Nature India | Indigenus

Lindau lessons: Where have all the women gone?

In June 2016, 21 young Indian scientists made a trip to the beautiful island of Lindau, in south west Germany, to attend the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting, dedicated this year to physics. In this sunny side of Germany, 29 Nobel Laureates met with 400 young scientists from 80 countries in an informal setting, which has come to be celebrated as the hallmark of these meetings.

On a boat trip from Lindau to Mainau island, Nature India caught up with the Indian delegation consisting of master’s students, PhDs and Post-docs, freshly chosen every year since 2001 by India’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) in collaboration with the German Research Foundation (DFG) to be part of this science extravaganza. In this blog series ‘Lindau lessons‘, Nature India will bring to you the unique experience of some of the young scientists from India who basked in the Lindau sun this yearJoin their online conversation using the #lindaulessons hashtag.

Among the many young female scientists who participated in this year’s meet was Sohitri Ghosh from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata. Sohitri was left wondering why there is such a huge gender gap among those winning Nobel Prizes — 825 male winners but just 47 female winners since 1901. It is only a reflection of women’s poor representation in the science and research, which Sohitri hopes will get corrected in times to come.

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Sohitri Ghosh

Sitting in the lecture hall in the 66th edition of the meeting this year, I couldn’t stop wondering why there is no Indian in a panel of 29 Nobel Laureates and why only a single woman was among them. As a member of the future generation of science in India, I am highly optimistic that some of us would be able to change this fact in the coming decades.

Two years back, when I got to know about the Lindau Nobel Laureate meetings, I had already started dreaming of being there someday, amidst those great minds. The dream, which seemed far-fetched at that point, became a pleasant reality when I got selected as a young researcher to participate in the meeting this year.

The meeting gave us an opportunity to interact with Nobel Laureates and discuss individual research ideas with them as well as among ourselves. As some of my fellow participants (Biplab PalNishchhal VermaRitabrata Thakur and Nishchal Dwivedi) have already described, it was an amazing experience to see so many Nobel Laureates at one place, at one time. We got to hear from legends of physics, ask them questions during the discussion sessions and coffee breaks, when they seemed much more enthusiastic than us to answer every question.

Some of the Laureates like Prof. Hiroshi Amano, the 2014 physics Nobel Laureate, shared stories about their phases of struggle as researchers. Some of them have spent decades on the same research problem, leading to evidently big discoveries that won them the Nobel Prize. They were dedicated to their work because they believed in it. The message which inspired me most was that frustration should not stop you from achieving your goal, instead it should drive you to improve and get your work done if you believe in it.

Another lesson I learnt is that scientific curiosity cannot be bound by labels attached to the field. Laureates like Prof. Steven Chu, the 1997 physics Nobel Laureate, have worked and are still successfully working on different problems from different aspects of science. As a masters student, I am still curious about many fields of science and this inspires me to follow my instinct to explore different territories with utmost dedication.

It was a pleasure listening to the Heidelberg lecture by American internet pioneer Vinton G. Cerf. During the lecture I couldn’t help but think that this is one of the many greats for whom I could write this blog.

An important part of this meeting was to get a chance to meet with researchers working in the same field as I do and discuss about the current possibilities which can be explored. On the other hand, getting to know about current proceedings in the other fields from very competent participants enriched my overall knowledge.

It was a lifetime opportunity, that too at this early stage in my research career. The memories of the meeting would always motivate me to pursue science to make a difference.

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    SUBHANKAR GHOSH said:

    Sohitri…undoubtedly it is a fact that the representation of Women Scientists, be it on the Nobel front or other Awards or even in Administration, is low as observed in other facets of working fields like political/religious/social leadership. Some of the reasons are well known..but many are complex and need our immediate concern. I appreciate your concern and request you to play a formative role in correcting the imbalance.