As a science student growing up in the 90s, I was familiar with only one woman scientist – Marie Curie – for her discovery of radioactive elements. I hardly felt gender to be the guiding principle when works of scientists from S. Ramanujan to Sir C.V. Raman and J.C. Bose filled my imagination. But incidentally, they were all men.
To be fair, thinkers and builders of modern India being men isn't the problem. The issue is when such a sweeping line-up comes at the cost of underrepresenting works of notable women scientists, mathematicians, physicians, and science practitioners of the same era. After all, how much do we hear about the works of Anna Mani - a physicist and meteorologist? Or Janaki Ammal (botanist); or Anandibai Joshi (medicine); or Asima Chatterjee (organic chemistry)? The list goes on.
As per a UN report, India tops the world in producing female graduates in STEM but ranks 19th in employing them. While disruptive changes have been in the making with more and more women-centric opportunities including scholarships, workshops and mentorships opening up for early-career professionals, a lot may also depend on the career prospects one thinks one has when it comes to STEM.
More often than not, people equate a career in STEM to either finding a tenured teaching position at a college, or becoming a full-fledged scientist spending countless days in laboratories. But the truth is, there are numerous other science career pathways (with overlaps) that are available to women (and men!). These can largely be divided into Academia, Industry/Government/NGOs, and Entrepreneurship. Here's a glimpse:
- Teaching or leading science as a faculty or leadership role – Professor or Lecturers at colleges and universities or leaders like Head of Departments, Directors and Vice Chancellors
- Supporting the teaching-learning science - Post-doctorate researchers at Universities in India and abroad
- Pursuing science as a researcher or inventor – Scientists or Researchers at Govt Labs, Research Institutions or bilateral/multilateral institutions
Industry / Government / NGOs
- Applying science as a practitioner or educator – Consultants with NGOs or Corporates
- Managing science projects as an administrator or leader– International research offices of Universities or International Funding Bodies or Private Consulting Firms
- Talking about science as a science communicator – Journalist, Writers, Copyeditors, Vloggers, Tweeters, Bloggers, Influencers and Thought leaders
- Making science policy as bureaucrat or a diplomat – Scientists in Govt Ministries on Science & Technology and Foreign Diplomatic Missions
- Registering science as intellectual property – IPR Professionals with Govt offices, Corporates or Research Institutions
- Selling science solutions as an entrepreneur – Partners or owners of Startups or MSMEs (Micro Small and Medium Enterprises), or Social Entrepreneurs
India is set to witness an unprecedented need for skills and talent in all the above-listed fields. Projects such as LIGO-India – a multi-million dollar, multi-country, multi-institutional consortia being set up in India promise a brighter future for science graduates. And women stand at an advantage as more and more institutions understand the need for diversity in STEM, and take corrective measures to strive for gender inclusion.
To quote Shneel Malik, a Bio-design Researcher at the Bartlett School of Architecture whose Bio-ID project was nominated for Beazley Designs of the Year (2020), science is "a field with immense opportunities, and all one needs to fulfil their dreams, is to just do it and stay put."