Radio PDF | Nimita Pandey

Radio PDF Episode 03 | S1

What is your take on gender and science? Why are fewer women doing postdoctoral research compared to PhDs in India? What are the career scopes one can find if interested in Science Policy? Are there enough opportunities in Science Policy in India? We discussed these questions with a postdoctoral research scholar Nimita Pandey from the DST-Centre for Policy Research, IISc Bengaluru, who has a special interest in Gender and Science. She shared her thoughts on the above mentioned topics in this podcast of #RadioPDF

If you are a postdoc in India and would like to be a part of this podcast series, drop us a note at IndiaBiospeaks@​indiabioscience.​org!

Stay tuned for more updates from Radio PDF!

Note to listeners: This recording was done over a zoom meeting call due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has resulted in a slightly diminished audio quality with some mild disturbances in the recording, compared to a studio-quality recording.

[00:00:00] — Intro

You are listening to India Bio Speaks, voices from the life science community in India.

[00:00:09] — Suchibrata Borah

Hello everyone. I’m Suchibrata, and you are listening to IndiaBiospeaks Radio PDF. At Radio PDF, we talk to postdoctoral researchers working in India about their research and the benefits and challenges of working in India, and what they think needs improvement.

[00:00:38] — Nimita Pandey

Hi, I am Nimita, and I’m doing my post-doctoral fellowship at the Center for Policy Research, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

[00:00:48] — Suchibrata Borah

Hi Nimita. Welcome to IndiaBiospeaks Radio PDF.

[00:00:51] — Nimita Pandey

Thank you.

[00:00:52] — Suchibrata Borah

Nimita, as part of your post-doctoral research, you look into science policy with a special interest in gender and science, and you are also hosted at UNESCO, New Delhi, to work on your project. To begin with, tell us a little bit about your postdoctoral project.

[00:01:10] — Nimita Pandey

So, my postdoctoral project revolves around understanding gender inclusivity in the science, technology, and innovation ecosystem in India.

[00:01:20] — Suchibrata Borah

Interesting! To add to that, what are the different dimensions since you are working?

[00:01:25] — Nimita Pandey

I would say that I could segregate my project into two different dimensions. One being working on the science policy, which would be the fifth science policy of India. And I have been working on the equity and inclusion chapter of the fifth policy, and the draft is with the government right now, and a lot of reiteration and revisions are going on. And the second aspect is where I’m working with UNESCO, New Delhi, on different aspects of how we understand access to education, creating role models, and also pushing the idea of female entrepreneurship in science. And recently, as a part of my postdoctoral project, we recently launched a book on this idea, which is entitled as A Braided River: The Universe of Indian Women in Science.”

[00:02:19] — Suchibrata Borah

So Nimita, could you please take us for a walkthrough of your Ph.D. career and what made you pursue post-doctoral research in science policy?

[00:02:29] — Nimita Pandey

Though it’s interesting to put across what I did in Ph.D. and I wanted to extend it in my postdoc, I would still take you a little back to where my fascination with science was, which since childhood was very much ingrained in my conditioning because everyone at home were doing science, but somehow or the other, there also a lot of gender stereotype happened, and my parents really wanted me to become a doctor, and I wanted to be a civil engineer. So, I kind of turned out to be a rebel, and I denounced to be a part of science, and I moved towards economics, and I did management. But that love for science still existed, but unfortunately, you cannot jump into doing a Ph.D. in science if you don’t have a training in science in your master’s and undergrad.

[00:03:18] — Suchibrata Borah

Wow, your answer shoots lots of questions, and I may fail to ask all at once. But, let us further discuss your research topic, gender and science. Were did any specific reasons to choose this area for research?

[00:03:33] — Nimita Pandey

So I started looking for avenues where I could get closer to science, and a Ph.D. in science policy came as a trigger for me, which was offered by Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. I applied for it, and it was an interdisciplinary course. They were open for both science and non-science, you know, students. So, yes. And I started pursuing it, and it was a different world altogether to understand science from a humanities perspective; what is the culture of science? What is the history of science? What’s the sociology of science behind it? And it was very fascinating, and it also helped me understand how important it is for science students also to understand the culture of science from a social science perspective because it just gives you much more understanding of what you could do with your science. Doing my Ph.D., which was more on the globalization of innovation in the biopharmaceutical sectors, I was more triggered to understand why there are less women in science. Why I would interview men more often. I couldn’t find a lot of men in all these biotech firms. A lot of men were there, I’m sorry, but there were very few women despite that I saw that in Biosciences, you have so many women, you know, pursuing PhDs or doing masters. So I was like, where are these women? I can’t see them in any of these companies. And that’s how gender and science came into my life. And, yes, this postdoc happened, and I applied for a postdoc, which is supported by the Department of Science and Technology. It’s called the STI Policy Postdoctoral Fellowship, and I got through UNESCO on board for this project, and I got seconded in UNESCO to do this project.

[00:05:33] — Suchibrata Borah

Nimita, now that you have been doing research for many years, what are your thoughts about doing post-doctoral research in India?

[00:05:43] — Nimita Pandey

So the positive aspect of doing a postdoc in India for Indians has, it has a lot to do with the kind of, cultural, social, you know, familiarity you have with this community per se, be it academics or research or the society at large. So that comfort level comes from that. And I think at this age, when you’re doing a postdoc, you are also somehow trying to balance your life and your career. So you cannot really detach both of these ideas. So doing a postdoc in India for Indians, I would say it’s a great thing if you have such kind of opportunity. For me, it has been very helpful in a lot of ways.

[00:06:31] — Suchibrata Borah

So what are the different postdoctoral fellowships in science policy available in India? Are there many, or are there only a few?

[00:06:41] — Nimita Pandey

I would say comparatively very, very primitive in India, it’s still very evolving despite that science policy has been talked about since Nehruvian times. But doing a postdoc, I mean, it’s not something very old. So talking about post-doctoral positions or fellowships in a science policy, as I said, the science policy itself is not an institutionalized discipline so far. And when I say institutionalized, we don’t have a master’s program. We don’t have a curriculum, so to say. Some institutions like JNU, Hyderabad University, and then you have Gujarat University and IISc, and some of the private institutions have started engaging into this, and they have brought in Ph.D. programs, so MPhil, PhDs for that matter. Unfortunately, for postdocs in science policy, particularly in the Indian context, we do not have a lot of top postdoctoral positions. They’re either entwined with other humanities postdocs wherein you can showcase that, hey, I want, I have an interest in science policy, and maybe I want to pursue the history of science or economics of science. And some great soul sitting in some university would be like, Hey, I have a project. And why not? We should do a postdoc on this. So it’s very informal in nature. The DST STI Policy Fellowship, which is for the post-docs, is one of its kind because it gives you some sort of recognition to be a part of the department also and still be independent in terms of doing your research. So it has its pros and cons, to be very frank. But then what I’m trying to say is that you know, you have a good recognition when it comes to DST STI Policy Fellowship. So, I don’t see a lot of fellowship options. So yes, we do need post-doctoral fellowships in science policy, or you say anything which relates to science and society for that matter, to do a post-doctoral fellowship in that. And there is a lot of space, and I think all these institutions who want to build an ecosystem on science policy research should encourage that and bring out such kinds of fellowships.

[00:09:13] — Suchibrata Borah

I completely agree with you that we should work more towards not only science and policy but also anything that connects science and society. Now, what do you think about gender balance among postal researchers in India?

[00:09:30] — Nimita Pandey

I realized that, see the kind of community I come from, even there in PhDs, we never had a lot of women for that matter because science policy was also seen like, Oh, well you, you’re pursuing science policy and where are you heading? Most of the time I heard that in my family also, because it’s neither social science nor science. So how do you want to secure your career in this because we really don’t know where you will head? What will you do after a Ph.D.? And now questions are what will you do after a postdoc? Because where do you belong? Neither science nor social science. Where are you? So, not going deeper into this idea, but what I’m trying to say is, for post-doctoral fellowships, I have seen that women in general, I mean, I don’t see a lot of women pursuing post-docs. So there is a gender gap, and I really don’t want to touch upon the idea of leaky pipelines because everyone knows about it, that there is a dropout of women at different levels, despite that we have high rates of, you know, female enrollment ratios at bachelors and masters, but tertiary education and a career in science or science policy for that matter, there is a serious dropout. What I realize about gender is, again, a lot to do with the sociocultural norms, and it works even in the case of post-doctoral fellowship because you are at such a juncture, as I said earlier, that when you are trying to do a lot of work-life balance in your life, and also that post-doctoral fellowship is not a permanent position, so at the back of your mind, you are doing something temporary in order to kind of, you know, build some confidence within yourself to pursue a career in that area. And you also want to kind of qualify for a better position in the future, be it in academics or in the government or private sector. So, while you are doing that, you are undergoing a lot of stages in your life as well. Some, most of the postdocs I have met are married or, you know, on the verge of expecting the first child, or they are about to get married. So, you know, and people think that since it is so temporary in nature, they do not prefer to take up postdocs also because they have other priorities in life, for that matter, family and, you know, other responsibilities, be it marriage, childcare, and whatnot. And the temporariness and also the lack of direction kind of pushes you away from taking up a postdoc. So, yes, these aspects lead to a gender gap in post-doctoral fellowships. And from a more systemic perspective, this is what I was talking about, if we do not give a direction, a sense of mentorship, or a sense of hand holding through collective or through individual discussions, I believe there would be a gender gap in post-doctoral ecosystem. So yes, these are some of the thoughts when we talk about gender disparity in post-doctoral fellowships.

[00:13:17] — Suchibrata Borah

Nimita, there’s a lot more to talk about and even more to do on this aspect. Thank you so much for putting a final point on this, and many thanks for joining us at Radio PDF. It was a great pleasure to talk with you about research opportunities in science policy in India.

[00:13:36] — Nimita Pandey

Thank you. This was great.

[00:13:40] — Suchibrata Borah

Hello, listeners. That was Nimita Pandey from the DST Center for Policy Research IISc, Bangalore. With this, we come to the end of this episode. Stay tuned with us for more episodes and subscribe to IndiaBiospeaks on Spotify.

This season is produced by Ananthapadmanabhan, in collaboration with IndiaBioscience, mixed and edited at Scicle Podcast productions. Until next time, it’s me, Suchibrata, signing off. Goodbye.

[00:14:23] — Outro

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