UK Alumni, Dr. Susmita Naskar is a scientist and engineering researcher in mechanics and structures. She is currently working on cutting edge research in the field of multi-scale material modelling. She is also motivated to bring more and more girls into STEM and her first step towards that goal started with an online platform for aspiring girl students. She is currently working on this project online by mentoring and motivating girls to choose a career in science and engineering.
On work front, her postdoctoral research at the Whiting School of Engineering of the Johns Hopkins University, USA, will have implications for various industries including fields of civil, mechanical and aerospace engineering.
Prior to that, Dr. Susmita completed her Ph.D. at the School of Engineering, University of Aberdeen, UK. Born in West Bengal, Susmita won the prestigious Lloyd’s Register Foundation Scholarship in 2015 for pursuing the doctoral study, and a Junior Research Fellowship and MHRD Scholarship for completing master’s study from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.
How can you describe your childhood and what inspired you to become a Scientist? Tell us from the beginning
I was born and brought up in Kolkata. Ever since childhood, I have always been interested to find a solution for problems that would have a lasting impact. During schooling, I became passionate about science and realized its potential to bring changes in our life and society. After that, I slowly realized that being a scientist would allow me to do justice to my capabilities and bring joy to my professional life.
In recent years, concerns and awareness about the underrepresentation of women in STEM, has increased. This has led to more girls choosing career in science today and it will only increase in the near future.
What inspired you to pursue the most exciting yet underrated field for women?
I became interested in science in my school days. When I started a bachelor’s degree in engineering, the interest became stronger and I slowly realized that I would like to have a lifetime attachment with science. Not only being in a profession where the scientific principles and tools are utilized to solve problems, but I also aspired to invent new fundamental theories and products which have the potential to be beneficial in a multitude of problems in our daily life.
I slowly realized that I would like to have a lifetime attachment with science. Not only being in a profession where the scientific principles and tools are utilized to solve problems, I aspired to invent new fundamental theories and products
What has been your most touching moment?
The defining moment in my research career was when I was awarded the highly competitive Lloyd’s scholarship in 2015 for pursuing the doctoral study. Studying in the UK helped me to expose myself to a multi-cultural environment and the academic excellence of a famous British university, leading to an enriching and fulfilling experience. I am privileged and proud of it.
Tell us about your ongoing research project.
My research activities focus on mechanics-based development of lightweight multi-functional materials, adoption of which in aerospace structures can reduce fuel consumption and subsequently CO2 emission, leading to direct economic and environmental impacts. The project will have a significant impact on the betterment of various engineering fields where lightweight multifunctional materials are required such as aerospace, mechanical and civil structures.
Who was the inspiration behind your career? Who do you give credit to, as your role model?
My inspiration throughout my career is mainly my mother. She gave up so much so that I could live a better life. What I always remember from my childhood is her ability to manage the home perfectly in spite of being a full time working mother. She was the one who always knew about my passion towards science and how badly I wanted to pursue my career in it. I could not be the person that I am today without the unconditional support from my mother. Without questing me or my capabilities she always stood behind me and supported my ideas, dreams, goals and career choices. Even today she inspires me every day to keep smiling, keep being positive and always keep going, no matter what, just as she did when I was a child.
As a woman do you feel discriminated in the field? Take us through your journey.
I have always received support from my family and the educational institutes I attended in my career. Except for few incidents, being a woman has always worked in favor of my career in science and engineering. There are many scholarships and research grants dedicated to only woman scientists. Thus, while I recognize that there have been many cases of discriminations in the field of science, I feel the best way is to stay motivated and utilize the available resources in the best possible way if someone is really interested to have a career in science.
Do you face any struggles for sponsors to continue the research?
Luckily I have not faced any problem from my sponsors during my research period. I started my research career with a successful proposal, based on which I was awarded the highly competitive Lloyd’s scholarship for pursuing my doctoral study. This scholarship inspired me to do better in my research field of interest and led me to get involved in the UK research system where I could utilize my knowledge and skills for the advancement of society and mankind.
The key is that I don't think much about being a girl in STEM. My parents have always encouraged me to become whatever I wanted to be as long as it made me happy without hurting others in any way.
How many women work at your organisation? Do they get much exposure? Any gender gap you've noticed?
My organization is not much affected by gender discrimination as per my knowledge and there are many female faculty members and researchers who are really doing great in their respective fields. I work in a department where diversity-related issues are acknowledged and discussed openly and frequently. The idea is to create an environment where a woman does not have to always be conscious about her gender identity at the work place.
Regular people who don’t have that much knowledge about the field don’t understand the difference between scientist and researcher. What made you decide to choose where you are today?
My quest for knowledge and the ambition for developing new scientific principles and products led me to a profession in the academic filed. This profession allows me to teach the subjects I am passionate about, and make new developments in the scientific field I love the most.
As a scientist, what do you think India lacks in terms of appreciating the field?
India always had a rich heritage in scientific developments throughout the recorded history. Though the pace of India’s scientific journey was slowed down in the last couple of centuries due to inevitable geopolitical and economic reasons, the intellectual capabilities and temperament were never faded. In last seventy years, India has come a long way in the field of science and engineering, to the point of having multiple successes in unprecedented space missions. However, the country needs to invest more in science and take appropriate steps to attract the best minds back to India.
What is your core passion and long-term vision?
The aerospace industry is developing very rapidly in India and it is projected that it will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. The government of India has also emphasized on cutting edge research in different relevant fields. My research activities in the field of lightweight composite structures would be able to significantly contribute to the betterment of the aerospace industry.
What are the chances for girls in the country to pursue this career trajectory? Do they get as much exposure and enthusiasm as they deserve?
Though the aerospace industry is dominated by male engineers and scientists, I have no hesitation in affirming that I have also met some of the finest aerospace professionals, who happen to be female. Basically, I do not think being a girl makes any difference in this field. However, there is still an inhibition associated among many girls to come in this field and this will definitely fade away as more and more girls choose to be aerospace engineers and scientists.
Though the aerospace industry is dominated by male engineers and scientists, I have no hesitation in affirming that I have also met some of the finest aerospace professionals, who happen to be female.
Why are there only a few prominent women scientists in the country?
In recent years, concerns and awareness about the underrepresentation of women in STEM, has increased. This has led to concerted efforts to assure that more girls have the opportunity to develop their scientific interests and abilities. I think more girls are choosing their career in science today and it will only increase in the near future.
How do you think you can inspire more women to pursue science?
Women advocating for women is so essential in all disciplines, but especially for those that are still male-dominated. There is no difference in boys’ and girls’ average ability in STEM; the factor that makes a difference is the stereotyping in our society. More concerted efforts are needed to overcome these unconscious biases and social stereotypes. I have already run a few outreach events to create awareness among girl students regarding career prospects in science. As being a girl I have gone through many of these hurdles myself, I know how to handle specific situations which arise due to gender biases in our society. I am currently involved in mentoring girl students and motivating them to pursue a career in science by giving them a clear road map.
Any future plans that include opening up a school for aspirant girls?
At this moment I do not have any such plans to open up a school, but in the near future I may definitely think about this seriously.
Currently I am working on an online platform to help aspiring girl students, by mentoring and motivating them to choose a career in science and engineering.
Please share some tips for women who want to take up research or a career in mechanics and structures.
I would suggest aspiring girls to care as less as possible about the social gender-based stereotypes imposed on them and pursue a career that truly interests them. Stay motivated and keep the basic fundamentals of science clear from an early stage.
Feature Picture Credit: Susmita Naskar