There has never been a more opportune moment for women to take up science as a profession than now – given the vast expanse of knowledge and the numerous avenues available to them, according to India’s ‘Missile Woman,’ Tessy Thomas.
“Young girls today have greater support both at home and outside, a wider knowledge base and more opportunities to learn, which they can utilise to pursue an extremely fulfilling career in science,” she said, addressing a gathering of researchers, schoolgirls and science enthusiasts at a meeting organised in Thiruvanantha-puram by the Women Scientists Cell of Kerala State Council for Science Technology and Environment (KSCSTE) in connection with next month’s International Women’s Day celebrations.
Kerala-born Thomas herself is an inspirational figure for girls across India, being the first woman scientist in the country to head a missile programme. She is currently the project director for Agni, India’s state-of-the-art ballistic missile system, at the Defence Research and Development Organisation in Hyderabad.
“We need more women in the decision-making process to serve as mentors and role models for our youngsters. A woman scientist will face opposition and multiple challenges throughout her life. The key is to remain focused on your goals, be confident in your abilities and never stop learning,” she said.
Thomas was inaugurating the meeting of Women Achievers in Science, intended as a platform for aspiring researchers to interact with some of the leading figures in the field.
VN Rajasekharan Pillai, KSCSTE executive vice president and ex-officio principal secretary of Kerala’s Department of Science and Technology, noted that women’s education has been the bedrock of the state’s developmental success, but to achieve more inclusive growth, this talent pool needs to be retained in the industry and academia.
“We have exceptionally talented girls who pursue science up to the undergraduate or postgraduate level, but their research activity is often not sustained beyond that for many reasons,” he said. “We need to make them aware that there are a number of meaningful schemes introduced by leading research institutions to encourage them to stay in science.”
There are programmes today for women scientists to take a career break of up to 10 years to fulfil their family commitments before returning to work, Pillai said.
Eminent scientist and former STEC chairman CG Ramachandran Nair gave a special lecture on the Life and Work of Women Scientists. He recalled how women like Nobel laureate Marie Curie, chemist Margot Becke-Goehring, nuclear physicist Lise Meitner, molecular biologist Rosalind Franklin, Indian meteorologist Anna Mani and botanist EK Janaki Ammal carried out pioneering scientific work in the face of intense gender bias and prejudices.
“We live in more enlightened times. There is no real handicap anymore for young girls to follow their dreams and pursue a career in science,” he said.
KR Lekha, head of KSCSTE’s Women Scientists Cell, said in her welcome address that the council would extend all support to youngsters willing to excel in science. She said the meeting was in consonance with the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, which is ‘Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures’.
In the technical sessions that followed, Thomas made a presentation on science and technology with special focus on the missile defence systems.
Six winners of the Young Scientist Award which is conferred at the annual Kerala Science Congress, presented papers on research subjects. Lakshmi S Nair, currently associated with the University of Connecticut Health Centre in Farmington, United States, spoke about biomaterials for medical devices and regenerative engineering.
Giable George of M G University outlined her research on environment-friendly, rare earth-based inorganic, cool pigments.
Others who presented scientific papers were Uma S from Sophisticated Test and Instrumentation Centre, Amita Ajit from KSCSTE, Renju Krisha V from Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute and Been R from Kerala Agricultural University.
School and college students who attended the meeting also had the opportunity to interact with the scientists and learn more about their research work.