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Women in Research, An Industry & Academic Perspective

Today 43% of Indian STEM graduates are women, according to a 2020 UN report. However, only 14% are employed in research institutions. Despite this, women scientists have been advancing scientific knowledge in a commendable way. On International Women's Day, scientists from TCS Research and professors from India's leading academic institutes share their views about women’s career in research. They will also discuss real-world problems and sustainability issues they are tackling to build a better tomorrow.

   

Women need more role models to excel in science, research

Women need more role models in schools and colleges to inspire them take up science as a subject and research as a career option subsequently to help increase their representation in the field, TCS scientists and professors from elite academic institutions said in a panel discussion as part of the International Women’s Day.

Lipika Dey, principal scientist of TCS Research, said women need to break stereotypes and glass ceiling though implicit biases will continue to be there. “You should just not be passionate but also professional. Your work has to come first which means you need to actively prioritise, manage time efficiently and assert to get into a position you deserve. Of course, all these should not be at the cost of your personal life,” Dey added.

43% of Indian STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) graduates are women, as per a UN Report in 2020 but only 14% are employed in research institutions indicating the propensity of women to steer away from it due to a multitude of reasons. Despite this, women scientists have advanced scientific knowledge in a commendable way over the last few decades.

“Research is a skill like anything else,” said Varsha Apte, a professor of computer science and engineering at IIT Bombay. “It is not a gift and you can be a competent researcher if you train yourself. It is not super risky,” she added. 

Apte, who has been associated with IIT Bombay for two decades, has worked in overload control of web servers, wireless LAN performance models, control theoretic QoS control of Wireless LAN and Web servers, performance modeling and measurement multi-tier data center applications. She said while diversity is a much talked about subject currently, the number of women in educational institutions leave a lot to be desired. 

“At the IITs in undergraduate level, there are about 15-20% women which goes up to 30% in PhDs but again tanks to about 16% in the faculty positions. “ 

Vijayalakshmi Mahadevan, professor of epigenetics and image informatics at Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology, said for women to thrive in science and take it up as a career option, organization support is important.

“The fear of science is real and it takes years to shine as a researcher. There needs to be a lot of encouragement in fellowships and scholarships, which though present, are often not well publicized. You also need to organize seminars for outreach programmes.”

While women often face a glass ceiling, many organisations are proactively trying to ameliorate their work culture which include more supportive return-to-work programmes to help working mothers kickstart their career after taking a break for childcare. TCS, for example, has such a programme which has helped women resume their careers. About 36% of the total workforce in TCS are women now.

Swadha Anand, senior scientist at TCS Research, said the major skillsets required to excel in the research field include being abreast with new technology, upskilling and grooming oneself. “You have to also spend time in thinking before putting it into action. There will be certain hurdles but you need to be strong. When you are pulled down, you should have somebody to pull you up.”