Veteran immunologist CHANDRIMA SHAHA is all set to take charge as the first female president of Indian National Science Academy (INSA) in January 2020. In an interview with The Indian Express, Shaha says India needs more woman scientists. Excerpts from the interview:
Women scientists are still few in India. Is there a need to popularise the subject among women?
Mere popularisation of science will not help. It is a social phenomenon. Society has to change and parents have to bring up their children — daughters and sons, giving both genders the same facilities, ingrain in daughters that they possess equal qualities as sons. This is far more important than creating an interest in science, which is secondary. Generating interest is needed for boys as well as girls. And that is why I see it as a societal issue, where parents need to be educated first. Many female students, even with engineering degrees, say their families do not support them working after marriage. For this social problem, we need to talk to parents and nobody has attempted it so far. We might devise a programme involving parents. For instance, we can ask school or college students to bring along their parents during science interactions. The right message can then be passed on. It is good to be self-sufficient and science is a pleasurable occupation.
Now that you are all set to become the INSA’s first woman president, how do you see the new responsibility in terms of bringing change in society’s mindset?
I hope that I can bring a change. In my societal setup, I do ask parents to give the same opportunities to daughters as they give their sons. Having said that, career break (for marriage or pregnancy) is important and it is something that you cannot avoid. For such instances, there are programmes that solely aim at inducting woman scientists back into the system.
In recent years, the takers for pure sciences have dwindled, with youngsters keen on pursuing careers in IT (information technology) or other fields. Where has science fallen short in attracting bright minds?
Science is non-lucrative and there is money in other professions. Government needs to come out with ways to incentivise the entry of people into the field of science. When China inducted their scientists (foreign experienced) back into their system, they were given high status. But here, the scientist does not get any such welcome and the status is not that high. I think the government needs to encourage the entry of people into the field of science.
How do you plan to take INSA ahead under your presidentship?
INSA has always worked towards encouraging undergraduate students into science. But I would like to take this outreach to lower levels, that is, take science to schools. My own experience of interacting with schoolchildren during lectures has been great, and students are excited about science. However, somewhere as they grow up, they lose track. The effort would be to sustain this interest so that there is query-based science. INSA fellows at local levels would be encouraged to visit schools and interact with them. Alternatively, we would also try and get students to INSA for a similar exchange of ideas. Another focus would be on assigning local INSA chapters to make use of local languages in science popularisation. We have a good history of doing science at INSA and the idea would be to strengthen and scale up effort.
You have been largely involved in studying diseases. Do you think India carries out enough studies on diseases, particularly caused by the changing climate?
The problem is of data on such diseases that are available in a vague manner. For example, air quality is one problem area that is known to affect one’s respiratory system. Though researches have emerged with some clues, there is still no direct evidence. In this case, it is highly difficult to measure parameters, as the person today lives in a complex environment and it would affect a person. There are so many diseases, that it is difficult to point out any one that needs greater focused study. Besides, there are emerging diseases too. There are newer diseases even as some older ones are making a strong comeback. Our appeal to scientists would be to make people aware of diseases and also take measures to prevent them.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines