Women In Science (Global Scenario) - Neeraja Jaishankar
As a young girl, everything I learned in science was a miracle to me. An apt example of this was the development of the “Dolly”, the first sheep to be cloned, which kindled my curiosity and motivated me to become a researcher. Germany, a world leader in research, and their no tuition fee program attracted me towards it. The country is one of the economically advanced countries that has several measures put in place to bridge the gender disparity in science. The German universities show no gender-based discrimination in their acceptance rate. The Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) provides scholarships for exceptional students to support their living expenses in Germany. Along with the scholarships, the organization also provides exclusive female leadership training. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)- The German Research Foundation strives hard to improve the gender gap in its research funding programs. The DFG funding supports young female researchers working in research networks; tries to make research institutions family-friendly and also consciously tries to increase the number of female workers at the project management level. There is a special encouragement from the funding committee for young female researchers to come forward and submit their project proposals. Apart from the DFG, there is also the graduate funding program from each state in the country that particularly supports young female researchers. Most of the academic jobs and Ph.D. positions throughout the country encourage female students to apply. There is no difference in pay based on gender in
these funding programs. With its funding line “More Women at the Top”, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) finances interdisciplinary research on different gender related questions. The program helped to increase the percentage of female professors across all fields from just 15.2% in 2006 to 23.4% in 2016. The organization Komm, mach MINT (Come do mathematics, computer science, natural sciences, and technology) focuses particularly on female students and provides access to internships and job offers. The bachelor or master students can register free of charge and look for opportunities on the portal. The organization has around 370 partner companies.
Even though there are many measures put in place, the statistics show that gender equality is still a problem. An article published by Nature in 2019 indicated that even though the country is a world leader in scientific research, it falls behind when it comes to diversity in science. The article showed that sexism is still a problem in German research. The study showed that the country performs poorly with 28% when comes to giving women equal opportunity in sciences. DFG which spent €3.2 billion on grant funding in 2017, showed that the share of women in individual applications was 16% in natural sciences; for engineering, it was only 10%. These are shockingly scary statistics. The gender equality index from 2019 showed Germany with 66.9 points out of 100, lacking behind the EU in 0.5 points. The STEM cell network also shows that women are underrepresented in science. The statistics showed that the percent of women in high-paid professorship positions is only 20% in Germany. During my studies, there were more female students in my class compared to males. The academic syllabus was set in such a way that we had seminars and presentations along with each major subject to improve the communication skills in academic forums. We were encouraged to ask questions after presentations and group meetings to make sure our voices were heard and also remove inhibition if there were any. The main aim of this practice was to subsequently remove the gender disparity of those who ask questions and lead the seminar in academic forums. There were many internships and pieces of training along with the master’s program. The university does not penalize women for pregnancy or childbirth by providing progressive maternity leave policies. My friend, for instance, was able to take a year off her studies following her pregnancy. She could come back and continue her studies without any pressure. If all universities followed such women-friendly policies, it would remove the systemic barriers that prevent women from falling behind in their academic careers for no fault of their own. The university has a daycare center for young moms along with the request for emergency care during exams. During this Covid-19 crisis, the university provides financial aid as well as tips and ideas for home office and homeschooling.
Although measures to reduce the gender disparity are being taken, the progress is still slow like everywhere else. The number of male professors is still noticeably more than the number of female professors. The textbooks have mostly successful male researchers whose work is mainly being studied. The crucial step of using examples of female researchers and understanding their experiences with a focus on their concerns is still missing from the curriculum. Besides, we must move beyond privileging the work of male scientists and researchers, as well as recognizing that female researchers’ work is often not valued by the system in equal ways, and working to correct that bias. On a personal front, I have not experienced any gender-related discrimination, but I have heard few experiences from co-workers of mine. A friend of mine got asked what were her future family plans in an industry job interview even though it is illegal to ask such questions. When asked such questions the interviewee does not have to answer them. The industries and the academic settings have to adapt to being family-friendly and not the other way around. While doing my Ph.D. applications, I also noticed that some positions still used gender-specific pronouns while describing the job roles. Assuming that the standard student or researcher is male is one of the ways that women are told that they do not belong in academia. We need to have a keener eye for these small but exclusionary practices. There are far more women doing Ph.D. studies right now. The question is how many stay in science after completing their PhDs. Even if they do stay in science. Finally, let’s not forget that women experience sexual harassment and discrimination in nearly every industry, workplace, or sector – academia is no different. Is a #MeToo movement in academia overdue? Even in its absence, we must make sure there are strong systems in place for women to be able to report sexual harassment and get justice for it within universities and workplaces.
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The complexity and mystery of life keep drawing her towards the field of science. During her
Bachelor’s in Biotechnology from Chennai, she studied the active efflux pump genes present in the
multi-drug resistant human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. She moved to Germany for her
graduate studies where she analyzed diagnostic markers to improve outcome prediction for prostate
cancer patients and to overcome over-treatment. She developed profound knowledge in Molecular
Biology, especially at the practical level. Today, she is a recipient of the prestigious state graduate
funding for her Ph.D. studies. She is involved in a clinical study for the identification of biomarkers
in asthma at the University hospital, Rostock. Her passion for feminism, diversity, and progress
lights a fire beneath everything she does.