Face of the month
March - 2018
Dr. Mitali Mukerji
Sr. Pr. Scientist
Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology
Biostandups aims to establish awareness of women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the wisdom and erudition of great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regard, this month we drew motivation and inspiration from Dr. Mitali Mukerji, Senior Principal Scientists at Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Delhi-India. In 1997, She did her Ph.D. from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore – India in Microbial Genetics and Molecular Biology. Post Ph.D. Dr. Mitali joined as a scientist at IGIB, Delhi-India and since she continued her scientific exploration until today at IGIB. She bagged many prestigious awards and elected as “Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences – 2014”, recently. Throughout her influential journey, she contributed her roles in many industrial, academic collaborations and popularisation of science through various programmes. For her multi-faceted contributions, Biostandups honors Dr. Mitali Mukerji as “SHERO.”
My father was a civil engineer involved in making bridges and barrages, so my early schooling happened in various states of the country. Finally the last part of my education and graduation was from Allahabad. I completed my masters from Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in plant molecular biology and biotechnology and went on to do my Ph.D. in bacterial molecular genetics at IISc Bangalore. After my Ph.D., I joined CBT (now CSIR-IGIB) as a scientist fellow and made a foray into human molecular genetics and genomics. I have been working in this area for over 20 years now in the same institute and have also diversified into various fields including co-development of a new area of Ayurgenomics in the country. On the way, I have credited with some recognition at the national level.
I work in the broad area of genomics and its application in understanding human health and disease. I extensively collaborate with clinicians and use genomic approaches to identify novel mutations linked to diseases as well as integrate it with population genomics to understand origins and mechanisms of diseases, trace mutational histories, etc. I also work on repetitive sequences (which were earlier called as junk DNA) in the human genome using computational and functional genomics approaches to understand their functions in human lineages. My other major interest has been to contribute to the development of this new area of Ayurgenomics wherein we are developing a framework for integration of Ayurveda with genomics and modern medicine as a step towards precision medicine.
BS: Where does your passion for science come from?
MM: This is not innate, and I think, has gradually grown on me from my MSc days. I have been fortunate to have mentors during my Master’s, Ph.D. and post Ph.D. days who have challenged me with increasingly difficult scientific problems and instilled in me a spirit of inquiry and observation which now seems second nature to me.
BS: Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?
MM: Frankly speaking I did not know until my MSc that I was going to be a scientist. Growing up in a small city, the only thing you aspired for is to be a doctor or an engineer (if you are mathematically inclined). If you did not clear any of these, then you yearn for the civil service, so you do your post graduation in a subject that gives you the best scores for clearing these exams. It was a hobby of gardening that led me to IARI, but by chance, I got admission in molecular biology and biotechnology department and was lucky to have a mentor, Dr. Srinivasan who encouraged me to appear for IISc entrance. I had no clue about IISc till that time but working with him during my MSc project dissertation sealed my fate and inspired me to take this up as a career.
BS: What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
MM: I think in a scientist’s lifetime we encounter many “aha” moments after extensive experiments, observations, and failures. I addressed a fresh problem in my Ph.D. But the coolest one was when we discovered a variation in a gene that was linked to high altitude adaptation through Ayurgenomics approach. We were integrating two different fields of medicines (Ayurveda and modern medicine) through genomics. No-one had attempted such a thing earlier, and there was much skepticism about the outcome of such research. The best part was that our observations got independently validated by other people across the world at the same time by very different approaches which sort of encouraged us to pursue this further.
BS: Why do you loving working in scientific research (STEM)?
MM: I do not have an answer to this. Biology was a natural inclination after exclusion as I did not like any other subjects as much in school and I had to be educated! The interest in scientific research grew mostly in IISc which provided one of the best ecosystems to grow academically. However, I have now started appreciating history and culture after I have dabbled in genomics and Ayurveda. Science provides us a different approach to look at the same things and maybe understand and communicate more objectively.
BS: Role models, heroes and Sheroes not necessarily from Science?
MM: I have had different role models at different times for various aspects starting maybe from my mother who inculcated in me a spirit to be independent and let me free to pursue my career. I have learned most from my professors in IARI and my mentors, Profs Mahadevan and Nanjundiah in IISc and continue to learn from a beautiful set of colleagues in IGIB and collaborators from different disciplines. Most of all, the two people to whom I owe a lot to what I am today as a scientist has been my two mentors Profs Samir and Vani Brahmachari. The latter would qualify to be a “Shero.”
BS: What are the main things you enjoy about being a scientist?
MM: I enjoy the science part in a scientist and the opportunity to share your excitement with students and to mentor them. As you get to senior positions, there are a lot of additional things you need to do. That part I do not naturally gravitate.
BS: Share your scientific journey so far? (ups and downs in detail. All relevant experience you have experienced so far – 1. As women scientist, 2. As an expert, 3. As a mentor, 4, As a successor, As a woman in life etc.)
MM: I have been fortunate to have mentors who did not discriminate against me because of my being a woman scientist. In fact, I feel that as a woman scientist I bring a different perspective to a problem. Sometimes, when I get excited about my point of view, my male colleagues think I am aggressive – but this is OK as I am still heard.
I have followed a very unconventional route in science. Right after Ph.D. from IISc, the conventional path was to go abroad for a research career. The supervisors and students both have an extreme peer pressure to ensure this to happen. I wanted to try myself in India and then understand what problem is relevant to solve in India and then go abroad and get the necessary training. This was a very “utopian” idea, and no-one was taking me seriously, and I had no clue what Indian problem I had to solve. However, there was this maverick professor from Biophysics who was moving to CBT from IISc with a dream to initiate genomics in India and challenged me to join and establish this new area of research in the country. His primary aim was to leverage genomics for personalized medicine.I had no idea what genomics was, but with a faith that there was an opportunity to do something in India, even with no experience, I decided to take this step. I moved to Delhi, initiated research into a rare neurodegenerative disorder, helped set up the functional genomics facility and then there was no time to go abroad to get training in the relevant area. Everything happened here. With our clinical collaborator in AIIMS, we have been researching ataxia for the last 20 years, and AIIMS now has a specialty ataxia clinic where people from all over the country approach for a referral.
In 2002, we also initiated the Indian Genome Variation Consortium to develop a baseline data of genetic variations in Indian populations for predictive medicine. This was the first significant collaborative research in biological sciences in India, and I had some major responsibilities as a convener of the project. This project provided the first comprehensive genetic landscape of India where the research was carried out entirely by investigators in India. Building this database was a multi-dimensional challenging problem where nearly 200 people including scientists, students, and associates had to work in coordination. This project put us in league with global initiatives regarding genomics competence and facilitated some national and International alliances. During this time I also got interested in Ayurveda wherein personalized medicine has been in practice for over 5000 years and it also has advanced ways of dealing with management of health and disease. The concepts resonate with the aims of modern precision medicine, and we took up the challenge to see whether through a common molecular language we could bridge these sciences for integrative medicine. The ultimate dream is to have an informed choice for availing medicine from either stream based on the best scientific evidence. This was an extraordinarily challenging and unchartered area to get into as there were no precedents, peers, role models and immense skepticism. Fortunately, I had great support from my mentor who envisioned this area.I was also lucky to build a long-standing partnership with Dr. Bhavana Prasher, an MD in Ayurveda to develop this area of research which was coined as “Ayurgenomics” after we reported the first evidence of genomic correlates of Ayurveda. With an interdisciplinary team called the “TRISUTRA Ayurgenomics Consortium, we have been able to advance this new area of research which now has got acceptability nationally and internationally.
Over the years I have had a chance to mentor many Ph.D. students and project associates who came from a varied background with different levels of expectations and aspiration. From each of them, I have learned different things and have realized that mentorship has to be dynamic and you cannot develop a protocol. The most heartening thing is some of them have moved on in different positions of responsibility including some with whom now I collaborate with and sometimes get mentorship. Working with very accomplished and recognised people can put you in the limelight as well, but it also comes with its share of biases and perceptions. I have had my share of both of these, but then the onus is on us to demonstrate our independent strengths and individuality.
BS: How difficult is it to balance a family and a scientific career?
MM: I think it is the individual who has to take a call on the responsibilities they have/want to take to balance a family and scientific career and then prioritise their commitments to self and others accordingly. I have seen people who take up both responsibilities equally well, in fact, they excel in both fronts “my Sheroes” and there are some who would externalise their problems instead of working towards resolving them. One of my heroes says that there is no point in being unhappy and managing both if you have decided for both family and a scientific career. Being happy doing what you do makes it more effortless.
BS: What’s the biggest thing you struggle with this position?
MM: How to build an ecosystem which is a level playing field for women scientists who have aspirations to be both a right family person and manage a challenging career and also getting acknowledged for the work they are doing? Though everyone acknowledges the issues, we still do not have a sufficient number of women in decision making positions to influence gender-sensitive policies. Male colleagues are sometimes unaware of the problems that might need to be addressed to create a level playing field. It is our social conditioning.
BS: What is your proudest moment as a women scientist or researcher or yet to come?
MM: My proudest moments are when my mentees excel and are credited for their excellence irrespective of my presence.
BS: Among your most significant achievements, which one is your most memorable achievement?
MM: To be able to keep my parents happy with my achievements so that they have no further complaints of having my settling down without getting married.
BS: What favorite general advice do you disagree with?
MM: Save for future. For me, future is what we make of our present.
BS: What is one advice you wish someone had given you way back when you started?
MM: For posterity, there might have been many pieces of advice I might have missed, but then that would have led me to a different trajectory. For instance, I wished I had a little postdoctoral experience but then maybe my career would not have panned out the way it has now.
BS: Is the effort getting more women in STEM worth it?
MM: Yes definitely
BS: What difficulties Indian women are facing currently in STEM fields?
MM: One of the significant things is the “Two-body problem.” In most cases, it’s the women who take a back seat or are given a back seat. Still, most of the jobs in public sector even though have an age relaxation, in the long run when it comes to an acknowledgment of their work, the break from work which causes the delay in career milestones are never factored. Most of the awards have age criteria which are extremely challenging to meet, and so women tend to be outcompeted.
BS: Is there a cultural problem encouraging women into STEM?
MM: I think this has reduced substantially now. But this might not be so across the country.
BS: What are we going to do to combat existing and past forms of discrimination?
MM: We cannot do anything much unless we work on our stereotypical mind-sets.
BS: Should the gender imbalance be solved top-down from government or bottom up through education?
MM: Both are needed. Sometimes education cannot do much about gender imbalance. If that were true, we should have a higher proportion of women in top positions in highly acclaimed institutions. Do you see those numbers? I do not think reading Lilavati’s daughters you would find women are less accomplished to take up those positions. I am sure governments make policies taking inputs from scientists. We should ensure adequate representation and voice of women when making such policy decisions.
BS: What more do you think needs to be done to make science appeal to women?
MM: I think because of our social conditioning women after a point of time give up on higher aspirations midway. Participation of a single or few women merely to complete the quorum for meetings is not adequate to bring the change. We need to have more participation of women in decision making capacities consciously. In a majority of the organisations, women are given the softer jobs, and tolerance for failures from peers is much less for women if they are given a challenging assignment compared to male counterparts.
BS: Would you say that through your career, things have become better for women in India?
MM: We do not have the figure available to say anything about it objectively.
BS: Do women benefit from being mentored by older women and do they need to be mentored differently?
MM: I think everyone needs a mentor and this is a very critical aspect of scientific growth. I do not know whether gender could play a critical role in mentorship. But definitely, women can learn from an older woman’s experience.
BS: What advice would you give any women considering science as a career path?
MM: Once you are into science as a career you have to keep at it for a long time, and it is quite tenuous. This requires patience both of yours and family members. One has to weigh these options well. But now I think there are so many options once you have taken up science as a career that it is not restrictive to only academics. So choose carefully what you want to do with your knowledge and focus on that. This is true for both men and women.
BS: Your opinion about “Biostandups”?
MM: It’s a good initiative and at least gave me a forum to share my experience and opinions. I was not aware of this forum before I approached.
Reading (Fiction, Non-fiction), Listening to music and painting with pastels
February - 2018
Emeritus Scientist & Professor (AcSIR)
Central Leather Research Institute
Biostandups aims to establish awareness of women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and expertise from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regard, this month we brought motivation and inspiration from Dr. Aruna Dhathathreyan, Biophysicist at Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai – India did her Ph.D. in Biophysics from University of Madras and gained early career research experience from many international universities and institutes. Dr. Aruna got featured ‘Leelavathi’s daughters’ brought out by Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore- A compendium of 100 Women Scientists of India (2006). She is an influencer and delivered messages as TED speaker on ‘Knowledge management’ in Govt. R& D labs., IT Park, Taramani, Chennai (2011). After a successful scientific journey, she is contributing her time as a volunteer teacher of science and English to Under Privileged Children. For her significant contributions, Biostandups honors Dr. Aruna as “SHERO.”
Dr.Aruna Dhathathreyan Biophysicist at Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai – India.
Education and Graduation:
B.Sc. (Physics)-Women’s Christian College, M.Sc.(Physics), Madras Christian College, Madras, Ph.D. (Biophysics), Dept. of Crystallography and Biophysics, University of Madras (1984).
Early Career Research
Post-doctoral fellow & Research Scientist, Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Gottingen, FRG; Post-doctoral fellow, Dept. of Biophysics, University of Groningen, the Netherlands (1983-89) , Group Leader, Biophysical Chemistry (Chemical Lab., CSIR-CLRI)(1990-2012), Chief Scientist & Head, Biophysics Lab., CSIR-CLRI (2012-June 2015) ; Emeritus Scientist & Professor (AcSIR), Advanced Materials Lab. (June 2015- till date).
Published 135 papers in peer-reviewed international journals; Principal Investigator of several research projects funded by Dept. of science & technology (DST), Govt.of India, DRDO, and industry.
Featured in ‘Leelavathi’s daughters’ brought out by Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore- A compendium of 100 Women Scientists of India (2006)
Received awards including the Chemical Research Society of India (CRSI) Bronze medal; Stree Sakti Samman award ( Stree Sakthi Trust, Kolkata) for research in Biophysical Chemistry; Best Biophysicist, Mother Teresa Women’s University (Kodaikanal, Tamilnadu) silver jubilee award; Raman Research fellow(CSIR, Govt.of India) and B.C.Deb memorial award (Indian Science Congress Association). INSA-DFG visiting Professor (University of Gottingen, FRG), DAAD revisit fellowship ( Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Gottingen, FRG) and Max-Planck fellowship, ( Max-Planck Institute for Colloid and Interface research, Potsdam, FRG). G.Shanmugam Endowment speaker, University of Madras, 2016, Fellow, Madras Science Foundation, 2011, Lily Pithavadian endowment speaker, Women’s Christian College, 2010.
Subject Expert (Physical chemistry), Principal Advisory Committee- Physical chemistry, DST-SERB (2012-2015); Chemical Sciences committee, Fast Track for Young Scientist, DST, Govt. Of India (2008- 2011); Women’s Research program, (2003-2007), DST, Government of India, (2003-2007).
TED speaker on ‘Knowledge management’ in Govt. R& D labs., IT Park, Taramani, Chennai (2011)
Team member- Local School and Undergraduate projects on the popularization of Science as a career – (CPYLS, CSIR, Govt. of India, Tamilnadu State Science council) – developing ‘Hands on experiments ‘ for school students from 10th to 12th Class.
Presently a Volunteer Teacher for Class 11 students at Olcott school, Chennai, Tamilnadu –teaching science and English to Under Privileged Children.
My research in Biophysical Chemistry has been on the molecular mechanism of self-organization of bio-molecules at liquid/gas/solid, interfaces using Langmuir and Langmuir-Blodgett (LB films) of small amphiphiles, proteins, vesicles and supported lipid bilayers (SLBs). My early work identified new phase transitions in Langmuir films of newly synthesized lipids. The excellent organized 2-d assemblies by such amphiphiles leading to first order phase transition, was initially a laboratory curiosity, and lead later to applications in controlling of polymorphs of protein crystals and periodic nano-clusters of biomolecules. In this work, new custom built experimental tools to study interfacial reactions at solid/fluid interface were developed by me, that are today used in several personal care and leather industry applications. My research in interface and surface chemistry lead to new strategies for creating nanostructures of biomolecules with well-controlled, tailor-made properties on patterned nanoporous anodic aluminum oxide, silicon and quartz. Using designed novel lyophilisomes of proteins, lipid-protein systems with distinct sizes (nano to meso) I have addressed molecular crowding and cellular confinement that trigger new viscoelastic phases in proteins and lipid-protein systems. This work has helped to distinguish role of organized versus disorganized aggregation in controlling protein folding and in turn understand ‘fibrillogenesis’ a key process in wound healing. The pathological aggregation of these molecules into amyloid fibrils is now being used to model triggers in disease like diabetes. My present research work focusses on the mechanical properties of biomolecules-dynamic elasticity and interfacial viscosity of cell membranes, peptides and proteins. I am now working on the development of a new experimental tool to probe normal versus abnormal cells which could hopefully someday be used in diagnostics.
BS: Do you recall what started your enthusiasm for science/Physics?
AD: At school, my 5th grade Science teacher was my inspiration. She made every concept in science interesting and simple and encouraged even the weakest student to participate in all the science activities. She was the first person to gift me a book titled ‘Biography of 100 great scientists’ for standing first in my mid-term exam. In College, it was the Head of the Physics Dept., Prof. K. M. Karunakaran, who inspired us with his very novel and holistic approach to Quantum Physics. Both these teachers never criticized and never judged students even if the student was at the bottom of the class.
BS: How was your early life education and experience?
AD: My images of science and scientists came from some classic comic books of Jules Verne given by my uncle when I was in school. I read all of them with great interest and thought I would also one day save the world from some outer space creatures using science! My grandfathers were teachers, and I had parents, particularly my mother who encouraged us to read everything under the sun- be it fiction, textbooks, history, mythology, etc. I was a real bookworm, and by the time I was 14 I had read most of the books in Mobile Library of Delhi Corporation and also what was at home. I had romantic visions of my becoming a Science teacher and helping the people to use science in their everyday life. School was fun, and my favorite subjects were Mathematics and Physics. I did realise that sometimes i was teased by the boys of my class for not conforming to the rest of the girls. Girls from that time were expected to take up a career as teachers or possibly write a Bank exam and become a bank officer. When I told my teachers that I was going to choose Physics for further study, some of them tried to dissuade me and said maybe Mathematics would be better because a teaching job was assured and one could even work from home! My parents, however, let me choose Physics and I went on to a Postgraduate degree in Physics.
BS: What experience you learned as an undergraduate and graduate of Physics during 90” s?
AD: The field of Physics in the 90s was opening to cross-disciplinary or multidisciplinary approach and this meant one could work across fields spanning from Biology to Materials to even Finance physics. We were reading about exciting discoveries in biomembrane studies, protein structures, and dynamics. I thought this was the beginning of a wonderful time when we could look at new research problems from the perspective of a physicist, learn about other fields and discover where exactly Physics was going to help. I loved the fact that many things could be explained using Physics and one only needed to be curious to ask the right questions.
BS: Not many men would prefer to choose physics as the mainstream career. How did you survive such low esteem conditions?
AD: I fell in love with Physics from my 5th Class. For me, the magic of applying Physics to everyday problems was something that fascinated me, and by the time I reached my 10th class, I was possessed by Physics. Therefore, I never looked outside for approval or recognition. So, the question of ‘low esteem’ didn’t arise at that time. Of course, a number of my relatives and some acquaintances did look at me as if I was a creature from Mars. But that was OK with me as long as they did not disturb me from doing my science.
BS: Share your scientific journey so far? (ups and downs in detail. All relevant experience you have experienced so far – 1. As women scientist, 2. As physics expert, 3. As a mentor, 4, As a successor, As a woman in life, etc.)
AD: Till my post-graduation in Physics, I wanted to be a science teacher because I was inspired by my school teachers and also some of the professors at College in my postgraduate course. Also, the societal pressure on women in those days meant a career in teaching or as a Bank officer was acceptable. Anything else was considered ‘rebellious’. However, every day of my M.Sc. course was a discovery, and by the time I finished my M.Sc. I knew I was going to research in physics. But I was also starting to get a little worried about the abstract picture, we as physicists were trying to give to the general public. I felt experimental work, particularly in biophysics was possibly the answer to make science relevant to the ‘real world.’ 90s were the exciting time for the Biophysicists- developments in protein crystallography, optical imaging, molecular biological techniques, microarray techniques, and new spectroscopy tools for biomolecules, etc. were being talked about. I took up a detour to a job as a tutor at College for a year, mainly to convince my father that I was serious about my career as a scientist and also to postpone any talks of ‘marriage.’ It was probably a double whammy for my parents with the societal pressure on the one hand and my stubbornness and refusal to conform to the other. I convinced them to let me start my research work at the Dept. of Crystallography& Biophysics, University of Madras. Part of the Ph.D. work I did at the Indian Institute of Science where the campus and the atmosphere in the labs. Again, reinforced in me, the idea that scientist’s career could be exciting. While most of my peers and students from my lab. We’re going to the US for their post-doc fellowships, after my Ph.D. I got fascinated with the work going on in Europe, particularly Germany. I was lucky to get three postdoc offers from the University of Gottingen, University of Hannover and Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical chemistry at Gottingen, FRG. The name ‘Max-Planck ‘attracted me to the institute, and it opened many doors in several areas of science. My years there were rewarding in that I met great scientists and researchers like Prof. Hans Kuhn, my first post-doc. Mentor and my favourite Physical Chemistry teacher, Prof. Manfred Eigen, the Nobel laureate, whose Tuesday seminars gave me insights into many interdisciplinary areas spanning sensory physiology, chemical kinetics, materials science, New techniques in non-linear spectroscopy, etc. The institute had an open-door policy, and I could go and talk science with Nobel laureates and other experts in Biophysical Chemistry. It was an exciting period and the Max-Planck institute’s culture at that time of enjoying science without pressures of publishing and grant seeking helped me to discover my strengths in research and teaching. I made great friends –both professionally and in my personal life and most of these valuable friendships still exist today.
In the meantime, I had married a chemist who was an excellent scientist and a Humboldt fellow, and he encouraged me to be scientifically active. Till today my enthusiasm for science and my passion for doing experimental work have been sustained and supported largely by him, my son and my extended family. Shifting from Physics to Biophysics to Photochemistry and even to sensory physiology was possible mainly because of great teachers and researchers I worked with, and my family which always has supported me. My rewards have been the enthusiastic Graduate students who flocked to my course on experimental techniques in Biophysics or Bio-spectroscopy. The best compliment I got during my time in Germany was from Prof.Kuhn when he told the graduate students to train with me because of my ability to design good experiments. My return to India to start work in a national laboratory was initially fraught with some difficulties. I was used to the German discipline of doing things on time, of trying to be ‘correct’ at work with colleagues, being professional at all times with all colleagues irrespective of their role or rank in the organization. I was initially considered an eccentric and misconstrued to be abrupt and outright. But I learned to read the signs in my new environment and conform slightly without giving up on my core values. During this time, I did have excellent bosses who gave me the freedom to work and who inspired and encouraged me to do what I wanted. I have benefitted from many excellent students who worked with me, and their enthusiasm and curiosity helped me to explore new areas of science. I was particularly happy and proud of the female students who had worked with me and who ultimately made their career in science or technology. I felt I had mattered a little to inspire them and dream bigger.
BS: What’s the biggest thing you struggle with this position?
AD: Sometimes some of my female colleagues share stories with me of great unfairness or some discriminatory treatment. I do not have any horror stories to tell. I am treated with great respect, at least to my face. The stories I want to share are not about harassment. Though not a big deal, when some things happened repeatedly, I realized: there does exist gender bias. In one incident, when I was talking to one of the renowned scientists of India about fellowships to academies and was seeking his advice on how best to get my work noticed and evaluated, he told me in passing that there must be women only academies somewhere which would encourage women scientists like me to be elected fellows! In another incident, I was explaining a new experimental tool that my research team had developed to a professional colleague from another institute. He said to me (and I quote) “I am so stupid. I have been trying to do this measurement for some weeks, and you have done it so easily. I didn’t expect myself to be so stupid.” The word “stupid”, made me wonder what it was all about. Was he trying to tell me that he hated losing to me because I am a woman? Is that why he was trying to underplay my work by claiming to be stupid temporarily? But all these stories even if minor happen all the time, not only to me but to all my female colleagues. Gender bias is real.
BS: Which women inspired your scientific career and why?
AD: Katherine Blodgett, the first woman to be awarded a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Cambridge and a pioneer in applying Physics to develop anti-reflective coatings on glass and Darshan Ranganathan, an organic Chemist from India with her excellent work on protein folding and who dazzled scientists with her brilliance. She had always worked to break the ‘glass ceiling’ at the establishments she worked in, particularly in her early years.
BS: How do you describe yourself as a human being and your best hang out routine?
AD: serious, but with a wry sense of humor and slightly emotional. I like reading books, listening to music and discussing them with some of my research students and at home with my husband and son.
BS: How do you motivate others?
AD: Professionally, by my infectious enthusiasm and curiosity even for elementary issues in science, I tell my students that it is great to look for a problem for which no one has yet found an answer. The greatest happiness is when we are the first people to get to the answer. I keep telling them that the nice thing about being a scientist is that we get paid to do something we enjoy. Personally, I am a good listener trying to understand all viewpoints before offering suggestions, instead of impulsive responses.
BS: You have studied at institutions around the world, including India and Europe. What are some of the similarities and differences you have observed and did you have a favorite?
AD: If you are a professional, have a passion for learning and being a scientist, at some level there is no serious differences. But we are human beings defined by our cultural ideas and our preconceived notions and these are sometimes like noise sitting on a signal. We must realise that every concept or idea, by our self-identification with it, cannot be misunderstood to be about us. While I understand that science, research and especially fruits of research should always be carried out with a ‘human face’ benefitting humanity, a large degree of objectivity and professionalism are needed. I think this is something which had been lacking earlier in Indian science scenario but is slowly changing. My favorite is the German discipline and professionalism coupled with a certain degree of ‘human face’ from our Indian ethos which has worked for me most times.
BS: How do you define success and how do you measure up to your definition?
AD: Success is defined differently by different people. Getting awards and being recognized for the work one does is for many ‘success.’ There are others who are very good at what they do but don’t worry about the above issues. For them, success may mean a great experiment, executed elegantly and the fantastic results they get out of this work! My idea of success is the answers I find, the act of finding the answers, putting science into action. I have been trying to live up to this image and therefore am successful from my yardstick.
BS: Tell me something you have done that goes against all social conventions, yet you did it anyway because it was the right thing to do!
AD: Choosing Physics at a time, when most women were leaning towards life sciences. Also, I did not restrict myself to classical Physics but ventured into areas in Chemistry and Biophysics.
BS: What is your proudest moment as a women scientist or researcher or yet to come?
AD: One of my ‘proud’ moments was when I heard that I was part of ‘Leelavathi’s daughters’, a compendium of 100 women Scientists of India brought out by Indian Academy of Sciences. But the ‘proudest’ moment is yet to come.
BS: Among your greatest achievements, which one is your most memorable achievement?
AD: To be identified as a good Biophysical Chemist by my peers and senior and renowned scientists of the country at the Chemical Research Society of India meetings.
BS: As a scientist what do you like most about teaching or research?
AD: I like both in equal measure. They are mutually complementary to each other. In fact, I think if I can explain a concept and teach it clearly, I should also have the strength to demonstrate it and prove it through good research methodology.
BS: What popular general advice do you disagree with?
AD: The advice I abhor most is when people say ‘publish or perish.’
BS: What is your favorite metaphor to describe yourself?
AD: Highly focussed, self- driven
BS: Tell us any craziest thing you ever did in your career/life?
AD: I don’t think I ever did anything crazy in my career or life!
BS: We think in India gender parity is lacking in science and technology for women?
AD: Yes, Gender imbalance in science & Technology has much more to do with the perceived place of women in the society here than with their ability or lack thereof.
BS: What are the type of difficulties women are facing currently in industry and research of India?
AD: As mentioned above, mostly our culture casts men as leaders and experts, and women as supporting characters and understudies. In many situations, most men seem to think their superior knowledge and understanding bestows upon them a natural authority and responsibility. Our equality where it seems to exist is measured, apportioned to us by some polite, congenial men, men who will invite us to advise and support them as needed, but will always reserve the right to overrule us should they deem it necessary. We’re instructed on what level of anger befits us and which fights we can pick without belittling our cause. We have policies and procedures pushed on us that promote, at our expense, some strange concept called “women” that does not seem to include us.
BS: We have very few women pioneers in science and technology. What is the reason behind it?
AD: I asked this question to one of my former directors. He told me ‘if there aren’t so many women around, that’s obviously because they’re not interested’ He went on to say that few women wanted a career in Science & Technology and since most of them divide their time between family and work, they don’t seem to have the drive to reach for the ‘top’. He sounded as if the there was no fault in the system and there is nothing wrong, and complaints were invalid. I think while there may be some truth in few women at the ‘top,’ my observations about the ‘culture’ thing could also be a major factor. The crucial period after our Ph.D. coincides with the period when some women decide to get married or have children. Naturally, we tend to lag behind. Unfortunately, we can’t give up on that role of motherhood. But if we want to become scientists, we have to work twice as hard as men. Because of the perceived dual burden of home and work, and the lack of out-of-the-lab networking opportunities, more men are sought for positions such as memberships of institute committees.
BS: Can please tell us in brief about your thoughts to improve gender parity in Science for next-generation women? What work is left to do?
AD: These are more questions than answers to this issue. How does one change the mindset of the society in the perceived roles of women and men in the community? The ‘entrenched patriarchy’ manifests itself in many subtle ways. How do we deal with this? How do we remove the Subtle prejudices internalized from societal stereotypes? If a female scientist wants both a career and a family, does she always have to choose between the two? We have to deal with them before we think of any new work that can be done.
BS: What guidance would you provide for other yearning women researchers?
AD: I realised a little late in my career that there were two issues I should have paid attention to (1) Having a great mentor whose counsel helps you make the right career choices and who probably helps to make your work visible at the right places and (ii) networking with your peers. Lack of both has been a great setback for me at times. I always assumed that we shouldn’t promote ourselves if we are doing good work. I thought that if our work is excellent, people will automatically notice it. I missed out on some opportunities at crucial times, and my career seemed under optimized. I now see some of my younger colleagues networking efficiently and also advertising their work at the right forum through their mentors. They seem to get ‘better visibility’ than I did. My advice will be if you are good at networking do it, seek the help of a mentor for going places in your career.
BS: Why Gender equity is essential in Indian scientific ecosystem?
AD: Women are responsible for half the human knowledge and technical expertise, and it is the time we used this 50% to better use to improve the lives of our people of India.
BS: Can we erase gender parity for women in science in India?
AD: I doubt it. But if we work hard enough and remove some of the stereotypical patriarchal notions revolving around women- that they prefer ‘relaxed’ jobs, that they would not be able to effectively research once they have family responsibilities, it might help! Young men must be taught to accept that women can be as smart as they are. We must encourage girls right from the school level to engage in scientific subjects and activities. These things might help erase the gender parity slowly.
BS: Last question, what is your opinion on our start-up project Biostandups.com?
AD: You are doing a great job. Young people, need good ‘role models’ and counsel to go about their career and channelize their energy and effort. Keep going, and I think you have all the right ingredients.
Reading (Fiction, Non-fiction), Listening to music and painting with pastels
January - 2018
Dr. Rashmi Sharma
Science for Equity Empowerment and Development (SEED)
Department of Science and Technology
Government of India
Biostandups aims to establish awareness of women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and expertise from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regard, this month we brought motivation and inspiration from Dr. Rashmi Sharma working as Scientist-E in Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India. She passionate about her work and as scientist feels vindicated when the appropriate S&T interventions including technologies are developed and transferred from lab to land for the benefit of the society. She is an active member of various inter and intra Ministerial Committees and participates in dialogues on regular basis and has made several recommendations towards nation goals & mission. For her significant contributions, Biostandups honors Dr. Rashmi as “SHERO.”
Dr. Rashmi Sharma is working as Scientist-E in Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India. She presently manages several important functions in Science for Equity Empowerment and Development (SEED) and National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC) Divisions.
Rashmi Sharma is a Doctor of Philosophy in Agriculture Science from University of Tsukuba, Japan. She was also awarded Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2002. Her specialization includes Molecular Biology, Biotechnology, Microarrays, and Pharmacogenomics. Although her specialization is in the area of Basic R&D, presently she is implementing the knowledge gained through her work experience at various Institutes, Universities, and corporate organizations, in implementing various schemes and programs of DST.
Presently, she is spearheading Scheme for Young Scientists and Technologists (SYST) for nurturing young innovative minds engaged in S&T domain towards finding solutions to societal challenges/issues. SYST has been revived, reenergized and rejuvenated through her concerted efforts. She also manages ‘Technological Intervention for Addressing Societal Needs (TIASN)’ another prominent scheme primarily aimed at technology development and adaptive R&D in the area of Agriculture, Health, Nutrition and activities related to Non-Farm sector. She has evolved various location-specific S&T interventions for Arid and Semi-Arid Regions (ASAR) and Cold Desert Regions (CODER) besides Sustainable Agriculture for Rural Transformation through Holistic Initiatives (SARTHI) for Shivalik Himalayas. These programs are designed to have direct impact on the socio-economic up-liftment of people inhabiting in these difficult terrains through local resource management involving scientific interventions.
She has recently been instrumental in evolving an innovative program for the State of Uttarakhand based on S&T interventions targeting optimal utilization of natural resources, augmenting skills of local youth, strengthening traditional crafts for sustained livelihoods and thus enhancing quality-of-life of people in four identified clusters of villages.
In the area of Science Communication & Popularization, she is handling a vital program- ‘S&T through Community Radio’. She has been working constantly towards tapping the potential of Community Radio to communicate formal and easy to access verifiable information & knowledge about issues like health & nutrition. Besides programs related to health, she is also promoting inculcation of basic Mathematics skills among even the illiterate. Her involvement with the program has enabled the focus towards achieving gender equity and with national priority of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao. These initiatives would help to deliver the message through radio programmes that can be heard by communities located even in far-flung or otherwise unreachable areas leveraged by Community Radios.
She is an active member of various inter and intra Ministerial Committees and participates in dialogues on regular basis and has made several recommendations towards nation goals & missions. She was a member of the delegation as an Ecosystem Partner for Women Entrepreneur Quest (WEQ) 2016, which facilitated visit of 10 winners from India to Silicon Valley in May 2017, She passionate about her work and as scientist feels vindicated when the appropriate S&T interventions including technologies are developed and transferred from lab to land for the benefit of the society,
I am currently working in the arena of policymaking and administration of scientific schemes and programs in the broad areas of enhancing quality-of-life, particularly disadvantaged sections and under-privileged communities through Science & Technology (S&T) intervention. So, though I am no longer a scientist in a research lab, I facilitate researchers from across the country in identifying location-specific challenges of society and take up projects to find solutions to the same. Another research area that fascinates me a lot is Mental Health, Behavioural Sciences and Community Medicine.
Sabeera: Tell us about your early life education and experience?
Rashmi: I take pride in that my schooling is from a grassroots level Government Girls Senior Secondary School even though it was located in Delhi. Being a bright student, I did quite well in school and thus got the opportunity to study in some of India’s institutes of higher learning. I did my Graduation in Biochemistry from Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi and Post-graduation in Biotechnology from the University of Roorkee (now IIT-Roorkee). I pursued my Ph.D. at University of Tsukuba, Japan and Post-doctoral at National Institute of Agrobiological Resource (NIAS), Tsukuba, Japan. I also got the opportunity to travel to USA, Canada, and Europe to present my work at International Conferences. I feel that it will be highly motivating for girls from Government schools to know that there is no dearth of opportunities and hard work, dedication and perseverance is always rewarding. I would like to share my experience of being Guest of Honour at Science Exhibition organized at Government School and was overwhelmed with the response after sharing my background. Looking back at my professional journey, I feel elated due to my cross-functional exposure in India and abroad.
Sabeera: What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
Rashmi: You reminded me of my grandfather, who, despite his rustic background, was always in favor of higher education for girls. Though he had visualized me as a medical Doctor, he continued to support me when I wished to pursue basic sciences. His dream and also the constant inspiration from my mother helped me to pursue science and ultimately being what I am today.
Sabeera: What is the most exciting research you have been involved in?
Rashmi: Being an administrator of several programs & schemes in the realm of science & technology, I come across numerous innovative ideas that, if given appropriate & adequate support, can get translated to solutions/products for enhancing quality-of-life of various communities. I try facilitating the individuals as well as academic institutes/organizations who come up with such ideas by associating them with suitable mentors who will act as a guiding force. This gives me contentment of being involved in research even though indirectly in most of the cases. One such concept where I am deeply involved is Sex Selections Drugs particularly being used in rural areas of North India with a belief to alter the sex of a foetus. The outcomes of the research done in C. elegans reveals the reproductive and developmental toxicity that could be extrapolated to women consuming them as well as the growing fetus. The results can be harnessed for breaking the myths and to create awareness among masses about the harmful effect of these drugs.
Sabeera: What was your most satisfying achievement in career?
Rashmi: Stanford University, recognized as the hub of learning, innovation (Mecca of innovation) across traditional academic boundaries is a dream destination for every researcher, and my visit there and interaction with the faculty and students there in May 2017 was the most satisfying achievement of my career. I have also been instrumental in a new program at DST right from its conceptual stage which has just been launched in Uttarakhand for holistic, integrated development there through S&T interventions.
Sabeera: Tell us briefly about your role and responsibilities at Department of Science and Technology?
Rashmi: My major role is being instrumental in implementing schemes and programs effectively with a direct focus on deliverables and evolving new initiatives based on the felt need of the community in collaboration with S&T based institutions. Collaboration definitely enhances the scientific inputs in terms of identification of the relevant technology suitable to the area and deliverables. Currently, I am working on a new initiative on improving the skills of researchers towards writing popular science articles as well as scientific papers.
Sabeera: What are the major policies and programs that DST has made for women empowerment in STEM?
Rashmi: Department of Science and Technology (DST), started making concerted efforts towards gender equality in Science and Technology (S&T) domain in 1980s and initiated a program ‘Science and Technology for Women’ with a vision to promote gender equality to address challenges pertaining to women. While working in this challenging domain, DST realized that retention of women in research career was a major issue and to address it launched “Women Scientists Scheme” in 2002, with a primary objective to bring those women scientists back into mainstream who had a break in career due to family obligations and other socio-cultural responsibilities. This scheme has successfully brought back about 4000 women scientists to the mainstream through various initiatives under Women Scientists Scheme (WOS).
In Indian social milieu parents, and that too a minuscule percentage, prefer sending their girls to women-only universities as they feel safe and comfortable in that setup. Realizing the need of strengthening R&D infrastructure in women-only S&T universities, DST supported six such universities to develop state-of-the-art laboratories and enhance S&T skills of young women and faculty pursuing research thus creating a holistic learning atmosphere through CURIE (Consolidation of University Research for Innovation and Excellence) scheme.
DST is also supporting capacity building in the area of various innovative & cutting-edge technologies on regular basis besides training in leadership for women. We are confident that our collective endeavors would make a positive and lasting impact not only in the lives of women in STEM but also towards better socio-economic security and leadership roles for women.
Sabeera: Among all your prestigious awards and recognitions which was the most memorable to you?
Rashmi: I felt elated when Post-Doctoral Fellowship (PDF) was awarded to me by Japan Society for Promotion of Science (JSPS) as very few scientists get this coveted award.
Sabeera: Who have been your women role models – not necessarily in science?
Rashmi: One lady that I have adored since my childhood is Sushma Swaraj ji, Hon’ble Union Minister of External Affairs. Her intense and impromptu oration skills have influenced me a lot. In the field of Science, I look up to Dr Soumya Swaminathan, presently DDG, WHO, and Dr. Tessi Thomas. I also admire Sunita Williams, the 2nd Cosmonaut of Indian origin whom I have been fortunate to meet and felt touched by her simplicity, humility, and mastery of her subject. Another, magnificent women who I adore is Mary Kom, the great boxer, due to of her perseverance, strength, vigor and determination in participating in competitions at the highest level even after delivery of children and thus exhibiting that motherhood is not a constraint.
Sabeera: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Rashmi: Belief in yourself, work hard and maintain positive energy as it will dissipate in your surroundings.
Sabeera: Besides your work, you have also devoted a lot of time and power in endorsing science to a larger crowd. What energies you?
Rashmi: Feeling of accomplishment, love and affection of the people whom I visit at the grassroots level, sometimes trekking several miles in difficult hilly terrains to their villages, which energises me the most. I get calls and Whatsapp messages from girls from villages I visited in Uttarakhand when these girls look up to you for support and guidance you feel elated.
Sabeera: How difficult has it been for you to achieve a sustainable work-life balance? How can institutions help in this regard?
Rashmi: I am a proud mother of two lovely daughters and during early days of my career, it was extremely difficult to achieve work-life balance. I kept myself dedicated but confined due to the sense of responsibility. Now my both daughters are grown up- the elder is 17 years and the younger 11 years of age, which I feel is the right age to make them independent under supervision. They are my biggest support at home as they have started appreciating my efforts and commitment towards work and always encourage me to do so.
Sabeera: Do you think women need to be mentored differently? Do young women benefit from older women mentors?
Rashmi: Mentoring, which is a continuous process, begins right from home with mother shares good and bad experiences in an analytical manner with her daughter(s). Then it is the teachers & guides in academic settings and for few who are fortunate to enroll in higher education and then get professionally engaged the so-called boss(es). I, for example, learnt a lot from some of my teachers both in college and university and then one person who I admire and would like to single out- Dr. Vinita Sharma- former Scientist G at DST who mentored me by handholding. It would be unfair to say that women get benefit from older women mentors only, men equally participate in this process, if women are prepared to acquire knowledge and strength from them. I must admit candidly that my male colleagues and superiors in the Department to have contributed immensely to shaping my personality as well as career.
Sabeera: What are the fundamental barriers that block the progress of women in science?
Rashmi: There are many fundamental socio-economic and geo-cultural barriers in our country, which affect the progress of women in science. In India, parents consider that studying science is an expensive proposition and usually encourage only boys to pursue science and save money for the marriage of girls. Many of them, usually in rural and semi-urban settings, also refrain from sending their daughters to boarding schools, colleges, and universities mostly as they are worried about safety & security. Lack of awareness about new avenues and support ecosystem to contributes significantly to this phenomenon.
Sabeera: What is one change that, in your opinion, would immensely benefit wannabe women scientists India?
Rashmi: Gender equality is a continuous process that involves the holistic development of society and the nation, therefore, a change in the attitude of men to acknowledge work done by women at par with them would immensely benefit women. In this context, DST is launching a new initiative Vigyan Jyoti to embrace young, bright girls during early years and sustain their career in S&T domain. Premier academic institutions like IITs, IISERs, IISc, NITs, and Universities will become partners in this initiative, which entails extending mentorship to meritorious girls right from secondary school and until the inception of their research career.
Sabeera: What is your advice for young women scientists embarking on their careers?
Rashmi: I strongly feel that women are better managers than men, therefore, believe in yourself, work hard with dedication, do not lose focus, maintain a positive attitude and do not make undue sacrifices.
Sabeera: What is one change, that, in your opinion, would hugely benefit aspiring women scientists?
Rashmi: In my opinion, institutions/organizations should follow inclusive approach rather than segregated policy to involve women in workforce and decision-making process. Gender Budgeting thus should thus be integrated into the very fabric of the path that women scientists follow.
Sabeera: As per a recent study, Women in science ask fewer questions than men in conferences? Do you agree?
Rashmi: I disagree with it completely; women participate equally in interactive sessions during Conferences. I have attended several in my short but eventful career and observed at many instances that women asked more pointed questions and expected clear, coherent and cohesive answers. Some male colleagues sometimes try to suppress you but if you present your case with clarity and firmness, they tend to give way.
Sabeera: We still see so few women pursuing leadership positions in the realm of research? Is this a question of ability?
Rashmi: No doubt there are very few women present at leadership positions in the S&T domain primarily but men had a headstart but things are a changing. It is not the question of ability, but the conducive environment, enabling ecosystem and availability of opportunities at right time. After all, women have to raise and tend to families, too.
Sabeera: Do you think it is getting better for women in science and even academia as a whole? What work is left to do?
Rashmi: Representation of women participating in extramural research has improved significantly from 13% to 31% in last one decade. We do now hear more women in academia and medical profession and also in responsible positions. However, representation of women in a leadership position has yet not reached the level which can make us hold our head high at international fora.
Sabeera: How can we, as a community, do a better job of sharing the stories of women in science?
Rashmi: There are several ways and using the right kind of media is one such example. For instance, realizing the potential and outreach of Community Radio, I would suggest using this tool to share success stories of women in science. This should certainly nudge aspiring young girls from rural areas to pursue science.
Sabeera: Share any of your ideas to promote women in science? Are there any groups, organizations/institutions doing a good job of sharing the stories of women in science?
Rashmi: DST has a strong women-exclusive program- KIRAN- which offers several verticals to women, particularly those having a break in career, to return to mainstream science. Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) India, is another agency which is doing a good job by acknowledging achievements of women in the field of Science and Engineering.
Music (due to the feeling of serenity it affords), Reading autobiographies (as it makes you understand the perspective of another person towards life) and Fitness (for physical & mental well being).
December - 2017
Dr. Praveena Bhatt
Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI)
Biostandups aims to establish awareness of women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and expertise from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regard, this month we brought motivation and inspiration from Dr. Praveena Bhatt, the senior scientist working on in the field of pre- and probiotics. Dr. Praveen thinks that the number of women pioneers in science/technology are less and believes that the reason could be lack of opportunities and also the mindset of a male-dominated society not allowing women to excel by increasing the number of hurdles for her. Dr. Praveena works closely with her team for developing biosensors, and simultaneously she handles her duties as coordinator for “Faculty Training and Student Motivation towards Science” program which is a unique initiative of CSIR to motivate young, brilliant minds to take up science as a career. For her significant contributions, Biostandups honors Dr. Praveena as “SHERO.”
I am a microbiologist working in the field of applied microbiology and biotechnology. I finished my graduation and post-graduation from Bangalore University and did my PhD from CSIR- National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-NEERI), Nagpur. I joined CSIR-CFTRI in the year 2009 and have been actively working since then in the area of pre- and pro-biotics. My team also works on developing “biosensors” for detection of foodborne pathogens and microbial toxins. I am a course coordinator and faculty for Basic Microbiology course conducted for M. Sc Food Technology students under Academy of CSIR (AcSIR). I am also a coordinator for “Faculty Training and Student Motivation towards Science” program which is a unique initiative of CSIR to motivate young brilliant minds to take up science as a career. I have around 30 publications, 4 book chapters and several invited talks, seminar and conference papers to my credit. I have guided several students for their post-graduate and doctoral degrees. Recently I received the award for “CSIR-CFTRI Best Research Paper – 2016-2017”
I am currently working in the arena of policymaking and administration of scientific schemes and programs in the broad areas of enhancing quality-of-life, particularly disadvantaged sections and under-privileged communities through Science & Technology (S&T) intervention. So, though I am no longer a scientist in a research lab, I facilitate researchers from across the country in identifying location-specific challenges of society and take up projects to find solutions to the same. Another research area that fascinates me a lot is Mental Health, Behavioural Sciences and Community Medicine.
BS: Were you passionate about science as a child?
PB: Yes, I was. My father was in the Indian Forest Service and was very passionate about science and in particular plants and their ecosystem. His passion kind of rubbed off on me and I was very intrigued about the many facets of science when I was a child.
BS: Tell us your inspiration behind liking microbiology and furthering your career as microbiology expert?
PB: It was in my VIII standard that we had to perform an experiment and view a sample under the microscope. We students were so fascinatingly looking at tiny particles moving under the microscope which our teacher said were bacterial cells. I also remember her telling us “Their (microbes) work is not as small as they are!!” This was when I thought, it will be so interesting to study these creatures which we cannot see through our naked eyes but yet they affect us in so many different ways……
BS: Your name is listed as “Global Microbiology Experts” at Omicsonline. What do you think about it?
PB: Well! I didn’t know about it till now… I am very passionate about my subject and yes it makes me really happy to know that I am listed as an expert on my subject.
BS: Have you ever received any awards or fellowships for your excellence?
PB: I received the AU-CBT PhD research Scholar excellence award from Biotech Research Society of India (BRSI) in the year 2007. This was for my doctoral work on “Biotechnological approaches for bioremediation of hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH)”. The award carried a cash prize and a citation. Apart from this, I also received the CSIR-NEERI best research paper award 2007-2008 on NEERI foundation day. I was awarded the DST fast-track project for Young Scientists in 2010. I have also received the CSIR- senior research fellowship and Research Associateship to pursue my research in microbiology and biotechnology.
BS: Among all your prestigious awards and recognitions which was the most memorable to you?
PB: I think the AU-CBT award for best PhD scholar would be my most memorable one since I received it for my research at a very young age of 27 years.
BS: How pre-biotics differ from probiotics?
PB: “Pro-biotics” by World Health Organization (WHO) are defined as live microorganisms which when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host. Our gut is colonized by a number of microorganisms (trillions of them) some of which are beneficial while a few others are harmful. Some are also opportunists. A healthy human has the right balance of these organisms with the beneficial ones far outnumbering the harmful ones, this is called the state of “eubiosis”. When this balance in the gut is disturbed (dysbiosis), it leads to several negative implications on health. “Pro-biotics” is an intervention to increase the number of a beneficial flora of the gut by consuming them which can then manifest into a balanced gut environment leading to several health benefits. Fermented foods are rich sources of probiotics. Many products are available in the market which claims to contain probiotics.
“Pre-biotics” is nothing but “Food for pro-biotics”. Prebiotics are those dietary components which when consumed can selectively increase the growth of beneficial microflora of the colon. Oligosaccharides (fructooligosaccharide, galactooligosaccharide, xylooligosaccharide etc.) are examples of prebiotics which can selectively increase the number of beneficial microbes such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus in the gut. Prebiotic containing products are also available in the market. Asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, legumes, cereal grains etc. are some naturally rich sources of prebiotics.
BS: How important to include probiotics in our daily life?
PB: Research today has unequivocally proven that the gut microbiota plays an extremely important role in health. A new understanding is emerging that all disease phenotypes including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, cancer and several others are actually a manifestation of complex interactions between the diet, gut microbiota, drug intake, the environment and the human host. There is accumulating evidence that different diseases are characterized by significant changes in the microbiota of the gut and the metabolic functions they perform. Having probiotics daily can ensure that we have a healthy gut which can build our immunity and strongly prevent the onset of diseases.
BS: What is the current advancement in the field of probiotics?
PB: Probiotic research today is being focused to establish a link between gut microbiota and human diseases. One of the most recent research suggests that there is a functional link between the bacteria in the gut and Parkinson’s disease, one of the most debilitating brain disorders. Scientists from the United States and Europe have shown that changing the bacteria in the gut of mice affected the manifestation of Parkinson’s symptoms, even including bacteria taken from the gut of humans suffering from the disease. They suggest that the best target for treatment may be the gut, rather than the brain. The future of probiotics is, therefore, to develop “next generation” probiotics, more sophisticated than the sort of probiotics found on the shelves of health food stores today. There may be a time in future when doctors actually prescribe “disease targeted probiotic pills” rather than “chemical drugs” to treat a particular pathogenesis.
BS: What is your most fascinating area of research other than microbiology? if any?
PB: I also work on “biosensors”… It’s my dream to develop a simple, easy to use a kit or maybe a dip-stick as slim as a pen to detect disease-causing pathogens in food. This kit should be so handy that anyone, practically anyone can use it anytime to test whether his or her food is safe to eat!. My research team is working in this direction and we hope to deliver it someday…….
BS: As a scientist what do you like most about teaching and research?
PB: My vote would go for “research”…..That’s what I like doing the most….
BS: Tell us any craziest thing you ever have done in your career/life?
PB: Not one I can think of right now.
BS: How do you manage work and personal life?
PB: I am extremely blessed to have a very supportive family which makes it easier to manage both work and personal life. I have been brought up by parents who are extremely open-minded and always gave us (we are two sisters) all the freedom in the world to pursue our dreams. I have been lucky to get an equally supportive husband who has motivated and encouraged me throughout. He is from the same field, a fellow scientist is an added advantage. I feel I have been able to strike a good balance between work and personal life because of all the support I get from home.
BS: World Health Organization announced on October 2nd 2017 that Dr. Soumya Swaminathan as Deputy Director-General for Programmes. How do you feel about it?
PB: Proud and extremely inspiring!….When a woman reaches the top, she inspires a hundred others to do their best and scale greater heights…..Dr. Swaminathan and her work is truly inspirational and will definitely motivate another woman in the field of science to excel and reach the top.
BS: Women are not performing enough or equal to men; hence they fail to reach top positions. Do you agree? If not why?
PB: I wouldn’t agree with it a bit. Women are equally good and sometimes even better than men in their work fields. They fail to reach the top because the ratio of women to men in almost all the fields is low. Some who do reach a certain place is pulled down by the largely male-dominated society we live-in. So it’s not because of the lack of merit but the lack of opportunities that make women not reach the top so easily.
BS: Do you support women empowerment in science and research? What is your opinion on Women in science?
PB: I support women empowerment not only in science and research but in all other fields of life. I feel its high time women are given their due in society. More and more women are taking up science today and that’s a very good sign of a progressive society.
BS: Do you think women empowerment in Science and Technology is underpinned in India?
PB: To some extent yes….Now there are a lot of opportunities for women to come back to research after a career break. Women are given 5 years extra period against age limits when applying for positions, research funding, awards, fellowships etc. This has been done keeping in mind that a woman takes a break when she starts her family which is also an essential part of her life.
BS: We have very few women pioneers in science and technology. What is the reason behind it?
PB: Yes, the number of women pioneers in science and technology are less. I feel the reason could be lack of opportunities and also mindset of a male-dominated society in not allowing women to excel by increasing the number of hurdles for her.
BS: As a woman, have you ever faced intolerance situations against gender diversity in your career?
PB: Frankly and fortunately no. As mentioned earlier, I am blessed with a very supportive family. Also, my research guide, mentors, and all other peers have been tremendously supportive and encouraging. Never felt being treated differently for being a WOMAN. I hope that one day many women in our country would also say a “no” like me.
BS: Do you have any suggestions to raise the bar for women scientists?
PB: My only suggestion would be “Our limitation is only in the mind”……So break loose and follow your dreams……
BS: Share your opinion about our new start-up biostandups.com?
PB: Biostandups is doing an incredible job of creating awareness on women empowerment in science. Kudos to you. I wish your team all the very best and may you get success in your noble endeavor.
Reading, listening Hindustani classical music
November - 2017
Dr. Nandini Das
Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regard, this month we brought motivation and inspiration from Dr. Nandini Das, a materials scientist working on developing ceramic membrane filters. She studied Engineering and turned herself into a scientist. Her Scientific journey made her play several key roles such as lecturer, examiner, researcher, mentor, and a supervisor. She loves to enjoy Hindustani music and reading. Biostandups honors Dr. Nandini Das as “SHERO.
I received my M. Tech degree in the Year 1992 from Calcutta University. After that, I did my Ph.D. from the same University. During the PhD program, I was working at the CSIR- Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute, Kolkata as a senior research fellow of CSIR. My research topic was the development of Ceramic Microfiltration Membrane. Later, I joined CSIR – National Metallurgical Laboratory, Jamshedpur as a Scientist in 2000. In NML I worked on the synthesis and characterization of ultrafiltration membrane by sol-gel technique and development of ultrafiltration membrane on differently-sized alumina substrate. Later on, I took a transfer back to CSIR- CGCRI, Kolkata in the year 2003. In the initial phase at CGCRI, I had worked in the area of synthesis and applications of nanomaterials in the Electroceramics division. After that, I started working in the area of development of ceramic membranes of different forms. Now, I have concentrated on the development of zeolite membrane for gas separation for clean energy applications. I have published more than 35 research papers in peer-reviewed journals with 3 Patents. I have also participated as a lecturer, examiner in B. Tech (Ceramic Engineering) course of Calcutta University, West Bengal University of Technology. So far, I have guided eight Ph.D. students. I am also involved as a Reviewer for different SCI journals.
Material science and engineering with particular reference to the ceramic membrane, (Especially Inorganic layer like alumina, silica and zeolite membranes). I started my research work on the development of alumina microfiltration membrane by tape casing technique. Later on, I worked on ultrafiltration membrane by sol-gel method. Now, I am involved in the development of Ceramic Membrane for gas separation. Development of different types of zeolite and mixed-matrix membrane for gas separation and different porous materials for gas storage applications are the central areas of my research activities. The clean-energy related works such as production of hydrogen-selective membrane and module and storage of hydrogen are of my interest. Particularly, at present, I am working on Zeolite membranes for H2 separation and storage. Also, I have some experience in synthesis of nanomaterials by different techniques such as sonochemical, hydrothermal, micro-emulsion, etc. for sensors and other electronic applications. I have also worked on the implementation of Tape Casting Process for the preparation of dense Electrolyte of YSZ for fuel cell application as well as Porous alumina membrane for microfiltration application.
I have some experience in the preparation and densification of PZT wafer for actuator applications. I have established efficient gas separation possibilities by zeolite and mixed-matrix membrane for industrial use. Based on that, I have worked with VSP (Vizag steel plant) to develop and apply zeolite membrane for removal of CO2 and N2 from Blast Furnace gas.
BS: When & Why you decide to pursue engineering as your career?
ND: I know that success in life depends on the well-planned aim. In my student life, since most of my family members were associated with chemistry, I was inspired to do my Bachelor degree in Chemistry (Hons) from Calcutta University. My love for science led me to develop passion for chemistry. Gradually, I’d come to contact with many eminent teachers, professors, and personalities in the same field. They motivated me towards study, by giving examples of great figures all over the world. My mother always taught me about the dedication to work. A new world of science & technology had opened in front of me. Then I realized that I’d to improve my knowledge and enhance technical approach in my thoughts. One famous quotation I heard from my teacher was “Engineering or technology is all about using the power of science to make life better for people, to reduce cost, to improve comfort, to improve productivity, etc. Science about knows; engineering is about doing”. After completing my Bachelor’s degree, I started my journey as an engineer to engage myself systematically in implementing all my evocative thoughts in the real world. But still, now I’m a student of science without any degree instead of an engineer or scientist.
BS: Tell us about your scientific journey from early days to till now?
ND: I was a student from a small town Barasat in West Bengal. I studied in Bengali medium school. Fortunately, my school Barasat Kali Krishna Girl’s School is the first school for girls in India started by Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Raja Kali Krishna Mitra at the time of Reedus. After passing the secondary examination, I took science as my primary subject from secondary onwards. And in graduation, I took Chemistry as honors subject and physics and mathematics as pass subject. After graduation, in Calcutta University, I started my engineering career in the Applied chemistry department, and after completing M.Tech, I did my Ph.D. at Calcutta University. Then, I joined CSIR-NML (National Metallurgical Laboratory) in July 2000. My Ph.D. thesis was on the ceramic membranes. I started my work in the year 1993. At that time, few groups in Europe were working on the ceramic layer. I began with alumina microfiltration membrane for separation of E-coli, the waterborne bacteria, from water. I have published my first paper on ceramic membrane for microfiltration application in 1996. Then, I worked on nanomaterials synthesis using green chemistry approach. Now, I am working in the area of gas separation for clean energy application using the ceramic membrane.
BS: What is a ceramic membrane and how does it work? Any real-life examples?
ND: Membrane is a selective barrier between two components in a homogeneous mixture which allows some elements to pass through but stops others. Such things may be molecules, ions, or other small particles, etc. One of the common uses has been desalination of brackish water and seawater using cellulose acetate based polymeric membrane. Other methods include purification of boiler feed water, the concentration of fruit juice, as separation, removal of micro-organism and separation of amino acids, etc. in pharmaceutical industries. Depending on the specific application various materials have been used for the preparation of membrane. Most of the layers presently used are made of polymeric materials. In recent years, inorganic, ceramic membranes made of metal oxides (alumina, mullite, cordierite, zirconia, silica, and titania) and non-oxides (as silicon carbide, silicon nitride, etc.,) have gained ground by replacing the conventional polymeric membranes. A rapid growth of their use in recent times is due to their inherent chemical, physical, thermal and microbial stability together with a significant improvement in their fabrication techniques in the last decades. The most substantial market share of membrane separation is held by micro-filtration area. And micro-filtration in combination with ultra-filtration can solve almost any separation problem in case of liquid filtration involving particulate material and macromolecules.
As you have asked for a real-life example, yes, our bodies are composed of billions of cells. There must be a way to regulate what enters and leaves these cells. From them we learn about the selectively permeable membranes and their critical role in the function of a cell. And, from this concept, membranes for separation of different components were developed.
BS: Advanced ceramic membranes. What are those?
ND: Nowadays gas separation by the membrane is gaining ground because of its ease of operation. Gas separation is a major critical topic of membrane research. Membranes are used for isolation of air product, purification of natural gas, and separation of the product stream from the reaction medium. These processes are competitive with ‘alternate technologies, such as adsorption, cryogenic distillation, etc. Membrane separation process enjoys numerous industrial applications with several advantages: appreciable energy savings, environmentally suitable, clean technology with operational ease, replaces the conventional methods like filtration, distillation, ion-exchange, etc. chemical treatment systems and finally produces high-quality products. Also it has Greater flexibility in designing systems
In the case of membrane-based gas separation, very precise and well-defined pore-sized membranes are required. As we all know that molecular size of the gases are in angstrom level. So, to separate this angstrom-sized gas molecule, advanced materials and also membranes are essential. From this point of view, and also due to their high efficiency and practically infinite selectivity for the separation of oxygen or hydrogen from gas mixtures for different applications, inorganic oxides such as zeolites, mixed-oxide ceramic membranes etc are of great interest.
BS: What are the leading countries in global ceramic membrane market?
ND: Germany, France, Italy, Japan, China. But we are not far behind. Our research publication shows that we are more or less in competition with the said countries.
BS: What is the future of Ceramic membranes in India?
ND: As I have mentioned, ceramic materials have tremendous advantages over other types of materials. So gradually, polymeric membranes are being replaced by ceramic membranes. Globally, development of membrane-based processes and, especially ceramic membrane-based processes for gas separation application, are in the primary stage. But, in case of microfiltration and ultrafiltration applications, market is increasing day by day. Recently, I worked with Vizag steel plant for separation of carbon dioxide from flue gas. The proof of concept has been established. To make it successful in industrial level, we have to go a long way. So in my opinion, participation and collaboration with industry and scientific laboratory may be active, and then we will be successful.
BS: Can ceramic membranes help in controlling global warming?
ND: Obviously. An ever-growing demand for energy coupled with increasing pollution is forcing us to seek environmentally clean alternative energy resources to substitute fossil fuels. From the environmental and energy perspective, Hydrogen is considered as next-generation clean fuel. But hydrogen is not available in pure form in nature. Usually, hydrogen produced from steam methane reforming (SMR) process followed by the Water‐Gas Shift Reaction. The repugnant product in this reaction is carbon dioxide which may diminish the energy content of the gas and its acidic nature in the presence of water also enhanced the corrosion within the transport and storage system. Therefore, to get the clean fuel, H2 needs to be separated from CO2 and other gases. And carbon-free hydrogen can be used as only possible long-term alternative fuel for serving our energy needs. Membrane-based separation of gases has emerged as an essential unit operations technique.
BS: Describe yourself as a scientist? What is your favorite metaphor to describe yourself?
ND: To me, the word “scientist” is like a captain of the ship in the vast ocean of knowledge. I think I am not suitable for this word. Instead, I can say I am like small parts of that ship.
BS: One best quality of yours that you are proud of yourself?
ND: Honesty and truthfulness. I have a firm belief on Swami Vivekananda, s quote ‘Everything can be sacrificed for truth, but truth cannot be sacrificed for anything”.
BS: What was your most satisfying moment in your career so far?
ND: Yet to come. Being a Scientist cum Technical person, I always prefer to see that.
BS: How do you want to motivate other women who dream to hunt their career in engineering and research?
ND: Again, Swami Vivekananda’s quote “Take courage and work on. Patience and steady work — this is the only way to reach the goal.
BS: Controlling gender imbalance in the STEM. Your comment?
ND: In our country policies are there, and laws are there. I think only rules and procedures cannot change the society. Every citizen should think about it. Notably, the “thought process” of the woman can just change the scenario. Dependency should be avoided. Self-dependence of the woman may be one of the way-out of this situation.
BS: As a woman scientist, have you ever faced intolerance situations against gender dominance in your career?
ND: The moment we identify us as women, I think, the problem starts from that very point. As our male-dominated society always try to underestimate one woman, so I guess, every moment we have to believe that we are not women but human beings and simultaneously our behaviour and the way of interacting with others will change and we must raise our voice against the situation. My belief is that mental strength reflects on behaviour. Honestly, I never feel that gender dominance. I would like to share one case. Before starting my Ph.D. research work, I had gone to my guide for considering me as a student. Before that, I heard from some of my friends that Sir used to avoid girl students for their more involvement in household work, family life, etc. Later on, I prove myself that both the responsibilities can be borne by proper priority balance and scheduling.
BS: What are the confronts for women in science that need immediate attention?
ND: Thought process of our society. Till date, most of the people believe that women are suitable for some particular jobs such as school teacher, medical practitioner, etc. So, from the beginning parents start thinking differently for son and daughter and gradually with time, mental set-up for a growing child (future woman and man) change. My request through bio stands up to stop the discrimination between boys and girls. Only hard work, patience, and love for work are the important factors for the success. So, having an open mind for gender equality of society is the crucial factor for women to succeed professionally.
BS: We as successful women professional, what actions need to be taken to improve women role in the STEM?
ND: We can share our experience and let them learn “How and what to think and how to execute the thinking.” No one else than the woman herself can change her position in society.
BS: How to motivate an upcoming female generation to reach higher positions?
ND: First of all, she has to think that she is independent and should start dreaming what she wants. Try to fulfilll it. The path is not easily accessible. Still with courage and strong mental set-up, “we shall overcome….”.
BS: Your comment on our project “Biostandups”?
ND: Before your approach, I didn’t know about Biostandups. I am thankful to Biostandups for their efforts to encourage a woman to come forward and take part in science. I am delighted to share my views through biostandups and also enrich myself through the website of biostandups. Salute to the efforts of biostandups.
Reading, listening Hindustani classical music
October - 2017
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regard, this month we brought motivation and inspiration from Dr. Ritu Trivedi is a molecular biologist researching on chronic diseases such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and obesity at Central Drug Research Institute as a Senior Scientist. She shared her real views about the current problems and actions need to be implemented to empower women in science and research. Dr. Ritu Trivedi knew what she is up to and never backed with fear of failure. She is a real successor with evident by her achievements and scientific contribution made so far. Dr. Ritu Trivedi has a long journey to walk through, and we wish her success in the coming years. Biostandups honors Dr. Ritu Trivedi as “SHERO.”
Did my Ph.D. from Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGIMS) Lucknow in Endocrinology. After that, I moved to the US at National Institute of Health (NIH) Bethesda, for a post-doc in developmental biology. Came back to India and joined as a scientist at Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI) in the Endocrinology Division in 2004. I work in CDRI in the area of Metabolic Bone Disorders. Have published more than 80 publications in peer-reviewed journals with 12 Patents Out of these two have been commercialized and one drug by the name REUNION for rapid fracture healing is in the market.
My research program addresses the problems related to bone health specifically osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and obesity. The primary focus is to study the inter-relationship of declining sex steroid levels in aging women and men leading to bone loss. We also examine the effects of obesity in growing children and adults that in our studies has shown to affect the growing skeleton adversely. Our studies show that both declining sex steroids and obesity predisposes one to higher fracture risk and osteoarthritic effects. We elucidate the reasons for these results complimented with animal studies and basic bone biology tools examining bone (osteoblast), fat (adipocyte) and cartilage cells at specific stages of their growth. Our studies represent the leading edge in bone biology research, especially for Indian women.
RT: Inspiration has been a number of people. Firstly, it has been my mother; I remember that since a very young age, my mother made sure to tell me about the plight of women and awareness about women issues. Some magazines covered women stories, and sometimes the stories in them about women were atrocious. Now I understand why she made me do this. Through these stories, she made sure to ingrain in me the importance of being a strong and independent woman. You can get out of many of these problems if you are independent. Later in life, a fortunate independent woman who was at the peak of her career and in a responsible position in the institute where I was doing my Ph.D. has inspired me. Science like many others is a man dominated the profession. I learned from her the importance of knowing one’s craft very well especially in the area that you work so that people (men) listen to you. My mentor who is a pleased free-spirited soul, a good scientist and an ever-helping person is a constant source of inspiration. He trusted me and gave me space both personally and professionally when I very much need it.
BS: Do you recall what started your enthusiasm for science & research?
RT: As a child, I have grown up in the scientific environment and have imbibed many things while growing up as both my parents are from the science background. She also tells me that at a very young age I use to carry my father’s big fat chemistry book and say that I will read this and be a teacher like him. So, the fact that this enthusiasm for science and research is genetic in my case cannot be ruled out.
BS: What excites you the most about your scientific research?
RT: I do translational research; therefore, the idea that what is being done in the lab if adequately pursued has the possibility of being translated to be in the market for the humankind is overwhelming. This not only keeps you excited but also drives to work at a faster pace.
BS: What gets you genuinely excited about Scientific life without getting bored?
RT: Scientific life is not at all boring. It not only entails doing experiments but involves a lot of administrative and managerial work. We meet a lot of people who work in or even out of the area that you work to build healthy collaborations that if productive are very helpful. Building good partnerships is an art that we learn with experience. Regarding experiments there is constant racking of brain to how to carry out a particular investigation or solve a scientific problem, this keeps you always motivated. It is interesting that most of the times one faces a new challenge. This leaves no chance of getting bored.
BS: How do you manage to achieve success as women scientist in India?
RT: I just enjoy what I do and not necessarily think of success all the time. Victory in itself is a very relative term, and its perspective varies from person to person.
BS: Are there any unforgettable moments of your career?
RT: Yes, very recently in 2015 a drug from my lab has come out. Derived from the leaves of the tree Dalbergia sissoo is commonly known as Shisham. This is a prescription drug for rapid fracture healing. The day 10th April 2015 the technology was transferred, and then it was launched in the market after the clinical trials, was the most unforgettable and gratifying moment for me. The drug is by the name of REUNION and is now in the market Pan India. I have also made an 8-min. Documentary of our findings is watched with the following link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N60OQheSWUk&t=123s. I am currently looking forward to the data from the post-menopausal clinical trial so that more and more women can benefit from REUNION. This is a teamwork and to be able to bring lab research into the market is very gratifying for me.
BS: Top 3 tips you follow as scientists to keep focused and motivated?
RT: I think sincerity and perseverance for the work you do and the rest just follows.
BS: If you had to choose one thing, what do you think you’re the best in the world at other than research?
RT: I don’t know. Probably not in the world but have heard that I have excellent communication skills.
BS: Any recent read or discovery in your field of interest that you admire most?
RT: A next-generation genome editing system CRISPR is something scientists will look forward. CRISPR is a revolution that has swept biology so swiftly than any other findings.
BS: What is one unique characteristic that you have and very proud of?
RT: Still exploring. I think someone else would be in the position to answer this accurately and correctly.
BS: According to reports in India women empowerment in Science and technology is poor. What is your opinion about it?
RT: Yes, it is authentic. It is improving but at a plodding pace. If you look at the statistics based on the results that come out of classes 10th and 12th, you will find that girls are always toppers as compared to boys in high school and even in class 12th. Now if you move to college the graduation and post-graduate levels especially in science, girls still do their work most sincerely when it comes to their record files or the practical’s themselves, so far so that they outperform the boys. But when you compare the above statistics to the statistics when women placed at positions, the pyramid of having maximum women on the top is inversed to having minimum numbers.
BS: Do you think gender parity is lacking in science for women in India?
RT: Yes, very much. Sources at Department of Science and Technology say that there has been no comprehensive gender audit since 2008. This 2008 data shows that in my organization, i.e., the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research there are only 16.05% women scientists.
BS: Can you tell what type of difficulties women facing currently in research in India?
RT: There are many difficulties that women face and likewise many reasons that contribute to these effects. Even if women want to do well, they end up facing harder choices between professional and their fulfillment. Any woman who reads this would agree to what I mean to say. We (women) systemically underestimate our abilities and do not negotiate for ourselves at the workplace. This leads to lack of confidence and low self-esteem. We also see that men reach out for opportunities more than women can do. This is evident from the fact that If a woman and man work, full time and have a child. The woman does twice the amount of household work the man does and the woman does three times the childcare the man does. She has three jobs while the man has only 1. Who do you think drops out when someone needs to be home. Out of the many things that are not in our control we can work on things that we can. It is imperative to save our identity of who we are and not always give leverage and feel proud to be recognized as somebody’s wife or mother and put at stake whatever we achieve over so many years.
BS: Can you tell us in brief about your thoughts to improve gender gap in Science for next women generation? What kind of work has to do?
RT: It is essential for women in science to realize that taking up science and then finally getting stabilized concerning a position is a long journey. Therefore, it is necessary for us to recognize that we have to hang on in spite of the difficulties of having productive and reproductive stages all at the same time and also other difficulties as I mentioned above.
BS: Can we erase gender parity for women in science in India?
RT: One has to be optimistic therefore I will say YES. Things are undoubtedly improving and will with time, but the pace is too slow. Thus, this is undoubtedly not happening in my lifetime
BS: How can we, as a community, do a better job of sharing the stories of women in science?
RT: In this sense, Biostandups is doing a commendable job of bringing women on one platform. Now it is important that these stories reach out to more and more girls who are taking up science to be able to read them and get inspired by them. Live role models have more significant impact than just reading about someone.
BS: What guidance would you provide for other and next yearning women researchers in India?
RT: Sometimes merely having women role models and achievers is helpful. Women who have struggled and made their way up in male-dominated professions like science helps the ones coming in the business realize that things are achievable.
Reading, Writing, Gardening, Travelling, Theatre
September - 2017
Dr. Vinita Bharat
Postdoctoral research fellow
European Neuroscience Institute (ENI)
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regard, this month we brought motivation and inspiration from Dr. Vinita Bharat is a neuroscientist by training and currently a postdoctoral research fellow at European Neuroscience Institute (ENI), Goettingen – Germany. Vinita apart from being a scientist also manages to shine through “Fuzzy Synapse” – idea to connect science to the world as a founder. Dr. Vinita also plays crucial role as Science illustrator and writer at Club SciWri (Career Support Group (PhD CSG) for STEM PhDs (A US Non-Profit 501 © 3 organisation). Biostandups honours Dr.Vinita as “SHERO”.
I am a neuroscientist by training, understanding how “we” function has always attracted me. I finished my PhD from University of Goettingen, Germany and had been an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) student here. I study learning and memory attributes of mammalian brain at cellular and molecular level. I believe in having work life balance. Traveling is what am passionate about; as it opens for me a totally new world for knowing different culture, meeting new people and challenges me to make my niche in totally unknown place.
To present science in fun and easier way by using my sketching pencils and comic timings, I have started a platform called “Fuzzy Synapse”. I work for science outreach and communication in addition to “being a scientist”.
My research interests lie in studying cellular and molecular neuroscience. During my PhD, I have worked on understanding long range transport, capture and fusion of dense core vesicles in mammalian hippocampal neurons. I want to harness the basic insights of neuronal cell biology and use it to study the mechanisms of neurological disorders. In future, I planned to use and extend my expertise and knowledge to work with patient derived neuron.
BS: Who has inspired you in your life how and why?
VB: There have been many people who have inspired me in my life. Starting from my own family to my teachers, mentors, friends and colleagues, every one of them have taught me one thing or another. So, to name a single person is not possible.
BS: What excites you the most about your scientific research?
VB: Just the essence of working to understand what is going on in my and others brain, excites me every day. Each and every single day in research is new for me. One tries to ask questions and then the drive to find those answers through experiments and with scientific proves is what excites me the most in research.
BS: Do you recall what started your enthusiasm for science?
VB: I remember from my childhood, I was taught to ask questions, be at home or at school. And then during my schooling, science lessons were something which I found very interesting as these lessons used to give answers to many of these questions. Hence, probably the enthusiasm started from there itself I guess!
BS: What is your proudest moment as a scientist or researcher?
VB: I think it still has to come!
BS: If you had to choose one thing, what do you think you’re the best in the world at?
VB: To bring smiles to the faces.
BS: Tell me something you have done that goes against all social conventions, yet you did it anyway because it was the right thing to do!
VB: Actually, I haven’t done anything like that so far. I have always been someone who likes to discuss things with others if there are any differences in opinions regarding any matter. And so far, it has always been with full support of my near and dear ones. So, I haven’t done anything like that.
BS: How do you manage your research and social life?
VB: I place equal importance to my work and life. I really enjoy my work and then because I have always been surrounded by amazing friends, spending fun time with them is what I also look forward too. So, I guess that’s why it has been so far managed. 🙂
BS: Tell us your roles as organiser with various communities in Germany?
VB: It’s been now seven years in Germany, I have served as “General Secretary” for the Indian Association in Goettingen for one year where my major role was to connect new comers to the existing community and to make them feel comfortable here. Also, I was involved in organising functions on Independence Day, Diwali etc. so that people can enjoy these days even though staying far from the homeland.
I have also served as the one of the organizers of “Neurizons” which is the biennial neuroscience symposium conducted by International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) neuroscience students here in Goettingen. The major role in there was to invite some of the eminent scientists of the world for this conference and to make sure this event be useful and inspiring for others.
BS: How did your relation with Club Sciwri started and how was your experience so far?
VB: Club SciWri is an amazing platform and working with them as science illustrator has been absolutely fun. I got in touch with this platform through one of my friend and since then loved being part of their team. Everyone there has been really helpful and encouraging of my work.
BS: What is “Fuzzy Synapse and how did you end up with it?
VB: “Fuzzy Synapse” is a platform for connecting science with the world. My aim behind this was to make science fun through my sketching pencils and comic timings. Be it any field of science, technology and innovation, this platform is designed to present science in simple and fun way to the world. According to me, science is a subject which is not just constrained to textbooks. It is everywhere around us, we just need to see, ask and understand it.
I used to draw and make animated videos for science education stories in my free time to deliver talks in schools. And then, the idea of opening one online platform came while talking to some of my friends. They encouraged me to put my ideas and illustrations out there online so that people can relate and connect with the thought.
BS: Who is your role model when it comes to Science illustration?
VB: Truly speaking I haven’t yet followed any. I used to applaud and smile seeing PhD Comics releases, Sketching science, ASAP science, Ipsawonders etc. But as a role model I am learning while making. I would love to learn more from the people in field of science illustrations. As my journey has just started.
BS: Do you have any future plans for “Fuzzy Synapse”?
VB: I want “Fuzzy Synapse” to be that platform for all those who share this common idea of connecting science and world. Be it any art, I want to make this as a common platform for all the science lovers out there with an idea of science communication and outreach.
BS: How would you like people to remember you?
VB: hahaha..:D I would like people to remember me “As that girl who refuses to grow up!”
BS: Do you think gender parity is lacking in India? if yes can you reason it out?
VB: Yes, gender parity is lacking in India. I think it’s because of the narrow, confined and stereotyped mind-sets of some people (not some actually a lot!) that it exists. There is still a large section of people who thinks and entertains the thought that women are not at par with men in many domains. The segregation of job roles in gender being that from household activities to going to space is what actually make the gap wider.
BS: What are a few troubles you’ve needed to confront and/or right now face being a woman in Research?
VB: Actually, I haven’t yet faced as such any trouble being a woman in research. Here conditions are well balanced but I guess now coming from such background and environment, I understand the need and would definitely encourage gender equality in my surroundings.
BS: More girls passing out as graduates and too few women end up at high ranks. Can you reason out?
VB: I think the major reason behind this is the sole responsibility of taking care of families which are given to women. This brings me again to the point I mentioned above of segregation of roles. I think the day when this classification of work stops and the work type is not designated to the gender, there will be a time when this question would have no relevance.
BS: What’s the biggest thing you struggle at this position?
VB: The biggest thing that I “struggle” at this position is to say goodbye to friends and family around. As being in science involves mobility every few years which means making your own niche in new environment with every change. Though I should say this change brings many newer people in my circle. J
BS: What popular general advice do you disagree with?
VB: I don’t agree to the advice which are given by someone who him/herself has never experienced/lived in that situation. So, in my opinion take advice from those who have experience in that particular field.
BS: How can we, as a community, do a better job of sharing the stories of women in science?
VB: I think you guys can encourage more women to showcase their work in science using your platform. There are actually many out there doing great work…they just need more support and encouragement. I liked your endeavour of finding, interviewing and putting the stories of upcoming women in science, I guess if the progress of each person can also be shown timely, that would help your audience to get some motivation from them. Also, more online presence is what I would suggest to your platform.
BS: Last question, what is your opinion on our start-up project Biostandups.com?
VB: I came across your platform actually through your “face of the month” section recently. I liked your initiative and would wish you all the success and growth in future endeavours
Travelling, dance, music, sketching, drawing and making animated science education videos.
August - 2017
Dr. Gayatri Saberwal
Faculty Scientist and Dean
Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regard, this month we brought motivation and inspiration from Dr.Gayatri Saberwal, Faculty Scientist and Dean (Academic Affairs) at Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB), Karnataka-India. She is a scientist, manager and mentor. She calls herself a “Professional mutant”. Biostandups honours Dr.Gayatri as “SHERO”.
Please meet our guest Dr. Gayatri Saberwal, Scientist and Dean at Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology, Bangalore, India, sharing her views today with all of you. She completed her PhD from Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology-India, after which she gained post-doctoral research experience in Biophysics from Cornell University. Dr. Gayatri’s accomplishments are mainly associated with her studies of the Healthcare, Biotech and Pharma Industries. Her vision is to boost biomedical entrepreneurship in India through policy research. She has many publications in top national and international journals.
She is a scientist, manager and mentor. She calls herself a “Professional mutant”. Find out the reason for it in the following Q&A session.
BS: You call yourself as “Professional mutant”. Can you brief us on what is ““Professional mutant” and why you call yourself as one?
GS: I don’t know if others in my situation call themselves by this term. I just cooked it up! I trained as a biologist (including for my PhD and post-doctoral work), but then, after a gap of several years, became a policy researcher. So, there is a 10-year gap in my publications – the ones up to 1996 relate to science and the ones from 2006 onwards relate to policy research.
BS: Any recent read or discovery that you admire most?
GS: Yes, ‘Making individualized drugs a reality’ by Schellekens et al, that appeared in Nature Biotechnology ealier this month. It talks about ‘magistral production’ of biologics, that is in a pharmacy like compounders do. The cost would be a very small fraction of what biologics cost today, and they would be personalized for each patient.
BS: Your current research is attentive on global biotech & Pharma companies focusing on healthcare. What have you learned through your research so far?
GS: Our work is ’empirical’ in nature. We pose certain questions and then examine large datasets (such as those available at the US Patent and Trademark Office, or ClinicalTrials.gov or the US Food and Drug Administration) and try to answer them. Because we seek answers in such large datasets, the answers should be convincing! Some examples of work we have done are: (a) although the number of patents assigned to drug discovery companies can range from 0 to over 400, for most companies it is less than 40. There was no correlation between the number of products and number of patents for a given company; (b) most patents that protect products are maintained, whereas far fewer (although still a high fraction) of patents issued to companies are maintained; and (c) very little innovative patent-worthy has been outsourced to India (at least in the bio field, as of the date of the work, 2012).
BS: What are your other activities outside of IBAB?
GS: Most of my time is taken up with work for the institute and my own research. Aside from that, I serve on a few committees such as the Karnataka Knowledge Commission/Karnataka Jnana Aayoga, that of BIRAC’s Bioincubator Support Scheme, the Academic and Research Council of the Trans-Disciplinary University, IIT Madras Bioincubator Advisory Council and so on.
BS: What is the current status of biotechnology and startup ecosystem in India?
GS: I can only comment upon the latter. There is a sea-change from a few years ago. There is more financial support from BIRAC and others, there are more incubators, there are more mentors… As a result, there are many, many more first time entrepreneurs and also a few second-timers. Each of these factors will strengthen the ecosystem for the newbies.
BS: We noted that you blog at “Trade Secrets” as an author. Tell us how did that happened?
GS: I had submitted a regular article to Nature Biotechnology. Although they have accepted several of my articles in the past, this time they said they could only accept it for their blog, TradeSecrets. We (the two authors) were agreeable, so the editor chopped up one article into four blog pieces. The journals’ business editor was closely involved in rewriting the piece to fit the style of blog pieces.
Other than that, I wrote a book review of Mythbreaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech. I thought Trade Secrets would be a good venue for publishing it, and the editor accepted the piece.
So, there’ve just been a few blogs. I don’t blog regularly.
BS: As a woman, have you ever faced intolerance or some form of discrimination in your career?
GS: I think young women, in particular, are more vulnerable to being bullied, especially by older male colleagues. When I was, a young professional I faced this with one particular person. But he was a bully to men too, so it was not specific to me. I’ve been lucky to have worked in very enlightened institutions, so I’ve had an easy time of it on this count. Women should remember that many bullies are also cowards. If you are able to not be cowed down and somehow confront the person, he may never bully you again.
BS: Where do women in India fall to compete with men in science and technology?
GS: Since I am not actively in science or technology, I cannot comment on this directly. What I can say, however, is that women have to somehow throw off the shackles imposed by society. Find a spouse who is willing to share the household chores, get as much help in child-rearing as possible, try and get out of social functions, get someone else to run the kitchen… Basically try and live a ‘traditional male’ life, that is one where someone else does all these tasks. That is what will free up time and energy to excel at whatever we are trying to do, in science or otherwise. It is only when our efforts equal or exceed the men’s can we begin to make equal or better contributions.
BS: Any advice to upcoming women scientist?
GS: Build a strong support system, to enable you to focus
June - 2017
Editor @ club Sciwri Sci comm. section
Indian Institute of Science
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regards, this month we brought motivation and inspiration from future graduate Ipsa Jain, Freelancer illustrator. Editor, club Sciwri Sci comm. section. She worked on cancer cell migration and cancer drug resistance during Ph.D. She moved out of academic research and her current interest is in bringing science to the masses using visuals. Ipsa is one true motivation for all the women who wish to see future in SciArt. Biostandups honours Ipsa as “SHERO”.
I have done my graduation and post graduation from university of delhi in Zoology. I have always been interested in science. After that I came to IISc for a Ph.D. I have acquired skills in visual arts using Coursera and sSkillshare and Chitra Kala Parisath. I worked on cancer cell migration and cancer drug resistance during my Ph.D. I am moving out of academic research. My current interest is in bringing science to the masses using visuals.
BS: When did this bug for fusing science and art bite you?
IJ: I always liked to tinker with inks and paints. It was in 2013 that a close friend asked me to design cover for Journal for IISc which was featuring his research as the theme of the edition. While the cover was not my best work, it was a beginning. There was lull in the science-art activity for some time due to work pressure. Towards the end of my Ph.D. tenure I started doing sketching and doodling to relieve stress. Due to encouraging feedback from colleagues and friends, I started sharing my work online and things took off from there.
BS: Tell us your inspiration behind mixing science with art?
IJ: I would not say that my idea is original. In fact, all art is borrowed art. I worship the blog Brain Pickings written by Maria Papova. She reviews books and shares their beauty on the blog. There I came across many science-inspired illustration books. That struck a chord with me and I started thinking and working in the same direction.
BS: Tell us about ipsawonders in more detail?
IJ: I had been sketching, painting and doodling for some time. Ipsawonders seemed the natural culmination of it. A platform to share and now sell my work. There are a lot of artists who draw animals and plants. I wanted to share some bit of science with those paintings. Being a nerd, I always tell nerd stories about things I see around me, or listen to such stories. I wanted to share that with everyone.
Not to brag, but many science students have themselves told me that I make biology fun for them. It is these remarks that mean a lot me. I am encouraged to make more work and share the science bit.
BS: Share, when and what was your first fusion product of ipsawonders?
IJ: My first post was a pencil sketch of a cone I collected from a trip to Meghalaya. While my first product per se were the post cards I printed out of my artwork. I exhibited and sold those postecards at IISc UG fest Pravega this year. I got phenomenal response which was very encouraging.
BS: Which is the best science-art you made so far and why is it your best?
IJ: I like the composition I made from my pencil color drawing of carpenter bee. In general I like to create compositions with repeats and patterns. Why I like this one more is because of the memory association. The carpenter bee that I sketched was ‘rescued from being trampled upon’ by me and my friends in IISc campus. We photographed it and I used that as a reference to sketch it.
BS: Think Outside the Lab What do you like—or not—about science?
IJ: Science is wonderful, inside the lab, outside the lab. It is the tool to by which human curiosity and wonder can find its answers. What I don’t necessarily approve is that in the hurdle to be doctors and engineers and scientists, sometimes the compassion and joy of curiosity are compromised with. I think science teachers and science communicators are trying to make up for it.
BS: Do you have role model at whom you look up to from “Science” as well as “arts”?
IJ: Again, my answer has to be Maria Papova. She shares stories of science and of arts. She is my library, and my reference. I also have great respect for people like Joe Hanson (from Its okay to be smart series on PBS digital studio) who are sharing science in cools ways with the world. Since the last year, I have spoken to a lot of science-artists, Including Dr. Ina Schuppe Koistinen, Abhisheka Krishna Gopal, Anand Verma and their ideas continue to resonate in my head each day.
BS: Every story is different. What was your story?
IJ: Since I was in eighth standard, I knew I wanted to be a scientist. I remember going to NDRI, Karnal (place where I grew up) and looking at DNA in agorse gel on a trans UV illuminator. I was fascinated by micropipettes and sonicator and other cool things the scientists showed us on a trip during Indian science day. I knew then that that is what I want to do as career. I studied and studied and landed up in a Ph.D. It was during Ph.D. that I realized that a career in science is not just about the wonder and joy of learning the unknown and discovering the unknown, it comes with a baggage. While I understand the importance of sharing the research in a peer reviewed journal, I don’t see the need for it to direct the way we work. Most of the research is very molecule centric, data oriented, and very often, biased by hypothesis. This seemed to rob me of the joy of doing science and experimentation.
During this process of growing dis interest in research, I found my recluse in art. I was reading and learning about art more, learning about the value of art more. Then I began painting more and more. And that became the driving force of my activities. I am in same place since, hoping to grow from there.
BS: How do you want to help society with your creative arts?
IJ: I hope my endeavors help build a better society. I want to convey science and scientific approach to the world. We are unfortunately living in a time where ‘alternative facts’ are prevalent. It is on the shoulders of scientists and science communicators and educators to share the ‘truth’ with the society to undo the damage done by the ‘alternative facts’.
BS: This is a digital world and advancing very quickly. How unique is your approach to reach science enthusiast with arts and painting?
IJ: Why unique: it sorts of is a question that my audience should be answering. But I guess combination of art and science is my strong point. There are a lot more scientists than there are people who communicate science. I with training in one and interest in the other bridge all the gaps.
BS: What are you currently perusing and how did it accomplish your future career development?
IJ: I am currently creating content for my Sci-Art page, Ipsawonders. I am also the editor of Science communication section on ClubSciwri. Since my plan to is to make my contribution to field of science communication, it feels like I am on my way.
BS: Where do you want to see yourself in 5-10 years?
IJ: This is a question that I honestly hate answering the most. I feel exact places and ideas will keep evolving as I learn more and as more opportunities I come across. But I hope I will be working with Sciwri still and have made some more visual sci art material by then.
BS: Gender gap in Science. Your comment?
IJ: There is an interesting problem of gender gap in science. I feel that till M.Sc. level there is good number of female students who take up science (at least in urban/metro citites). A bottleneck happens there, where they go one to become science teachers, which is good and some move to non-science clerical and management jobs. I think such diversion after M.Sc. is not very gender specific. It is after Ph.D./post doc that the bottleneck is defined by gender. I think the onus of family care and raising kids still lie with women folk in our society. So, the pressure of raising a family and competing for a job position becomes difficult. From my personal observation, I have seen that a new male faculty vs. a female faculty recruit, the later has to go through much more hardship before reaching there. I feel that in the current generation of budding scientists (my peers), there are only a few men who are, sexist, so to speak. I don’t know if the system is cruel to women. But I think people are open to working with women scientists and I suppose, even hiring them.
BS: Top hurdles to address immediately to raise the bar for women to take up science & research as career?
IJ: At the level of policy making, I do not understand enough to comment. To the women, I can say that find partners who share the load of laundry to child care to cooking. And I think women should look out for one other like the ‘bros’ have done for centuries.
BS: Your comment on our start-up “Biostandups”?
IJ: It is a good start. I would like to see Bio standups grow and share more women centric stories. It will encourage young girls to take up science and be leaders later
Reading blogs (nautilius and Brain pickings) painting, illustrating.
May - 2017
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regards, this month we brought motivation and inspiration from Dr. Swati Puranik, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow, IBERS, Aberystwyth University, U.K. In order to feed a growing population, research in the past on developing higher yielding crop varieties has significantly compromised with their actual nutritive value. Therefore, my research aims to employ crop species native to south Asia and sub Saharan Africa, collectively termed as ‘millets’, as a sustainable and low-cost solution to these health problems. Dr. Swati is one true motivation for all the women who wish to see future in feeding the globe. Biostandups honours Dr. Swati as “SHERO”.
I received my Ph.D. degree from Jamia Hamdard University, India in 2012 and joined as a Research Associate at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research the same year. Thereafter, I started as a Post-doctoral fellow at Michigan Technological University on a two-year NSF-funded project in September 2013. As part of the project, I used transgenic and QTL mapping approaches to identify and validate cell wall biomass genes for biofuel production in poplar. Currently, I am working as a Marie Skodowska-Curie postdoctoral research fellow at Aberystwyth University (2015-2017). Here, I will apply my expertise in transcriptomics, genomics, biotechnology and genetics to improve Calcium content in millets and other crops for promoting health benefits in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis.
am working with Dr. Rattan Yadav towards my Marie Skodowska-Curie research project funded by the European Commission.
The main aspect of my work aims to investigate the genetic variations of Calcium accumulation in finger millet germplasm using chemical phenotyping and genomics, and to use this knowledge in further improving the concentration of this micronutrient in finger millet and other staple crops. The ultimate outcome of this work is to develop nutrient and health efficient crops in order to reduce the health and economic impacts of osteoporosis.
My current research focus is on genetics and molecular biology of crop plants, stress biology, Nutritional genomics, epigenetics, bioenergy.
BS: Brief us about your professional journey so far?
SP: After completing my Ph.D. in 2012, I worked as an institute funded postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR), New Delhi, India for one year. In 2013, I joined as a postdoctoral research scientist at the Department of Biological Sciences, Michigan Technological University, USA. Here I worked in a NSF-funded interdisciplinary project pertaining sustainable forest-based biofuel pathways to hydrocarbon transportation fuels. Since 2015, I am associated with the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University, United Kingdom to carry out my research in the theme area of ‘Biology that delivers improved health and well-being of humanity’.
BS: Currently your research interest focus on developing better and healthier millet varieties. How do your work benefits society?
SP: More than 3 billion people, the majority living in developing countries, are suffering from malnutrition and related illnesses. Such nutrition-related non-communicable illnesses account for almost 79% of deaths in these regions. For poorer communities in India and Africa, treatment costs for such illnesses can exceed the annual household income. In order to feed a growing population, research in the past on developing higher yielding crop varieties has significantly compromised with their actual nutritive value. Therefore, my research aims to employ crop species native to south Asia and sub Saharan Africa, collectively termed as ‘millets’, as a sustainable and low-cost solution to these health problems. This is because millets are naturally enriched in valuable micronutrients and potential nutraceuticals. Increasing the levels of essential micronutrients, through exploration of their genetic variations in millets, can help fight micronutrient malnutrition or ‘hidden hunger’. Further, such crop varieties will benefit the smallholder farmers who will grow them (by adding value to their food products) and also provide valuable raw material to industries for developing millet-based functional food.
BS: You have exposure to scientific cultures across different continents? Which is your favourite working environment?
SP: I consider myself lucky that I got the opportunity to work across continents which has immensely boosted my confidence and allowed me to grow as a researcher. I will be dishonest if I say I just blended right-in to the various working cultures. But, each place has left its own imprint on my professional and personal journey. In India I developed my scientific aptitude, learned about the importance of punctuality in Germany, professionalism in USA while UK has extended my outreach competence. Thus, it will be very hard to pick a favourite.
BS: What was your most satisfactory moment in your career so far?
SP: I would say there have been many small satisfying moments, like awarding of doctoral degree and receiving national and international funding for my research. Yet, I do feel an immense sense of personal contentment when the students and interns, which I directly or indirectly supervise for their research projects, move ahead successfully in the field of science. It is then that I feel credited as a research supervisor/mentor.
BS: Have you ever had “WOW” moment in your professional journey or is it yet to come?
SP: Being awarded the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship by the European Commission was definitely a dream come true, as it is highly prestigious and competitive in nature. When you are recognized for your research efforts and scientific caliber, even outside your home country, which is a big motivation. I hope, there will be more such moments in the future.
BS: What first attracted you to the field of plant genetics?
SP: The interesting thing is that I am not trained as a geneticist! But, I have always been curious about the sheer extent of species diversity in the plant kingdom. I used to love the genetics class in my B.Sc. (Hons.) degree in Botany and this further extended during my doctoral and postdoctoral research. This is how my work has expanded into exploring the extent of genetic diversity present in the millet genome.
BS: How do you describe yourself as a human being and your best hang out routine?
SP: Although I am a bit on the reticent side, I am very friendly and easy-to-approach person who can adjust with a variety of people from different cultures. I am an avid learner which helps me take up new challenges and work hard towards achieving them. I love to travel to new places, cook new cuisines and read fiction in my spare time.
BS: Was scientific exploration and science‐based topics of interest to you as a child? Do you remember what sparked your interest in science?
SP: I recall a funny incidence from my childhood that I used to sow mango (my favorite fruit) seed in our garden, and get very excited to see it germinate and grow into seedling in the hope to receive bumper mango harvests. Once I was in school, science, especially biology, was my favorite subject and in fact, always I scored the highest in this particular subject. I related very well with biology because it allowed me to witness the science behind life, more closely. These little things sparked my interest and I just knew I had to be a biologist.
BS: Looking back on your academic career, which professors/mentors have had the most impact on you? Why?
SP: I will credit Dr. Manoj Prasad and Dr. Alok K. Sinha from NIPGR. These well-recognized scientists provided me a research platform and trusted me to handle projects independently which promoted my project management and organizational skills. Fundamentals of plant molecular biology and genetics that I learned from them are still helping me professionally. Under their mentorship, I was able to develop my research dissemination skills by publishing >20 international peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and conference papers. Whenever I visit India, I love to meet them and they are always full of kind words that motivate me to keep performing my best.
BS: Describe your experience as a female scientist?
SP: There have been subtle incidences where it has been implied that I should take up an ‘easy’ job post-marriage or unintentional jibes to give up a fellowship opportunity to allow a male counterpart secure it to support his family. But, my family has made sure that my vision stays focused to achieve my career goals. I feel very gratified that I am driving my energy and knowledge to try and better the society. So overall, my experience has been very enlightening.
BS: Still “Women scientists are often invisible”- Your comment on that?
SP: It is true that women often make only a small percentage of the scientific profession, especially in a country like India. Many succumb to the demands of family and academic/research pressure. This invisibility severely escalates in the leadership hierarchy in academia with the scarce representation of women. Often, I have encountered no women representatives on job interview panels. We need pioneering women to be more assertive and set leadership examples for younger generation of women scientists to follow.
BS: What more do you think could be done to encourage women into the fields of science?
SP: There has to be more motivation and support both at professional, personal and policy fronts. More women-specific fellowships, grants and awards for early-, mid- and late-career researchers can ensure that we are never left behind in the scientific lot. Incentives, schemes are career opportunities for non-resident women scientists can be an untapped source of brain gain. Further, through my personal selection for a women-only workshop, I think regular leadership training programs should be promoted by organizations. There should also be solutions for women academicians or researchers to make a career transition into scientific industries and vice-versa.
BS: Which women inspired your scientific career and why?
SP: I have not had the chance to be directly supervised by women scientists, but there have been many mentoring forces. I would give due credits to my lecturers at Gargi College, University of Delhi for instilling the feeling of ‘I belong to plant science’.
BS: What words of encouragement do you have for any women wishing to pursue a career in science?
SP: Initially, a career in science may seem full of challenges, but so is anything else when you are starting. Be patient. You should be excited to see how your ideas and knowledge can help in making a difference in the scientific world. Of course, somedays are very productive, some days could be better. But every morning, go into work with the thought that there is so much to learn and understand each day, let’s take one step at a time. You will appreciate that your efforts will become your rewards.
BS: Do you think unconventional methods and hands‐on activities are needed to engage the young scientists of tomorrow? Why?
SP: Definitely. Programs and workshops for personal, professional and leadership development, can project young researchers in the right direction. For example, I am planning to participate in a program where early- to mid-career researchers are chosen from various disciplines to explore ways to collaborate and answer current research challenges. Organizing even small coffee-time events (such as CV and cover letter clubs) improve your profile, widen your horizon and also develop your interpersonal skills. An in-house mentor-mentee partnership can also provide support and guidance to develop as the future research leaders.
BS: Pen down top challenges women are facing and need attention?
SP: Speaking in general as a women, patriarchal mindset, social injustice and gender stereotyping are some of the biggest challenges anywhere in the world. We should have liberty to make our decisions and question any kind of bias or conventional outlook.
April - 2017
Dr. Sushila Maharjan
Research Institute for Bioscience & Biotechnology (RIBB)
Email ID: firstname.lastname@example.org
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regards, this month we brought motivation and inspiration from Dr. Sushila Mahrjan, research director at Research Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology (RIBB), Nepal. Currently, she is a research scholar at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School, USA. Her present research is based on developing ‘organ-on-a-chip’ systems to mimic human organs in vitro and also to fabricate functional polymeric biomaterials to control cellular behaviors with particular emphasis on developing engineered materials and systems for tissue engineering. Dr. Sushila won “The Elsevier Foundation Award 2016”. She represents Nepal at global level. Sheis one true motivation for all the women who wish to see future in Science. Biostandups honours Dr. Sushila as “SHERO”.
Dr. Sushila Maharjan is a research director at Research Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology (RIBB), Nepal since its establishment on 2011. She is one of the founding members of RIBB and serving as a member of board of directors.
Currently, she is a research scholar at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School, USA. Her present research is based on developing ‘organ-on-a-chip’ systems to mimic human organs in vitro and also to fabricate functional polymeric biomaterials to control cellular behaviors with particular emphasis on developing engineered materials and systems for tissue engineering.
Before joining Harvard Medical School, she was a postdoc fellow at laboratory of Biomedical Polymers and Tissue Engineering at Seoul National University, Korea. Dr. Maharjan received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Sun Moon University, Korea, Master’s degree in Chemistry and Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences, both from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. She has extensive research experience in diverse fields including molecular biology and biotechnology, metabolic and genetic engineering, drug and vaccine delivery, and biomaterial and tissue engineering.
She has contributed over 20 articles in peer-reviewed international journals and 2 book chapters. Dr. Maharjan’s exemplary achievements in research have been recognized by prestigious “Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early Career Women Scientists, 2016” and “Best Poster Award, Korean Society of Glycobiology 2011”. She has also received several fellowships and research grants including “American Fund for Alternatives to Animal Research fellowship 2016”, “Brain Korea 21 PLUS fellowship 2015”, TWAS Research Grants in Basic Sciences 2013,”, Korean Research Fund Scholarship 2007- 2010″, and Sun Moon University PhD fellowship 2006.
Dr. Maharjan’s research goals are to develop an independent and multidisciplinary research program at the interface of molecular biology, biomaterials, controlled drug delivery, and tissue engineering. Currently, she aims to develop ‘organ on a chip’ models to mimic human organs in vitro. Dr. Maharjan is a member of the ‘Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD)’ and TWAS (The World Academy of Sciences) Young Affiliate.
The worldwide emergence of multidrug resistant pathogens has become a major threat. Therefore, I have always been enthusiastic to develop new antibiotics/drugs against multidrug resistant ‘superbugs’ from the indigenous Streptomyces of Nepal.
Apart from the Streptomyces natural product research, my other goals are to develop a multidisciplinary research program at the interface of molecular biology, genetic engineering, biomaterials engineering and tissue engineering. Specifically, my aim is to develop ‘organ on a chip’ models to mimic human organs in vitro and also to fabricate functional polymeric biomaterials to control cellular behaviors with particular emphasis on developing engineered materials and systems for tissue engineering.
Sabeera: Describe about yourself as a scientist?
Sushila: I was always a good observer at scientific experiments from my school days. Besides, I was much curious to learn practical methods to observe the scientific principles in real experiments. Thus, the enthusiasm for research induced my capacity for creativity and problem-solving ability. I am self-motivated and I am passionate about continuing to learn and keeping my mind open for all new ideas.
Sabeera: What was your motivation to choose biological sciences being graduated in Chemistry?
Sushila: I completed Intermediate in Science (ISc) and Bachelor of Science (BSc) with a major in biology. At the last semester of my undergraduate study, I realized that chemistry is the basis of all kinds of research. Chemistry is often called the central science. Therefore, I completed Master of Science (MSc) in Organic Chemistry from Central Department of Chemistry, Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur, Nepal. During MSc, I became acquainted with many important natural products, such as antibiotics and anticancer drugs, that are boon to human life. As my interest shifted to develop medically useful chemicals from biological sources, I focused my research on the development of novel antibiotics and anticancer drugs through genetic engineering of bacteria during my PhD study.
Sabeera: Tell us about your early life education and experience?
Sushila: When I finished SLC, the trend was, once you get first division you tend to study science. I was not an exception. I was an average student during my student life until undergraduate. However, my passion to complete higher studies led me to receive scholarship to undertake MSc in organic Chemistry at Tribhuvan University, Nepal. The scholarship that I received motivated and directed me to do wet lab based research work. By then I had learnt that my interest was in scientific research.
Sabeera: You have been exposed to different cultures in your scientific journey. Share your feelings?
Sushila: Nepal is a home of diverse cultures itself. In fact, Nepal is a multi-linguistic, multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-ethnic country. When I was pursuing my MSc degree, there was only one university in Nepal for higher study in chemistry. So, I had an opportunity to meet colleagues with different backgrounds from all over the country. Initially, I had little difficulty in communication with new colleagues from diverse cultures but my ability to carefully listening and understanding enhanced my interaction with them. No doubt, there was a big cultural shock when I first visited South Korea for my PhD study at the Department of Pharmaceutical Engineering, Sun Moon University. The department is the host for many international students where I had an opportunity to work in a completely new environment facing a new culture and using a foreign language. I was very excited, but at the same time a little nervous. It took me a while to adapt Korean customs and cultures. I was much influenced by their disciplines and the tradition to respect their elders.
Sabeera: You are a most influential person and stand as one of Top 12 Nepali Scientist around the world. How did you feel about this?
Sushila: I had always a dream to be known as a scientist from Nepal to the world. Amid a few famous people from Nepal, it is my fortune to be selected as an influential scientist of Nepal. I feel so honored to represent the women of Nepal.
Sabeera: Tell us about your current scientific affiliation at Harvard medical school, USA?
Sushila: I love learning and discovering new things. I believe that the pursuit of knowledge is the most important and fulﬁlling human endeavor. To further broaden my skill of biomaterial engineering and gain the requisite technical knowledge in tissue engineering and on organ-on-a-chip, I joined Brigham & Women’s Hospital at Harvard medical school.
Sabeera: 5 women scientists have been awarded with “The Elsevier Foundation Award 2016”. How did it happen? Was winning the award added befits to your career development?
Sushila: In 2015, I had been performing a research funded by TWAS (The World Academy of Sciences) to isolate novel antibiotics/anticancer drugs from indigenous Streptomyces in Nepal. Our team at RIBB could obtain very promising results from the research. While the successful results boosted my confidence level as a scientist, my research team encouraged and nominated me for the award. On a cold day of December 2015, I received a warm news of my selection for the award. I believe that initiating the basic science research in Nepal through RIBB and getting success to some extent are the keys that helped me to receive this recognition. On top of that, my research was focused on subjects related to Nepal and its biodiversity. After receiving the award, my research and social life have changed drastically. While the award brought me a fame to the world of biotechnology, it also put a heavy responsibility on me to contribute for my society.
Sabeera: Tell us what was the proposal that brought you the award?
Sushila: Elsevier Foundation Award is given to young women scientists in the developing countries in recognition of their excellence in research that has strong potential health and economic benefits. Despite hurdles, I had started my scientific career in Nepal with the support and encouragement from my team. In my part, I proposed my future research plans to develop new antibiotics or drugs to combat various drug-resistant infections and cancers. Due to my previous achievements and potential contributions for the advancement of Science in Nepal, the award reviewers should have selected me for the award.
Sabeera: Have you been nominated and won any other awards/prizes apart from The Elsevier Foundation Award 2016”?
Sushila: Yes, I have received a prestigious Brain Korea 21 Program for Leading Universities & Students (BK 21 PLUS) fellowship, a human resource development program initiated by the Korean government, in 2015 to visit as a postdoc fellow at Seoul National University. Under the Research Grant in Basic Sciences from The World Academy of Science (TWAS), I got my first research funding in 2013 to conduct an independent research as a principal investigator. I was also honored with Korean Research Fund Scholarship, given to International Intelligent Student in Korea for three years, in 2007- 2010 and PhD fellowship from Sun Moon University, Korea in 2006.
Sabeera: How do you want to help society through your research?
Sushila: I always had great intention to develop natural product-derived therapeutically important drugs from natural sources of Nepal. Nepal is well known for biodiversity due to its unique geographical position and altitude variation. In fact, the main theme of my PhD thesis was to design and develop novel antibiotics and anticancer drugs by genetic engineering of Streptomyces bacteria. These bacteria are the original sources of the most of the important antibiotics that are in use today. However, antimicrobial resistance threatens the effective treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections, and drug-resistant diseases are another serious problem. My research revealed big insights into the modification of microbial synthesis of medically important antibiotics/drugs to combat the emerging drug-resistant diseases.
After completion of my PhD, I returned to Nepal and continued my research on Streptomyces, funded by TWAS, to find novel Streptomyces and subsequently new antibiotics and drugs to overcome various infectious diseases and cancers that are creating major health issues worldwide. My team has successfully isolated several Streptomyces that produce highly efficient antibiotics to kill various pathogens including multi-drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Importantly, some natural products from these Streptomyces have also demonstrated potent anticancer activities against various cancer cell lines. These findings could lead to new kinds of antibiotics/therapeutics for drug-resistant infections and cancers. Hence, my research on Streptomyces can have a great impact on antibiotics and drug discovery for the benefit of science and humanity.
Besides, one of the important missions of our institute is to expose young graduates to modern science and technology and to equally encourage to study those disciplines, fostering their future success. In addition, RIBB also offers training courses to local companies and organizations, and organizes workshop in local level, especially in rural areas so that greater number of women can participate and get benefited.
Sabeera: “First female Nepali scientist to win international award” – Comment please?
Sushila: I am really honored and delighted to represent myself as a first female Nepali scientist to international community.
Sabeera: What was your most satisfying achievements in career?
Sushila: Nepal is lagging in science and technology. Because science, technology and engineering are key drivers to socio-economic development, no nation could grow without proper implementation of science and technology. My country desperately need young scientists and scholars to create new educational system that emphasizes the development of science, technology and engineering for the development of the nation. I always wanted to become an independent investigator at a university or institution where I can share my experience and knowledge with next generation and where I can conduct research, using natural resources from Nepal, to identify and focus on key issues that address present challenges in biomedical field. My most satisfying achievement in my research career is the establishment of research institute and to pursue scientific research career in Nepal.
Sabeera: How do you find solution to a problem? What motivates you to stay focused?
Sushila: I believe every problem has solution if you try to find it. When I have problem, I first look at each step of a process causing the problem, check the variables associated with the problem and finally locate the origin of problem. If I cannot reach a concrete decision by myself, I share with my colleagues and find a solution through discussion. I keep myself up-to-date on the current research topics and trends. So, any interesting discovery usually excite my zeal and motivate me to work more.
Sabeera: Being a women professional have you ever faced gender discrimination?
Sushila: As a woman, I have faced both social and professional discrimination.
Sabeera: Gender equity is lacking in Science and it’s a global issue. Do you agree?
Sushila: Yes, the proportion of women in Science is considerably lower than the proportion of men around the globe. Normally, women in developing countries have fewer opportunities for higher education mainly due to economic and social problems. Although women in developed countries make up high percent of their participation in high level of education, women are still underrepresented in the fields of science and engineering due to gender bias.
Sabeera: How to raise the bar for women to choose and stay in the Science field?
Sushila: Women are as competitive as men when they are freed from household works. In most cases, when women are at the peak of their careers, they are tied to social responsibilities, such as getting married and raising children, and therefore their energy and enthusiasm toward Science eventually decline. Until our male dominated society do not realize the importance and potential of women, women need to suffer and sacrifice their careers. If women are kept free from social bars and pay rewards for their attempts, I believe women can compete equally as men in any field of Science.
Sabeera: Do Nepali nationals show enthusiasm to choose Science as a career?
Sushila: In recent years, there has been growing interest in Nepali nationals to seek career in Science. But, due to social, economic and political problems in Nepal, many of these interested candidates seek jobs abroad to fulfill their dream.
Sabeera: Can you mention any top 5 difficulties women face to be a Scientist?
Sushila: I’d like to mention several difficulties that women face today to become a Scientist. Women are severely underrepresented in Science due to culture of gender bias, less access to higher education, discrimination at position or salary for women, and struggle to balance career and personal life.
Sabeera: How to increase the visibility of women professionals to improve their participation?
Sushila: To raise the visibility and representation of women in Science, we need to support early career researchers by funds, encourage women’s participation in seminars with rewards and create a visible community of women role models. Personally, I believe, a better result would come if we could create an environment to allow men to take on equal responsibilities in family life through making career breaks and working part-time to support the family instead of women.
Sabeera: Where do you want to see yourself in coming 5-10 years?
Sushila: Ten years from now, I want to see myself as a committed and successful scientific personality with several scientific publications that benefit students, faculty, society and eventually a country.
Sabeera: Share your opinion about our project “Biostandups”?
Sushila: Biostandups did not come to my site before this interview. I was very delighted to see the website dedicated for women in Science. In my opinion, Biostandups stands as a hub of women for women and it has been doing a tremendous job to promote the visibility of women professionals and their contribution to society and nation. In other way, Biostandups is a great platform to encourage and inspire many young women scientists around the globe.
February - 2017
Dr. Nirmala Hariharan
Assistant Adjunct Professor
Department of Pharmacology
School of Medicine
University of California (UC), Davis
451 Health Sciences Dr,
GBSF 3502, Davis, CA-95616
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regards, this month we brought motivation and inspiration from Dr. Nirmala Hariharan, stem cell biologist, activist who constantly shout outs the importance of women empowrment in STEM. She is active on many scientific and minority societies to share her views openly. Dr. Nirmala is one true motivation for all the women who wish to see future in Science. Biostandups honours Dr. Nirmala as “SHERO”.
Dr. Nirmala Hariharan hails from Chennai, India, where she grew up and did her schooling. She completed her undergraduate education from Birla Institute of Technology and Science at Pilani, India and majored in Biological Sciences and Chemical Engineering. Dr. Hariharan obtained her PhD in 2011 from the department of Cell Biology and Molecular Medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (now called Rutgers New Jersey Medical School). She studied the molecular regulation of autophagy in the heart for her doctoral work. Dr. Hariharan subsequently joined as a postdoctoral fellow in San Diego State University, where she worked on cardiac stem cells and myocardial regeneration. She also got her first faculty appointment at San Diego State University. Since 2015, she has been an Assistant Adjunct Professor in the department of pharmacology at University of California, Davis. In over ten years as a researcher in the basic cardiovascular sciences, Dr. Hariharan has made many important discoveries determining the molecular basis of heart disease and has garnered several awards for her cutting-edge work.
Dr. Hariharan studies molecular signaling pathways regulating aging of the heart and is specifically interested in understanding how adult cardiac stem and progenitor cells age. She currently focuses on studying mechanisms that are essential for the maintenance of myocardial stem cells. Dr. Hariharan is also interested in delineating signaling cascades that are deregulated during heart disease and strives to find cures and therapies to ameliorate cardiovascular afflictions.
Sabeera: What was your own personal motivation for choosing Pharmacology as your research focus?
Nirmala: I am affiliated with the department of pharmacology at UC Davis, but my main research focus is in molecular cardiology. My passion for heart research combined with training in exceptional cardiovascular research laboratories have motivated me to choose molecular cardiology as my research focus.
Sabeera: what was the fascinating subject when you were a kid at high school?
Nirmala: Apart from Biology, I enjoyed studying languages. English, Hindi and Sanskrit were absolutely fascinating to me.
Sabeera: What is your most fascinating area of research other than Pharmacology if any?
Nirmala: I’ve always been passionate about research in the basic cardiovascular sciences which is why I chose molecular cardiology as my research area. Recently I find aging research to be very exciting as well. Other broader research areas that fascinate me are cell and molecular biology and physiology.
Sabeera: What is the secret behind your success?
Nirmala: I am very persistent. I think sticking on without quitting and striving to go forth despite the difficulties has helped me. I’m philosophical; I strongly believe in karma and the philosophy that we only have control over our actions and never over the results of our actions, as preached in the Gita. This helps me focus and remain motivated without getting deterred by rejections and failures, which are just part of the game in science.
Sabeera: As assistant professor what do you like most between teaching or research?
Nirmala: I enjoy both thoroughly. Research and the quest of discovering the unknown is very exciting. At the same time, I enjoy class room teaching as well as one-one advising. Mentoring students and trainees in the lab is extremely satisfying and it gives me the opportunity to excel as a teacher and as a researcher.
Sabeera: As a woman, have you ever faced intolerance situations against gender diversity in your career?
Nirmala: Yes, I have witnessed gender and racial intolerance in some subtle ways. Thankfully, I have extremely supportive mentors, colleagues and family who have helped me overcome such situations.
Sabeera: You have studied at institutions around the world, including India and the US. What are some of the similarities and differences you have observed and do you have a favorite?
Nirmala: I did my undergraduate education at BITS, Pilani, India, where there were some similarities with the system followed in the USA. In BITS, students get to choose their electives and decide the academic course load, which is consistent with styles followed in the USA. The system of student evaluation is also similar to that followed in America. I don’t have a favorite, I’ve learned a lot and cherish my educational experiences from both countries.
Sabeera: Tell us any craziest thing you ever done in your career/life?
Nirmala: I don’t think I’ve done anything too crazy. The most I’ve done is been in the lab past midnight for experimental time points, had a face-face meeting with one of my mentors at 11 PM, had a phone call with the Principal Investigator to discuss data at 4 AM just before a grant submission, volunteered as an undergraduate student with a mentor who worked very early in the morning and insisted on us starting experiments at the latest by 6AM (even in the winter), slept overnight in the lab before a lab meeting because I was too tired to commute back home!
Sabeera: In 2014, You were finalist for Melvin L Marcus Young Investigator Award in Cardiovascular Sciences, American Heart Association. How did that happen and how you feel about your achievement?
Nirmala: I learned about the early career award competitions from the American Heart Association by watching colleagues from my doctoral lab compete every year. The competitions are mainly for postdoctoral scholars and so when I started my postdoctoral training, I told my mentor in the very first year that I wanted to compete in one of the early career award competitions and my mentor was extremely supportive of my goals and aspirations. With a lot of hard work and support from my colleagues and mentor, I competed as a finalist for the Melvin L Marcus Young Investigator Award in 2014. I feel grateful about this achievement and am extremely thankful for all the opportunities I’ve been given in my career through the support of my mentors, mentees and colleagues.
Sabeera: Do you support women empowerment in STEM? What is your opinion on Women in STEM?
Nirmala: Yes, very much. I am passionate about women and minority rights and have been striving to contribute to women empowerment in my field – biomedical research. As a first step, I am serving on committees that enable me to better understand and relate to problems faced by other women in my field. I am a member of the UC Davis Vice Chancellor’s Advisory Committee for Women in Medicine and Health Sciences (WIMHS) and we advocate the inclusion and advancement of women in medicine and biomedical sciences. As a WIMHS member representing early career faculty in the basic sciences, I also lead an idea incubation committee to formulate strategies to enhance the retention of women in academia.
Women across all cultures find it very difficult to balance familial expectations with the demands of a career in research and many quit academia and research altogether. This attrition leads to a significant loss of talent and money for the institution. In my opinion, strong and effective mentoring is extremely important to ensure women thrive in biomedical research as well as other STEM fields. At UC Davis, we have a mentoring academy where I serve as a co-instructor to the academy’s advisory committee and we devise strategies to provide the most effective mentoring to all who need it. Since the beginning of my faculty appointment, I have actively taken steps to mentor women and I’m proud to say that over 75% of my mentees are women. As a mentor, I share my personal experiences and provide guidance and career advice to my mentees as they find their place in science. I strongly believe that the steps I am taking will contribute towards supporting and empowering the next generation of women scientists that come out of my lab.
Sabeera: How do you manage work and personal life?
Nirmala: Achieving optimal work-life balance is always a struggle. I’ve been able to manage my work and life, thanks to my extremely supportive husband and family. In my opinion, it is important to remember that the equilibrium between work and personal life will not always be in fine balance. Sometimes work will be a higher priority (like before a grant or manuscript deadline) and at other times family has to be a higher priority. Knowing how to prioritize is key to efficiently manage work and personal life. It is also extremely important that your significant other and family recognizes these priorities and works with you to achieve a balance.
Sabeera: Women empowerment in STEM is a global issue. How do you feel about it?
Nirmala: Yes, women empowerment in STEM is a global issue. I think achieving women empowerment globally requires sustained efforts at the home and organizational fronts combined with a change in the mindset and attitude of society at large. Achieving equity between men and women and ending the disparities in gender-specific roles is critical for women empowerment, not just in STEM fields, but in other professions as well.
Many steps are being taken across the world to enhance and empower women in STEM, which include a) increasing awareness of disparities that exist between men and women in STEM fields, b) community outreach programs to inspire young girls and women to pursue STEM careers, c) providing support at the organisational level to ensure closing of gender gap. Such initiatives are the priority focus in many countries, which is definitely the right trend to achieve global empowerment of women.
Sabeera: Do you think women empowerment in Science and Technology is underpinned in India?
Nirmala: India is definitely taking steps towards the empowerment of women in science and technology. Many Indian women are qualified engineers and doctors. We have several women leaders and entrepreneurs too. There has been an increase in the number of women who enroll in graduate programs in India, but unfortunately, very few Indian women scientists continue to pursue careers in academia and research. This has to change and efforts should be taken by the government and the society to support women who pursue careers in scientific research and leadership.
Sabeera: We have very few women pioneers in science and technology. What is the reason behind it?
Nirmala: A recent article in New York Times highlights some of the issues including sexism and discrimination faced by Indian women in STEM – http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2015/06/30/discrimination-plagues-women-scientists-in-india-but-the-larger-issue-is-social/
Majority of women in India do not get the support they require to pursue a challenging career of science and research. The average Indian woman is expected to conform to defined roles set by family and society at large. The hardships of balancing familial, cultural and societal expectations along with professional demands are tremendous. It takes the support of several people in the family and work front (including a network of mentors, and strong support from the leadership within the organisation) for a woman to become a pioneer in science and technology and unfortunately not many women have that kind of support system in place.
Sabeera: Do you have any suggestions to raise the bar for women scientists?
Nirmala: In my opinion, we have extremely talented women scientists and more than raising the bar, our priority should be to increase the opportunities given to them to help them become pioneers and leaders in academia and scientific research. Additionally, we should also strive to increase the number of women in STEM fields. My suggestions to the next generation of women scientists pursuing careers in academia and research are – a) have a team of men and women mentors to guide you through the ups and lows of your career while offering advise on work-life balance, b) do not be afraid to share/voice out your issues and opinions, c) be brave and daring, d) stand up for your rights, e) ensure your family understands, supports and values your aspirations and successes.
Sabeera: What are the challenges for women in science that need immediate attention?
Nirmala: Like I mentioned in my previous answers, the inequities between men and women must be recognised and addressed. It requires a change in attitude within homes and in the work place. More avenues should be created for the advancement of women scientists, in the form of additional funding opportunities, child and family care facilities, maternity and paternity leave, mentoring networks, recognition and rewards, and forums to voice out abuse, sexism and implicit bias against women and minorities. Increasing awareness of the challenges faced by women is crucial; for instance, the leadership within work institutions should be trained to acknowledge the day to day, work-life balance struggles faced by women scientists. These strategies if implemented immediately will go a long way in alleviating the challenges faced by women in science.
Sabeera: Share your opinion about our new start-up biostandups.com?
Nirmala: I hadn’t heard of biostandups.com until you contacted me. This interview prompted me to check your website and I must say it’s a remarkable venture. Your website is creating awareness, inspiring the next generation of women scientists and serving as a link to connect with other women scientists from across the world. Kudos to you!
Dr. Hariharan learns and sings Carnatic Music, enjoys going on long walks with her dog and loves watching movies and reading books.
January - 2017
Dr. Renu Agrawal
Ex. Chief Scientist
Advisor for outreach activities
Department of Microbiology and Fermentation
Central Food Technological Research Institute
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regards, this new year we brought motivation and inspiration from Dr. Renu Agarwal activist, scientist and most off all a great influencer from CFTRI, Mysore-India. She is one true motivation for all the women who wish to see future in Science. Biostandups honours Dr. Renu Agarwal as “SHERO”.
Dr. Renu Agrawal had been working as Chief Scientist in the Food Microbiology Department and is also a CSIR-CFTRI Rural development programme coordinator at CFTRI, Mysore, India and CSIR nodal coordinator for food science and nutrition. This is a nationwide programme to empower the 800 million people around the nation. Presently, she is working as Advisor, outreach activities at CFTRI. She has represented India as a team leader taking Scientific delegation for Asia meet at Indonesia, Bali nominated by DST, Government of India which was on food policies.She is in research since last 32 years. She had her PhD from University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. Her areas of specialization include biotransformation of inexpensive and readily available precursor compounds into high valued, high cost bioactive molecules, microbial physiology, fermentation and probiotics. She has received many externally funded project grants as principal investigator from DBT (Department of Biotechnology) and DST (Department of Science and Technology) Govt. of India and Bilateral International programmes with Bulgaria and Argentina.
Her path breaking and innovative research is evidenced by her publications. She has developed many innovative functional foods oriented towards improving health by natural means. She has been guiding students for M.Sc, M. phil and PhD for thesis in Biotechnology and Microbiology. She has published more than 60 research papers in peer reviewed national and international journals. She has presented more than 160 papers in various national and international conferences and has 20 patents to her credit with three microbial processes where the technology has been transferred to more than 100 industries being used by the common man. She is a scientist of international repute as evidenced by her advanced research and contribution to industry sector which has helped in getting revenue and taking microbiological processes for the benefit of common man. She has been honored as “Fellow of Association of Microbiologists of India”,’ Fellow member of International Society of Biotechnology’, Fellow of National Academy of Biological Sciences and “Fellow Society of Applied Biotechnology”. She has bagged the “Women Achievers award- 2008’ by the “International Guild of Women Achievers” and India International Friendship society, 2010.
She has been selected as the “Best woman scientist” by National Academy of biological sciences, 2010, felicitated by Rotary Inner wheel for scientific excellence with “Suguna Award” and Institution of Engineers, Mysore unit. She is the editor of Research Journal of Biotechnology and ADC. She is a reviewer of many national and international Journals . She has been invited to write book chapters in many Indian and Foreign books like Marcell Dekkar, USA. She has published nine book chapters in different books. She is presently writing a book on probiotics for “New India Publishing house” New Delhi. Her work has won many best paper awards at the national and international conferences. Her team won at AMI 2002, 2004 again at ICFOST 2004 and international conference at Chennai 2007, Delhi 2009, Bulgaria, 2007 and Argentina, 2009,India 2010, 2011, 2012 and again in 2013, 2014 to name a few. She is a faculty of M.Sc Food Technology at CFTRI and a faculty for ACSIR. She has served as the president of ‘Association of Microbiologists of India” and has been a member of many international Technical Advisory Board. She has been on the National committees of NCERT of national Science Talent Search, scientist selection boards of UPSC, DST and DBT and many technical committees’ internationally in Dubai, Bulgaria, Argentina and Indonesia etc.
In rotary inner wheel she has been awarded the best secretary in the district 318 for two times and best ISO twice. She has won many prizes for best poetry, lyrics, essay writing, debates etc at the national level. She has been serving the society by her work. She is a philanthropist and she is running many fellowships for poor meritorious students, constructed pre fixed auto stand in Mysore for public, Initiated a fellowship for rural work for PhD students of Acsir at CFTRI. She has been teaching one girl child every year. She has been conducting annual national level Novel competition on burning topics at Akhila Bhartiya Parishad, Rajasthan.
Now she has been selected to Chair the Expert Committee on Scheme for Young Scientists and Technologists (SYST), Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India, New Delhi. SYST plays an important role in nurturing young scientists with their ideas to undertake projects of societal relevance and selection of the same.
Science and technology always interested me. From the beginning I was interested in going into the depth and to prepare products scientifically which could be utilized by the common man raising their health and make them self-sufficient raising the economy. This made me to think and work with probiotics. I was very fortunate to have very dedicated students and we could contribute in the field of probiotics. In this regard I received grants at the national and international levels which were given to me by DST and DBT.I also guided TWAS- DBT and TWAS –CSIR fellows sharing science and bridging the developing countries together.
Sabeera: What is the current status of Biotechnology in India?
Renu: Biotechnology is growing at a rapid pace in India. Especially the agriculture sector and Industrial sector with newer techniques, new enzymes and new molecules. Environment is another field of current status.
Sabeera: Biotechnology is big world. Which part of Biotechnology is more advancing in India?
Renu: In my view agriculture, Industrial sector and environment.
Sabeera: You once held the position of “Professional Women advisory board” at Cambridge. Please tell us about your experience?
Renu: At Cambridge, this is a professional body of women which documents the credibility and the work of various women around the globe as you have contacted me. This is checked by the advisors in different fields.
Sabeera: You were nominated and award winner of NABS Best Women Scientist Award. How did that happen?
Renu: National Academy of Biological sciences is a scientific academy which calls for applications every year. Many scientists apply. The most meritorious gets the award. It is not nomination but an award.
Sabeera: You are actively involved in many programmes associated with women’s role in Science. What motivates you to contribute your time for Women in Science?
Renu: Yes, That’s right Sabeera. I am a social reformer and would appreciate men and women to work together hand in hand with equal respect, equal pay and equality in all ways.
Sabeera: Among all your prestigious awards and recognitions which was the most memorable to you?
Renu: Dear Sabeera as I look at it each one has its importance and each has a specific place for me as my children and my students.
Sabeera: Please share about your featured book “Probiotics and Their Role in Improving Human Health”?
Renu: About the book:
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO), the Probiotic organisms are live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts could confer a health benefit to the host. These contribute a major role towards the human health. These can be incorporated into the food products or may also be used in different dosage forms.
It is important to have a detailed knowledge of the required microorganisms before using it. Care needs to be taken during the selection, utilization against toxic pathogenic microorganisms to improve the gut. Probiotics help to reduce NO synthesis. They simulate mucus production; enhance the proliferation of gut epithelial cell. They have the capacity for immunomodulation and also to inhibit endogenous carcinogen production. They produce short-chain fatty acid and provide nutrients to the enterocytes. Probiotics have been clinically proved in promoting health. This book has been divided into chapters which will guide the readers for better understanding for different aspects starting from isolation to usage and safety of probiotics. The book also includes the mechanisms of action, animal, and human studies as a support for these properties.
The book has also covered the various probiotic products in the market.
The book also discusses the functional roles of probiotics in human health for the well-being. It has analyzed different intestinal disorders. The book also highlights the ability of probiotics to modulate gut microbiota and dietary management. It discusses various advancements made towards the preparation of probiotic food in the market. Among the major products covered in this book are the dairy and nondairy products, fermented milks and cheeses.These products carry probiotic bacteria as food carriers which needs to be alive in order to impart beneficial effects. The book also discusses on the future of probiotics. In totality, the book gives an overview of the fundamental concepts, mechanisms, therapeutic actions, technological aspects, and future research related with probiotic bacteria.
The book will be helpful for students, scientists, pharmacist’s, nutritionists, scientists working in the field of gastrointestinal disorders and other diseases, companies which are into new functional foods or nutraceuticals. It will also be helpful to the professionals in public health and to clinicians.
The book has brought about the successful link between food and health.
Sabeera: We need more women as pioneers in Science and technology. Do you agree?
Renu: Definitely, without doubt!
Sabeera: Gender parity in Science is a global issue. Please share your opinion?
Renu: I think each woman needs to push herself very hard and make her place whatever may be the occupation or situation. They should become policy makers and not only followers. For this they need to be assertive, speak their mind and lead no matter what!
Sabeera: Please state top 5 problems women face in Science?
Renu: It is in any field not only in science that a woman faces problems due to biological reasons-
- Marriage in a different place
- Giving birth to children
- Post child re- establishing in profession
- Peer pressure
- Time to think
Sabeera: Do you have suggestions to raise the bar for women in Science?
- Raise age for jobs
- Child care facility around the campus
- Support from seniors in upcoming projects, probably make them co-PI!
Sabeera: Can we erase gender gap in Science and technology?
Renu: Yes, with determination, perseverance and focusing the goal. I think I did that, I am a mother of two children with not much support system.
Sabeera: What inspires you to keep up focused towards success?
Renu: Probably I am a very motivated person and no problem turns me down as I keep finding solutions for them. I believe look at the solutions and not on the problems.
Sabeera: Any advice to coming generation of women professionals?
Renu: I think these days the girls are very professional. However, I would say keep chasing your dreams!
Sabeera: Finally, please share your opinion about our start-up “Biostand ups” with our readers?
Renu: I think it is a wonderful thing to happen. Every morning I go to twitter and see what new this start up is doing. This gives me immense happiness and I tweet again. I also like your web page which is very creatively done and one can be acquainted with so much in one glance. It is a wonderful idea to have a startup from Purdue like this one which has developed educational mobile applications to bring scientific people together. This will also help for their special learning in newer areas.
I would call it a passion. I feel very satisfied to empower people and make them feel good. I have been coordinating for food science technologies of CFTRI with farmers, disabled, women farmers, rural women, bakers and more. I volunteer for family counselling at Mysore helpline for the last 18 years and am active member as advisor in Mysore Grahakara Parishad where we take up various issues of the city. Being a member of Rotary Innerwheel I have served the society in various avenues. The district adjudged me as the best secretary and best International officer twice. Being the task force member of committees at DST I encourage young researchers who propose goof for common man.
I have been bestowed with REX-UN Karamveer Chakra which is a very coveted award for the work carried out for the society. Again, the number of women are less.
December - 2016
Prof. Gaiti Hasan
National Centre for Biological Science
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research
Bangalore – India
Email ID: email@example.com
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regards, we had a great opportunity to share views and opinions from Professor Gaiti Hasan from National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore – India. She is one true motivation for all the women who wish to see future in Neurobiology. Biostandups honours Prof. Gaiti as “SHERO”.
Neelofar: Who has inspired you in your life how and why?
Gaiti: My mother. She managed both family and career calmly and efficiently. She was a role model for her colleagues and multiple students throughout her career as a college and university teacher.
Neelofar: How do you motivate others?
Gaiti: By sharing my excitement of their work with them.
Neelofar: How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?
Gaiti: Success to me signifies leaving original, meaningful and lasting knowledge from my groups research. The test of its originality is that other groups would be unlikely to ask the same question. For it to be meaningful and lasting it should lead to newer questions in the field, which over time impact broader areas in biology. By these criteria I would say I am about 75% successful.
Neelofar: What excites you the most about your scientific research?
Gaiti: Biology is complex and to understand this complexity one has to learn to ask the right questions. The most exciting part of research is the realization of having asked the right question.
Neelofar: Tell me something you have done that goes against all social conventions, yet you did it anyway because it was the right thing to do!
or Can you tell me about a situation that was difficult and you were able to overcome it?
Gaiti: When I see something wrong happening and I think I have the ability to change it I will do everything possible within my means to set it right.
Neelofar: Do you think gender parity is lacking in India? if yes can you reason it out?
Gaiti: Yes, it is lacking. Most men are too comfortable with the existing situation because it is in their favor and are unlikely to work at changing it. We need many more women in positions of decision making to change this situation and mindset.
Neelofar: What guidance would you provide for current and next yearning women researchers in India?
Gaiti: Take up research as a long-term career only if you enjoy spending many hours in the lab. You should be able to cope with failure on a regular basis and it is essential to have a supportive family. You need your family to step in and help when you have to put in extra time at work or to attend a meeting.
Neelofar: What is your proudest moment as a scientist or researcher?
Gaiti: There is no single moment that I can recollect. Having students and post-docs from my lab do well in their independent positions maks me proud.
Neelofar: If you had to choose one thing, what do you think you’re the best in the world at?
Gaiti: I don’t think I can claim to be the best at the world in anything. I believe I can communicate the work from my group reasonably well to both scientific and non-scientific audiences.
Neelofar: How would you like people to remember you?
Gaiti: Motivational and considerate of others
Neelofar: What would you be doing right now if you weren’t here? (this position)
Gaiti: Working at improving our cities to become more environmentally friendly and aesthetically pleasing.
Neelofar: What’s the biggest thing you struggle at this position?
Gaiti: Trying to achieve reliable results in a limited time.
Neelofar: What popular general advice do you disagree with?
Gaiti: I do not agree with the general advice that a scientist should try to publish a vast quantity of research papers. The quality of individual publications and their impact on the field is much more relevant and lasting. Producing such quality publications takes more time and intellectual effort.
Neelofar: What creative things do you do to develop a likeable culture/environment?
Gaiti: I am not sure about this.
Neelofar: What is your favorite metaphor to describe yourself?
Gaiti: Better ask my students – I am sure they would have a good metaphor!
Neelofar: Last question, what is your opinion on our start-up project Biostandups.com?
Gaiti: I am not very familiar with it. It seems like a good idea. I hope it can impact Indian science in a positive way.
Assist. Prof. Nishi Srivastava
Department of Physics
Birla Institute of Technology
Email ID: firstname.lastname@example.org
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regards, we had a great opportunity to share views and opinions from Assistant Professor Nishi Srivastava from BIT, Ranchi, India. She is one true motivation for all the women who wish to see future in Physics and Aerosols. Biostandups honours Nishi as “SHERO”.
My research interest is primarily towards aerosols, very tiny particles but capable of altering the climate by a significant amount. Several national and international research groups are working in this field to quantify the impact of aerosols over our climate but still its effects on climate are an open question. Aerosols are important in climate related issues as well as in health related issues. Considering the wide effects of aerosols, I explored two main issues related with the anthropogenic aerosols: Role of anthropogenic aerosols in radiation budget and Impact of anthropogenic aerosols in air pollution physics.
The first effect is more related with the climate modification while second one is directly affecting the human health. These objectives are dealing with socio-climate effects of aerosols. With the objective to explore the source of anthropogenic aerosols, chemical transport model can also play a significant role. This approach has been used to reduce the gap in understanding of the air pollution over the Indian region, which has severe air-pollution problems both in spatial and temporal scales and very less attention is paid to this serious issue in India. The validation of model results suggested an improved chemical transport model which could address the air pollution problems over Indian region with sufficient accuracy.
This would in turn help us to strengthen or quantify the air pollution problem which would then be useful for addressing the impacts due to air-pollution on regional climate and people.
Sabeera: What was your motivation to peruse Science and Research as career?
Nishi: My father is my inspiration for my career in science and research.
Sabeera: Are there any Unforgettable moments of your career?
Nishi: Getting admission at India’s premier institute “Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore” for Ph.D. was an unforgettable moment in my academic career.
Sabeera: How do you want to help society through your research work?
Nishi: Research in Atmospheric Science may play a pivotal role in pollution control and environmental cleaning, thus
Sabeera: Which part of the career do you prefer most, teaching or research?
Nishi: Both fields have equal priority in my career. A balance in both is needed.
Sabeera: Please tell us about “Cellular-Mix- PRoFIRMEC PhD” scholarship that you have received?
Nishi: “Cellular-Mix- PRoFIRMEC PhD” scholarship was offered by embassy of France in India to Indian national to work in France and develop a bilateral relation in field of research.
Sabeera: What was the advantage of getting support through “Cellular-Mix- PRoFIRMEC PhD” scholarship?
Nishi: It was a good opportunity to interact with foreigner team and share new research ideas with them.
Sabeera: What are your future Career plans and where do you want to see yourself in the near future?
Nishi: As a successful academics and researcher.
Sabeera: Do you have any women physicists as a role model who motivates you?
Nishi: Madam Curie
Sabeera: How to do you feel about being selected for SERB Overseas Postdoctoral Fellowship Program Awards to perform your future research at University of Strasbourg, France?
Nishi: I am feeling very happy as this is a prestigious scholarship provided by Indian Government to Indian nationals to excel in their research field.
Sabeera: What is the most exciting part of winning SERB Overseas Postdoctoral Fellowship Program Awards to perform your future research at University of Strasbourg, France?
Nishi: Winning SERB Overseas Postdoctoral Fellowship Program Awards provided me an opportunity to work in one of the best team in chemical transport modelling.
Sabeera: According to reports India is lacking women empowerment in Science and technology. What is your opinion about it?
Nishi: Hopefully the scenario will change in future.
Sabeera: How can we erase the gender gap in Science and technology for women, any advice?
Nishi: Parents should encourage girls to pursue Science and Mathematics.
Sabeera: Have you ever encounter gender gap in your career so far?
Nishi: Though there are various hindrances in our society, but fortunately I have not encountered with them. My parents, husband, brother and whole family are strong pillars of my career. Without their support it would have been difficult for me to be here where I am now.
Sabeera: Please tell us about your take on our new start-up “Biostandups.com”
Nishi: It is really a nice and appreciable start from “Biostandups.com”. Thanks for this interview and wish all success to your site.
Story books reading, painting and other craft activities.
Professor Sulabha K. Kulkarni
Email ID: email@example.com
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regards, we had a great opportunity to share views and opinions from Professor Sulabha K Kulkarni from IISER, Pune, India. She is one of true motivation for all the women who wish to see future in Physics and nanoparticles. Biostandups honours Prof. Sulabha as “SHERO”.
Prof. Sulabha K Kulkarni is currently working at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, India as a Visiting Faculty. Prior to this, she has been a UGC Professor at IISER, Pune. Before joining IISER, Pune, she was in the Department of Physics at the University of Pune for a period of 32 years, where she introduced a course on Nanotechnology at the post-graduate level. She has taught this course later, at IISER, Pune also. Besides Nanotechnology she has also taught Condensed Matter Physics, Surface Science, Materials Science, Experimental Methods in Physics and Laboratory classes at the post-graduate level.
She has authored over 270 research publications including 120 publications in Nanotechnology in peer-reviewed journals of international repute. Her publications are on metal, semiconductor and oxide nanoparticles, core-shell particles, metallic multilayers, hard coatings, gas-solid interactions, metallic glasses, etc. She has written a popular textbook – “Nanotechnology: Principles and Practices” (English) whose third edition has been co-published with Springer International. Apart from this, she has also authored the books “Carbon: the wonder element” (English and Marathi) and “Nanoscience and Nanotechnology” and “Nanotechnology of Nature” (both Marathi). The latter received an award and recognition from the State Government of Maharashtra. In addition, she has co-authored, “Laboratory Manual in Solid State Physics” for undergraduate students.
She has supervised 38 PhD students. She was the coordinator of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) Nano Unit at the University of Pune as well at IISER, Pune. From time to time, she has worked at various institutes and universities abroad – in Germany, France, Italy, UK, Japan and South Korea. She has attended a phenomenal number of national and international conferences. She is a fellow of the Indian National Academy of Science (Allahabad), Indian Academy of Science (Bengaluru), Indian National Science Academy (New Delhi), Asia Pacific Materials Society (Beijing) and Maharashtra Academy of Sciences (Mumbai). She has been very active in the popularisation of Science in India.
Prof. Sulabha. K. Kulkarni has made significant contributions in the field of Nanoscience, Materials Science and Surface Science. Her work on nanomaterials, hard coatings and high strength aerogels is noteworthy. She was a co-ordinator of DST Unit on Nanoscience in the University of Pune and Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune. In the University of Pune facilities like Vibrating Sample Magnetometer, UV-Vis, Photoluminescence, FTIR etc are established and are being used by several students and scientists. A clean room also was established. All this has given a tremendous boost to the research activity in Pune University. In IISER, Pune also state of art facilities are developed under the DST Nano Unit.
She has extensively worked in the field of surface science, specifically in Photoelectron Diffraction as well as Photoelectron Spectroscopy of surfaces and interfaces. She has played a major role in the programs of National interests like IUC-DAEF Photoelectron Spectroscopy beam line design now commissioned at INDUS-I, RRCAT Indore. She was involved in the development of monochromators for Neutron Beam line of IUC-DAEF, Mumbai, installed at Dhruva reactor, BARC, Mumbai. She has established various facilities like metallic multilayer deposition, arc deposition, plasma polymerised film deposition, Auger Electron Spectroscopy (AES), Low Energy Electron Diffraction (LEED), X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS), Ultra Violet Photoelectron Spectroscopy (UPS), High Resolution Electron Energy Loss Spectroscopy (HREELS) etc techniques in the Department of Physics, University of Pune. A large number of students, scientists and industries have benefited due to these facilities.
She has written a book on nanoscience. She has written three popular science in Marathi (one co- authored) and English books as well as co-authored a Laboratory Manual in Solid State Physics Experiments, for undergraduate students and teachers. She also participated in the laboratory kits development under UGC ULP Program. During 1994-98 she was Executive Editor of “Physics Education” journal. She often writes popular science articles in local Newspapers and has given several technical/semi-popular lectures in public, colleges, schools, various institutes and radio talks.
My group is interested in developing size and shape dependent nanomaterials, self assembly and understand their properties. We work on semiconductor Quantum Dots (QD) graphene QDs, carbon QDs, plasmonic materials like Au, Ag and their size and shape dependent absorption properties. These materials are useful in sensors, photocatalysis and photovoltaics. Our interest lies also in multiferroic materials. We are also interested in developing materials useful as thermoelectric materials. We develop variety of aerogels, ultra low density materials. Aerogels are useful as insulating (thermal/electric) materials with applications in space vehicles, sound proof rooms, as window material etc. basically as energy saving materials.
Visit Home Page : Prof. Sulabha K Kulkarni
Sabeera: Do you recall what started your enthusiasm for physics and Nanosciences?
Sulabha: Yes, we had a wonderful teacher at M. Sc. in the University of Pune, (Late) Prof. M. R. Bhide, who used to teach us Nuclear Physics. What he taught us I did not pursue as my career but certainly I got interested in Physics due to his way of teaching. He inspired me as well as showed the path to do research. It was interesting for me to understand that the way various materials9or world around us) behave is not just simple but there is a lot of science and laws behind it which can be understood through research. Then my enthusiasm was nurtured by my Ph. D. Supervisor Prof. Nigavekar who helped me to become a scientist.
During my Postdoc in Germany I worked in the area of Surface Science and my view of research further broadened. When nanoscience was not termed as ‘nanoscience’ (around 1990) I thought that small particles have large surface to volume ratio, therefore I thought of working on such material. As I started working on nanometer size particles, I came to know that there was more to it than just surface to volume ratio. With time my interest grew and saw that Nanoscience is becoming an important area.
Sabeera: What excites you the most about your scientific research?
Sulabha: New results, new ideas!
Sabeera: How do you want to help society or scientific community with your research work?
Sulabha: I did research and teaching in the University of Pune (now Savitribai Phule Pune University) for ~ 37 years and IISER, Pune for 7 years. I taught various subjects in Physics, supervised large number of project students, Ph. D. and M. Phil students. I gave and continue to give a large number of scientific as well as popular lectures in schools, colleges, Universities and public lectures all over India. I wrote books, including popular books, gave radio talks, wrote popular articles in local News papers. I also was/am member of various scientific committees, member of editorial boards of science journals, referee to Ph.D thesis of students from many Universities, member of selection committees for the recruitment of faculty in various institutes in India. I think that is my small contribution to society and scientific community. I do not have time left for any other social activities left!
Sabeera: How do you manage to achieve success as women scientist in India?
Sulabha: I do not think women scientists are different from men scientists. Science knows no gender! I think whatever success I might have got is because of this attitude.
Sabeera: Among your greatest achievements, which one is your most memorable achievement?
Sulabha: This I cannot answer. All my work gave me equal joy whether a publication in a very reputed journal or medium kind of journal. I put all my efforts in every work.
Sabeera: Do you think gender parity is lacking in science for women in India?
Sulabha: No, although I was working in a better environment than many other women.
Sabeera: What are major troubles you’ve needed to confront and/or right now face being a research woman in India?
Sulabha: Nothing particular.
Sabeera: Please share with us the type of difficulties women is facing currently in industry and research in India?
Sulabha: I think women have major ‘time’ problem. They need to spend lot of time in daily duties at home and this somehow cannot be avoided. So far what I have seen, women have to take care of home more than men. So this is a major problem for those working in industry or do research. They always have to exert themselves much more than men.
Sabeera: What guidance would you provide for current and next yearning women researchers in India?
Sulabha: Work as much as possible in the area which you like or think is important. Your output is your reward. If you are faithful to your work, may be sooner or later the success will come to you. Success comes in different forms. If you work well, you will get the recognition automatically, you don’t have to run after it! It’s a waste of time! One may or may not even get awards/prizes. However, do we work for it?
Sabeera: Can you please tell us in brief about your thoughts to improve gender gap in Science for next women generation? What kind of work is need to be done?
Sulabha: I think gender gap will reduce if women first stop thinking that they are different as far as science is concerned. They have to take challenges in work. There are of course many places (states) in India where women have genuine problems as women are not treated well either by families or at work place. In such situations women colleagues need to be united and strongly help each other. Often women do not unite and think that its not their problem unless it affects them. As far as for helping/promoting women, there are various schemes and awards instituted by various funding agencies. Women can use such avenues but they should slowly prepare themselves for open competition. Additionally, efforts must be made to include women in various committees, given the responsibilities as chairpersons, include them in conferences as invited speakers, deliberate attempts should be made to include them in science academies. One can see that the girls shine at various competitive examinations, board and University examinations. But what happens to them? Large number of girls do not make careers later. All the financial provisions should be made to encourage girls to make proper career.
Sabeera: How can we, as a community, do a better job of sharing the success stories of women in science?
Sulabha: May be through social media. In schools and colleges girl students should be informed what women have achieved and they too can achieve what they desire. Books on/by women could be circulated.
Sabeera: Being a standing committee member for women empowerment in science and technology, what advantages you see for the betterment of women researchers?
Sulabha: I think there are certain improvements needed in the existing schemes for women as well as introducing new schemes. We even lack data base on women scientists. Some steps are being taken about it. I am sure that new policies would come forward soon which will create the conducive atmosphere for women to contribute in science and technology.
Sabeera: What is the best act or policy to be implemented in India to raise the bar for women in science?
Sulabha: I do not think there is any bar as such but due to our social structure, women are suppressed not in science but many other areas. Achievements of women if projected properly, slowly the hurdles will be reduced.
Sabeera: Last question, what is your opinion on our start-up project Biostandups.com?
Sulabha: Very good move.
Reading & Music
Asst Professor Roopali Gandhi
Harvard Medical School
New Research Building
Boston, MA 02115
Biostandups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regards, we had a great opportunity to share views and opinions from Assistant Professor Roopali Gandhi from Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA. She is one of true motivation for all the women who wish to see future in research and science, especially to set their foot on foreign lands.
Indian origin Harvard scientist
Dr. Roopali Gandhi grew up in New Delhi, India. She is one of three daughters to her parents. She did her PhD thesis work at National Institute of Immunology and Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi. During her PhD she was involved in the identification and characterization of anti-lymphocytic antibodies from systemic lupus erythematosus. She found that the anti-lymphocytic antibodies can identify apoptotic cells and can initiate a process of epitope spreading which plays an important role in Lupus pathogenesis. Dr. Gandhi joined the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2004 as a fellow and was promoted to Instructor in 2008. She was appointed as Assistant Professor in Neurology department at Harvard Medical School in 2012. In the last ten years at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Gandhi initiated several research projects related to basic immunology, autoimmune diseases, and neurological disorders.
Dr. Gandhi research is focused on understanding the mechanism of cellular immunity; particularly, induction and characterization of regulatory immune cells and identification of a biomarker for MS. She has identified several circulating miRNAs, which have the potential to serve a role of MS biomarker. The major research focus of her lab includes-(1) the identification of disease-related biomarkers, (2) the study of molecular mechanisms that regulate immune cell function, and (3) understanding the pathways linked to treatment effects. She is a member of neurology and immunology societies and a reviewer of neurology journals and grants.
Visit Home Page : Dr. Roopali Gandhi
Sudarshan: Do you recall what started your enthusiasm for science?
Dr. Gandhi: I started my enthusiasm for science when I was very little (I think 5 years) as I was always curious to understand science around me and in the sky. I remember having discussions and innovative ideas with my dad and sisters while lying under beautiful blue skies filled with the shinning stars. My curiosity and courage to do things in different ways put me in danger many times ☺. I remember how disappointed and shocked I was, literally, when one time I put a leaf stem in an electrical outlet to make it light like a lamp.
Sudarshan: What excites you the most about your scientific research?
Dr. Gandhi: I am most excited that one day my contributions could help find cures for disease so that patients can enjoy a full life span with their families and loved ones.
Sudarshan: Do you think in gender parity is lacking in science for women?
Dr. Gandhi: Yes, I think gender parity is lacking in India. During early years of my education, I observed several times that my girlfriends were less favoured to get study support compared to their brothers. Thankfully during my graduate program, I performed my research at a well-reputed immunology institute (National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi India) where women were motivated and supported. I think with education and awareness in the current era, we are overcoming these differences significantly.
Sudarshan: What are a few troubles you’ve needed to confront and/or right now face being a woman in Research in India?
Dr. Gandhi: Thankfully, my research story is good and a happy one. I have to say that I am very lucky and did not face any challenges being a woman. I have parents who always motivated us, to be our best version. My husband supported my career a lot. Throughout my research career, I found mentors and peers who supported me tremendously. And because of this support, motivation and encouragement, I never gave up. I feel proud to be a woman and a scientist.
Sudarshan: Please share with us the type of difficulties women is facing currently in industry and research in India?
Dr. Gandhi: The number of Indian women in science is exceptionally increasing. But it still feels that scientific communities, families, and society in general are not providing enough support, respect or acknowledgment for women for their scientific effort. As research is a form of art that needs passion and long time commitment.
So women in India need support from their partners and families for their research careers. They need resources and career guiding programs to direct their careers in research. They need the support structure to complain and report sexual abuse problems or other threats. Women also need other women as mentors to get the encouragement and guidance needed to carve out their career paths.
Sudarshan: What guidance would you provide for other and next yearning women researchers in India?
Dr. Gandhi: I have great respect for all the working-women and mothers. I would encourage them to keep going to reach their potential. I would tell them that it is not easy, but it is possible with continuous effort, hard work, and commitment. Thankfully we are in such a great era of time where many women promoting programs are available, and gender bias is slowly fading away.
Let’s use this opportunity to write a new story that our daughters in next generation won’t have to face the same struggles that women of our age or previous generations faced. Let’s create a world with no gender biases or discrimination. Let’s treat our daughters the way we treat our sons. I would also advise women and men in leadership roles to strongly support their peers and juniors, through their experience and guidance, to make junior’s career journey less challenging but more rewarding.
Sudarshan: Can please tell us in brief about your thoughts to improve gender parity in Science for next generation women? What work is left to do?
Dr. Gandhi: In today’s era I think gender parity exists at conscious or subconscious level even in developed countries like USA. There is a great article published http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-marie-jenkins/unconscious-gender-bias-e_b_7447524.html and discussed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqZA8hu4jN8. I guess it will take several decades before these gender biases will disappear and “Then” there will be equal number of woman as men, who will reach to the top positions in science and in industry. We need to keep designing programs for women’s training in science and in leadership positions.
We need to add more resources for their career building, such as funding opportunities, day-care facility, maternity leave, etc (eg; http://www.iusstf.org/story/53-68-U-S—-India-Women-in-Science-Cooperation.html). We need to connect women to women through special seminars or mentoring circles. Easier said than done, but every man and woman in Indian society needs to overcome the perception that “woman is a homemaker” and “man is a bread earner” to establish gender parity in India.
Sudarshan: Last question, how can we, as a community, do a better job of sharing the stories of women in science?
Dr. Gandhi: You have initiated a great link and I hope you continue to do this very important work. Creating a working group for women or a blog on your website would be helpful to share and learn from each other. To add diversity and more impact, I would also suggest that you approach women from other minority groups and developed cultures to gain experiences from their career journeys.
Department of Botany,
University of Calcutta
Kolkata 700 019
Bio standups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regards we had great opportunity to share views and opinions from Prof. Sumita Jha, professor in Botany from University of Calcutta-Kolkata, who is actively involved in raising her voice to bring gender parity and create new strategies to improve working opportunities for women in science in India. She is a one true motivation for all the women who wish to see future of more women in research and science, especially in India.
Professor. Sumita Jha, a Botanist and plant biotechnologist obtained her B.Sc. (Hons.) degree in Botany from Lady Brabourne College in Kolkata (1973) and her M.Sc. degree in Botany from Calcutta University in 1975. She earned her Ph.D. (Botany) in 1981 from University of Calcutta and has since been active in the areas of Plant Cytogenetics & Plant Biotechnology research and teaching. She has published 122 articles in International and National Journals along with 16 Book Chapters.
To her credit, Professor Jha has mentored several students for their Ph.D. degree, has initiated and engaged in numerous International Research Collaborations, has served on various Advisory Committees and has garnered prestigious awards for her contributions to academic excellence. Notable among these are the INSA Science Academy Medal for Young Scientist (1983), the Prof. Hiralal Chakravarty Award by ISCA (1989), the UGC Career Award for young teachers (1994-1997), Membership of the Plant Science Committee, DST Govt. of India (2007-2012) and Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, India (2008).
Professor Jha has an extensive administrative experience and has served with distinction as Coordinator of the M.Sc. Program in Genetics (2002-2009), Head, Department of Genetics (2009-2011; 2013 – 2014), Head, Department of Botany (2007-2009), Deputy Programme Co-ordinator, CAS in Botany (2001-2004) and as Programme Co-ordinator UGC-CAS in Botany (2004-2015) at Calcutta University.
It was our greatest honour to get in personal with Prof. Jha. She was very kind to share her opinions through our interviews sessions.
Professor Sumita Jha is a true “Shero” of India.
We thank Prof. Jha for sharing her knowledge with us.
Hermaphroditism is the ruling phenomenon in most of the flowering plants in terms of their choice of sexual expression. In cucurbits, we find a number of genera with varied sexual systems. Also, cucurbits are a large vegetable yielding family for which identification and understanding the modes of sex expression in different species can help to build basic knowledge to improve breeding strategies in future. Considering these aspects, chromosome evolution and development of molecular marker in dioecious cucurbit genera has been the prime objectives of current research in my laboratory. Also, we are part of the team developing a Comprehensive Chromosome and Genome Database for Plants recognized as one of the Bioresource Information Centre (BRIC-III) of Indian Bioresource Information Network(IBIN) funded by DBT(GOI).
Visit Home Page : Prof. Sumita Jha Home
Sabeera: What gets you truly excited about Scientific life?
Sumita Jha: Finding a highly motivated student willing to pursue scientific research against all social odds.
Sabeera: What is your most fascinating area of research?
Sumita Jha: Working with plants which do not behave and respond the way we want them to!
Sabeera: What motivates you to do your very best?
Sumita Jha: Guiding PhD students and developing new teaching courses.
Sabeera: What one thing have you not done that you really want to do? What are you waiting for?
Sumita Jha: I could not go for long term (>3 months) post doctoral research abroad and I have done what I could with two children, a very supportive family, to the best of my abilities as well as limitations in teaching as well as in research. I am waiting for my students to excel.
Sabeera: What is the significance of Women empowerment in Science and technology in India?
Sumita Jha: Talented Women scientist drop out in large numbers, unable to “scientifically” deal with their change in status after marriage. There are two sides of this situation, one the women scientist themselves need to realize while their role in their family is indispensable, they can join the mainstream with confidence anytime, if they wish to, they only need to prioritize their own potential in science. They need to be committed and professional in their approach.
On the other hand, even experienced faculties/scientists are not very encouraging towards women scholars /scientists who need to be given opportunities and scope to join the mainstream after a break. They need to realize women taking a break in career are not for their “weakness” or “personal benefit” but for the society in general (taking care of children/elder members of family) in long term. We need a change in attitude of both men and women in science.
Sabeera: Do you think women empowerment in Science and Technology is underpinned in India?
Sumita Jha: Yes. There are various schemes and opportunities for women scientist in India now, which was lacking during our times. Several other are being thought of, to bring a major change. This is all very encouraging.
Sabeera: Have you ever encounter gender gap in your career so far?
Sumita Jha: No
Sabeera: Why women in science Gender equity is important in India?
Sumita Jha: We get large number of women for doctoral research but the number is very low in scientist/ faculty positions. Policy making bodies are usually male dominant, while pool of talented, recognized women scientists are not lacking in India.
Sabeera: Can we erase gender parity for women in science in India?
Sumita Jha: Very difficult.
Sabeera: How do we achieve Gender parity in Science and technology in India?
Sumita Jha: The major aspect is change in attitude of men and women in society towards each other and talented women in science in particular.
Sabeera: Are there any advantages of Gender equity in Science?
Sumita Jha: Yes, it effects future generations of men and women in science.
Sabeera: You are a member of the prestigious standing committee for promoting women in science organised by Union ministry of science & technology. What is your role as a member?
Sumita Jha: To explore what can be done and also need to be undone to improve workplace environment and opportunities for women with potential in science.
Sabeera: Last question, please give your feedback on our new start-up Biostandups?
Sumita Jha: Informative, current, helpful for young scientist.
H. S. Savitri
Indian Institute of Science,
Bio standups aims to establish awareness on women empowerment in science. Knowledge comes from experience; hence we decided to bring the experience and knowledge from great women scientists who are representing our nation globally. In this regards we had great opportunity to share views and opinions from Prof. H.S. Savitri, professor in biochemistry from Indian Institute of Science-Bangalore, who is actively involved in raising her voice to bring gender parity and create new strategies to improve working opportunities for women in science in India. She is a one true motivation for all the women who wish to see future of more women in research and science, especially in India.
My research interest is molecular characterization of plant viruses, structure function relationships of viral proteins and enzymes. The molecular mechanism of assembly of single stranded positive sense RNA plant viruses has been established by structure based mutational analysis. These studies have provided a platform for developing chimeric virus like particles as Nano-carriers for disease diagnosis, antibody delivery into mammalian cells and delivery of drugs to target cells. The work on structure and function of non-structural proteins of viruses has underscored the importance of intrinsically disordered domains in interacting with partner host or viral encoded proteins. Molecules that disrupt these interactions could serve as antiviral agents.
Sabeera: Do you recall what started your enthusiasm for science?
H.S. Savitri: A lecture and test conducted by Sir.C.V.Raman for color blindness in my pre university.
Sabeera: What excites you the most about your scientific research?
H.S. Savitri: Talking to my students on the work carried out by them and discussing with them.
Sabeera: What are a few troubles you’ve needed to confront and/or right now face being a woman in Research?
H.S. Savitri: Less time to focus on other things related to science other than my work and family. I could not attend meetings/conferences many times and recognition for my work came late.
Sabeera: Name one of your all the more difficult profession encounters?
H.S. Savitri: none
Sabeera: We think in India gender parity is lacking in Science and technology for women?
H.S. Savitri: Yes, one must make special efforts to change this. A change in attitude of women that they need not sacrifice either family or profession and that they can excel in both. A change in the attitude of men, that they should remove all hurdles to make women work in par with them.
Sabeera: What guidance would you provide for other yearning women researchers?
H.S. Savitri: Focus on your work and don’t worry if you are not recognized. If you continue to be productive there is no way in which you can be sidelined.
Sabeera: Please share with us the type of difficulties women are facing currently in industry and research of India?
H.S. Savitri: With families becoming nuclear, they dont have the support of elders to care for the kids especially when they are not well. Some men cannot tolerate a women performing better than them and try to undermine them.
Sabeera: how many more years it may take to achieve gender parity in India?
H.S. Savitri: No idea, I do see an improvement though.
Sabeera: Recently we have read in news that you and your colleagues submitted a report to better the working conditions and execution of ladies researchers. Can please tell us in brief about your missions mentioned in that report?
H.S. Savitri: Ensure safe and congenial atmosphere for women to work and attract talented women to occupy decision-making positions.