India Is Failing To Utilise More Than Half Of Its Scientific Work Force

Posted by Sukant Khurana in Society
January 18, 2018

In India, cultural training and other barriers unfortunately prepare a large fraction of women to compromise their dreams in order to put their husband’s aspirations and family’s wishes ahead of their careers. That is straight away putting half the scientific force on a back-foot.

Imagine the higher number of scientific breakthroughs, more cures for diseases, and more innovation based start-ups, which would have contributed to India’s added dynamism, had this bias not been there. This problem becomes even more severe for people coming from semi-urban regions. Economic and cultural factors also severely limited both men and women from disadvantaged communities, from chasing their dreams. While some women manage to break through this glass ceiling and shine as an example to all, it is not the case with everyone.

I recently had the privilege to talk to Dr. Shubha Tole, a professor at Tata Institute Of Fundamental Research (TIFR), working on developmental neuroscience. In addition to doing phenomenal scientific research at TIFR in India, which has worn her almost all the topmost accolades.

Shubha is a fearless champion of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), and popularizes science. Knowing that she has a passion of scientific outreach and an amazing neuroscience research track-record, I requested her to spare some time to meet me when she was visiting Mumbai to give a TEDx talk.

I have known about her research since I was a master’s student in Obaid’s lab at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), but I was not aware how hard Shubha has been working to get more and more women scientists to succeed. What we expected to be a half an hour meeting, lasted for a few hours as I wanted to know more about her science outreach and research. I could completely relate her story with my mother’s journey of balancing her career, her literary pursuits, and family life. Both my brother and I know that we would not be able to do half as much in our research, if we were raised by a mother who had conformed to social norms and not pursued her interests.

While discussing some exciting bit of data, when a phone call came from one of her two sons, she immediately shifted to being a super-caring mother, and soon after the phone call, she was back into the nuanced discussion about developmental neuroscience. A few minutes before that she had listened and given interesting comments on my neuroscience, drug-discovery, data-science, and AI research.

Being impressed with her amazing multitasking abilities, I made (a rather stereotypical) remark that maybe women can inherently multitask better than men. She pointed out that it is all about training. I realized, while I can run many parallel projects, know how to cook, and do all the house-hold tasks from my teenage years, most of my male cousins brought up in conventional unequal and patriarchal families, still cannot. It is all about training.

I was left with one more food for thought regarding cultural training, other than several ideas from her feedback on my research. I realized we need to change the way we raise our sons for a more equal society with strong women such as her and my mom. I also realized how we need to raise our daughters to not give up on their dreams.

Remember one thing, one can be trained to multi-task, one can be trained to appreciate and support equality; it is up to us how we train our next generation.