Picture a scientist

We are asked to draw an image of a scientist and we picture a man, it’s not our fault. We have been conditioned to associate men with professions like scientists.
Picture a scientist
Representational ImageSource: Pxhere

Today I want to start with a riddle that was also played by ‘BBC three’ back in March of 2017. This is an award winning digital channel for comedy. It was told that a man and his son met a car accident in which the man died on spot and the son was rushed to surgery.

The surgeon said, I am not in a state of mind to operate, for the patient is my son. How could it be? Most of the people thought that it would be his god-father or the like but very few could guess that the surgeon may be the mother of the boy. These answers are the reflection of an unconscious bias. While as explicit bias exhibits consciously, implicit bias manifests unconsciously.

Similarly, we are asked to draw an image of a scientist and we picture a man, it’s not our fault. We have been conditioned to associate men with professions like scientists. More than a decade back, when I took admission in PHYSICS course in the university, I met this bias in many forms.

We were only three women in a band of 48 students. In the ragging, we were told, ‘Physics mein ladkiyan aise lagte hein jaise gynae mein ladke,’ followed by a hearty laugh. The social psychology is that, boys are ridiculed to be enrolled in life sciences because these have a moderate level of difficulty to go through.

So are girls not expected to be in harder sciences like Quantum Physics or aeronautical engineering. In a more general comprehension, boys are associated with science and girls with humanities. This making in mind of the pictures of scientists or non-scientists, has its origin in history and culture among other factors, with reigns in the hands of men.

Nonetheless, the most reasonable opinion would be that one should do what one is naturally able to do. One can explore ones abilities and try not to be infused with any other. That is only a mad pursuit, not achievable. No scheme of education can alter the baseline abilities of a person. All traits and tendencies are inborn not acquired.

All we can do is to groom them well. Despite whatever notions are prevalent, it is a woman, Shakuntala Devi, who is cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only person who could do calculations quicker than a computer. It is only a woman who holds Nobel prize in two disciplines (Physics and Chemistry).

It is a group of three women who are believed to have done an error free translation of the glorious Quran, particularly in the context of scientific details. It is again a woman living among us who has memorised the highest number of hadith, over one lakh.

Socrates learnt his first lessons of wisdom from a woman. Behind every great man is a woman. Some time back, the Dalai lama had favoured his succession by a woman for their compassion. Prophet Solomon was highly impressed by the majesty of the lady emperor, Bilquees. In the covid times, the countries led by women have done significantly better.

This is not to juxtapose women with men but to bring forth the idea of doing well independent of gender. This is because, mental faculties play a far bigger role than gender in being or not being an achiever in life. Over the years, there has been a consistent rise in the number of women in politics, administration, law making, sports, mass media and communication.

But the fact remains that women are yet to gain considerable numbers in Sciences. As a part of Indian Physics Association, I got a chance to watch a latest movie in this regard namely, ‘Picture a Scientist’. It is a must watch for science students - as well as teachers and all academia. It is a compelling documentary of 2020, highlighting gender inequality in science. Harassment against women is no less prevalent in science than it is in pop culture and corporate America.

The movie highlights some of the important reasons that women scientists are a minority in U.S.A. The movie is about the experiences of several prominent female researchers, and brings to light the barriers they encountered in career progression, including discrimination and sexual harassment. The movie features prominent women scientists such as MIT's professor of biology Nancy Hopkins, the chemist Raychelle Burks and the geoscientist Jane Willenbring, among other scientists. The film was an official selection of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival and the audiences across the U.S. were able to watch it on June 13, 2021, when it premiered on Netflix.

A number of research institutions have held screenings of the movie as part of efforts to increase awareness of gender issues within STEM. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is a broad term used to group together these academic disciplines. This term is typically used to address an education policy or curriculum choices in schools. It has also implications for workforce development, national security concerns and immigration policy.

Women in STEM should choose the most practical attitude to deal with their problems in professional life. They should dare open competitions and deny the government any reservations or compensations. The government policies may only need to ensure them a fair chance in competition and stricter punishment for all sorts of discrimination and abuse.

Let the worthy and un-worthy among men and women get filtered by the same scale of assessment. A powerful quote from a woman in STEM is, ’If you know you are on the right track, if you have this inner knowledge, then nobody can turn you off, no matter what they say.’

Dr. Qudsia Gani, Assistant Professor, faculty Department of Physics, Govt. College for Women, M.A. Road Srinagar

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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