Women in STEM roles

More women are now joining STEM fields in various capacities.

A scientist working on genetics. An engineer building robots. A cybersecurity specialist. A water resource expert. Did these science and tech job roles bring to your mind pictures of men at work? If your guilty answer is yes, then you need to catch up because this picture is changing, and fast. 

Specialised learning

Young women today are exploring their strengths and interests in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields which have been traditionally dominated by men. This year, to mark 70 years of its work in India, the British Council launched a scholarship for 100 Indian women who want to pursue their Master’s degree in a STEM subject from any university in the United Kingdom.
DH Education caught up with some of these women to understand their varied subject interests.

One Master’s degree was not enough for ambitious Sanhita Sharma from Haldwani, Uttarakhand. She has received an offer to study MSc Environmental
Water Management at Cranfield University. Sanhita wants to be an expert on the topic of her interest — water. She grew up in Uttarakhand and saw first-hand that ample water resources do not mean assured access to clean drinking water, as part of a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative. Her interest in the subject piqued when she was doing her BSc in Microbiology. She even took water as an elective while pursuing her postgraduation from The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in Bengaluru.

Since completing the course, Sanhita has been working on water and sanitation problems in rural Uttar Pradesh. “When you study the theory it seems simple enough but on the field, it is quite different. We are building water tanks to supply potable water in villages. But creating a sense of ownership of the tanks among the residents is difficult. They are used to drinking contaminated water and so, we have to help them understand the need,” Sanhita said. Her second Master’s degree will equip her with a specialised understanding of water management. This she will use to devise innovative solutions to water problems in rural India, particularly in agriculture.

Ishita Shailendra Parekh breathed a huge sigh of relief when she got the email about being accepted for the British Council scholarship to study MSc in Robotics from the University of Plymouth. After losing her father at a young age, Ishita’s uncle became the support system for her and her mother. She completed her BE in Electronics and Telecommunication with a full scholarship from a college in Pune and was hoping for a similar opportunity for her Master’s. “This scholarship
was my last option. I had told myself that if I did not through this I would not apply
for Master’s anywhere else,” Ishita said.

Working with machines and programming robots excites Ishita and she could not find a course to her liking in the country. “Some of our national institutes do have courses related to artificial intelligence and robotics but in India, it is still an emerging field. The market for these fields is more developed in countries like the US and the UK. So, universities there have better courses,” she said. Ishita is already working with autonomous vehicles, developing intelligent infotainment systems for them as part of a multinational company in Bengaluru.

Understanding genes

While Ishita looks forward to programming robots, Shivangi Srivastava
wants to make discoveries about the ‘programming’ that makes us human. Shivangi will soon be joining the Genetics of
Human Disease Master’s programme offered by University College London. Genetics became a topic of interest for Shivangi as a BSc (Honours) student at Amity University.

The four-year course in Medical Biotechnology introduced her to the fascinating world of gene therapy. “In my first semester, we learned about the use of viral vectors to correct genes. Since then, I have a keen interest on gene therapy,” Shivangi said. She wants to conduct research to understand why people develop Alzheimer’s, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder which affects memory and thinking skills, mostly among senior citizens.

Security in the virtual world is on everyone’s mind, more so after the scandal involving the UK-based Cambridge Analytica which used data from unwitting Facebook users to design political campaigns. Chinmayi Baramashetru from Bengaluru recognises the need for better cybersecurity and wants to pursue a course in this subject from City, University of London. “I have been accepted for a Master’s in Information Systems and Technology but I want to see if I can switch to Data Science or Cybersecurity. The one I have opted for now is more along the lines of management. Both will be helpful but I would like to work more on the technical aspect,” she said.

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