a mildly sexist environment. She however, urges women to fight the stereotypes and persevere despite the obstacles they experience.
She credits her foray into this field to her super awesome, supportive and encouraging parents who never questioned her decision of pursuing a career in a STEM field.
Her curiosity and innate passion for the field moves beyond math and computer science to the wildly fascinating fields of astronomy, theoretical physics and history. In her own words, “Each of these disciplines tackles questions which help us understand the universe and human life more deeply.”
In a sector, when women are under-represented, under – recognized and underpaid, Ankita powers on in her journey to prove herself and advises her fellow mates to do the same. She believes that one should be strong and pursue the career they want to, because women deserve it – despite the struggles, despite the negativities.
Passionate about using robotics to infuse innovation into STEM education at the primary and secondary levels, siblings Aditi Prasad & Deepti Rao Suchindran run an organization by the name of Robotix Learning Solutions as the COO and CIO, respectively.
Both sisters are extremely intrigued and excited about the synergies between education and technology, and the immense possibilities it can open up, especially for young minds. Their efforts to bring young girls under the ambit of robotics and STEM education have been recognized globally.
Their passion for science and its practical manifestation in day to day living stems from their father, who as they say is a “science nerd”. He taught them the fundamental concepts of science in simple and intuitive ways.
Aditi & Deepa run the Indian Robotix League, a mega annual robotics and training competition developed to inspire young innovators. They also run an initiative called, “Indian Girls Code”, to inspire and educate young girls to learn to code and develop real world programmes for real world applications. In their words, “If they can solve real-world problems that they face at home, in their community and in their country by developing technology that is valuable to the world and personally meaningful to them, this will empower them in many ways.”
A recipient of the Indian National Science Academy Young Scientist Award in 2014 for solving a mathematical problem which was open for almost 7 decades called the Zariski Cancellation Conjecture, Neena Gupta is one of the brightest young Indian minds in mathematics.
She is an assistant professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata and a visiting Faculty at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. As a statistician, her passion is reflected in her research in commutative algebra and affine algebraic geometry – the study of rings in algebraic number theory.
Neena’s dedication towards her subject is reflected in the numerous awards she has received, including the Saraswathi Cowsik Medal by the TIFR Alumni Association (2013), the Swarna Jayanti Fellowship Award by the Department of Science and Technology, India (2015) & the Ramanujan Prize from the University of Madras (2014).
Anupama V.N has been a recipient of the Young Scientist Award for her work in the field of assessment and bio-remediation of perchlorate (Rocket fuel), leading to the quantification of the environmental contamination of rocket fuel in Kerala for the first time.
She has completed her Ph.D in Biotechnology and is a recipient of the D.S Kothari Postdoctoral fellowship. Research is clearly her life, and it reflects in the 15 international papers she has submitted during her research career.
Her most recent achievement is receiving the much coveted SERB Postdoctoral Fellowship, which she is very excited about, since she gets to visit University of British Columbia, a world leader in the STEM fields.
She believes that women need a strong support system around them in order to fight the biases and reach greater heights in STEM fields. She also recognizes the importance of inclusive policy making in science and research in India, which will enable greater participation of women.
I hope these stories of grit and success will inspire many young readers to consider a career in science and technology!