More women needed to power re­search

NOT ENOUGH Even though UGC has an­nounced ini­tia­tives to en­cour­age women to take up re­search, un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the fairer sex in STEM needs to be ad­dressed ur­gently

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - HT Education - - Front Page - Gauri Kohli

E a r l i e r t h i s mo n t h , t h e Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion (UGC) re­laxed the cri­te­ria for women pur­su­ing MPhil and PhD de­grees. They will now get one ex­tra year to com­plete their MPhil de­gree and two years for PhD.

In March this year, UGC also an­nounced grants for women un­der its prom­i­nent fel­low­ship and schol­ar­ship schemes.

Are these ini­tia­tives, how­ever, enough to en­cour­age more women to take up re­search? Meenakshi Gopinath, for­mer mem­ber, UGC, says, “Over­all, at the of­fi­cial level, there is a strong em­pha­sis on ac­quir­ing Phd de­grees for those who opt for a ca­reer in aca­demics. En­cour­ag­ing re­search, per se, is a wel­come trend so long as the qual­ity of re­search re­ceives at­ten­tion. Are the con­di­tions and fa­cil­i­ties for re­search, es­pe­cially in the sciences, equal for men and women in our uni­ver­si­ties? For a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, I would say it is not a level-play­ing field yet.”

Ac­cord­ing to Lak­shmi Lingam, deputy di­rec­tor, Tata In­sti­tute of So­cial Sciences, Hy­der­abad, giv­ing re­lax­ation to women schol­ars is a good move. “It is al­ways use­ful to com­plete your re­search as per sched­ule. This will help the re­searcher main­tain the qual­ity and fresh­ness of data.”

Cur­rently, a re­lax­ation of five years is pro­vided to women ap­pli­cants for Ju­nior Re­search Fel­low­ship. There is no up­per age limit for ap­ply­ing for the post of as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor.

More fel­low­ships and schol­ar­ships are needed for women re­searchers and schol­ars. Gopinath says, “We need more schol­ar­ships, but there are a large num­ber of schol­ar­ships that do not get ad­e­quate num­bers of ap­pli­cants. The real chal­lenge is to put this in­for­ma­tion out in a trans­par­ent and ac­ces­si­ble man­ner and also reach out to those who will ben­e­fit the most. Men­tor­ing will also help women schol­ars. We are aware of a large num­ber of young women schol­ars who dis­con­tinue their re­search be­cause the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of home­mak­ing of­ten leaves them with lit­tle space for se­ri­ous aca­demic en­gage­ment and re­quire­ments of con­sis­tent study, field or lab­o­ra­tory work.”

Over­all, there is need to fa­cil­i­tate an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment for those fac­ing ob­sta­cles to en­gage with the world of thought to come up with in­no­va­tive prac­tices in both teach­ing and re­search, she says. An­other im­por­tant as­pect is rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women re­searchers in so­cial science and hu­man­i­ties as com­pared to science and tech­nol­ogy. Lingam says, “Women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in re­search in so­cial sciences, hu­man­i­ties, en­gi­neer­ing and sciences varies. It is linked to the over­all num­bers and per­cent­age of women in these dis­ci­plines at the master’s level. While over­all num­bers of women in higher education is in­creas­ing, there are fewer women in pure science labs that re­quire long hours of lab­o­ra­tory work for re­sults. Pro­fes­sors who get fund­ing for set­ting up labs un­der­take re­search work to­wards dead­lines and pub­li­ca­tions in a com­pet­i­tive world of ‘pub­lish or per­ish’. That’s why pro­fes­sors are in­clined to hire sin­gle men and women and of­ten are con­cerned about dis­con­tin­u­a­tion of women who get mar­ried dur­ing their re­search work.”

Hav­ing more women in the field of re­search can make a lot of dif­fer­ence. “The en­try of women brings in fresh ques­tions on in­sti­tu­tional sup­port mech­a­nisms and prac­tices. In the case of hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences, the land­scape has changed with the en­try of women. Hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences have qual­i­ta­tively trans­formed and we see that it is herald­ing a sea change in the ev­ery­day dis­courses on equal­ity, eq­uity and jus­tice in the coun­try,” says Lingam.

How­ever, In­dia has few spe­cific pro­gramme to en­cour­age young women into science. The US has made a num­ber of at­tempts un­der STEM (science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing and maths), though these have not been very suc­cess­ful. The un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in STEM at all lev­els and also in re­search needs to be taken up, adds Lingam.

Deepika Bhaskar, deputy dean ( re­search), Delhi Univer­sity Re­search Coun­cil, says, “I do not see any sep­a­rate rules or law to en­cour­age women re­searchers ex­cept some schemes by depart­ment of science and tech­nol­ogy and UGC which are quite en­cour­ag­ing. More can def­i­nitely be done for so­cial sciences and hu­man­i­ties.”


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