In its 85 year-long history, the Indian National Science Academy is finally set to have a woman president. Chandrima Shaha, former director of the National Institute of Immunology will head INSA from 2020. Speaking to The Hindu, she said that during her tenure as the president, her topmost priority will be to promote science more ‘aggressively’ among the people. “The academies [India has three major science academies] have been doing it. However I’d like to conduct more outreach in local languages and have scientists speak about their work, the process of science, etc. to wider audiences,” she said in a phone conversation with the newspaper.

Not only the first woman president of the INSA, but she was also the Vice-captain of West Bengal’s first women’s cricket team and the first woman cricket commentator for the All India Radio

The New Woman President Is Against Quotas

In order to decrease the gender gap, many institutes believe in providing quotas to women. However, Shaha is against reservations. “The critical mass of good women candidates is still low. While there are several more young women scientists today who are good and deserving, we cannot dilute [academic and research] standards just to accommodate more women. India has several opportunities for women scientists perhaps more than several countries. However, we need to do better at assessing these programs and evaluating their effectiveness and execution.” she says.

As per the MHRD data available from the year 2015-16, the total number of students enrolled for Masters in Science stands at only 6.3 lakhs while the number of students enrolled in Masters of Art stands at 15.3 lakh total with 60.3 percent women. The number of females is restricted to only 30 percent when it comes to B.Tech.

Nandita Jayaraj, the co-founder of science media platform The Life of Science, told The Wire that such ideas shield institutes from addressing the gender imbalance. “The idea that there is a shortage of excellent women candidates to choose from has shielded institutes from their gender balance responsibilities for far too long. Surely there are enough women in science in India today to warrant more representation than 10% women at higher levels, and I think Dr Shaha would agree with this,” she said.

In order to decrease the gender gap, many institutes believe in providing quotas to women. However, Shaha is against reservations.

Shaha was also a cricketer and a commentator for the All India Radio. Cricket has been of great importance in her life as it taught her the value of teamwork, she told The Hindu.

Combating Pseudoscience-Myth and Misinformation Associated With Science

Shaha believes in propagating Science in local languages and also allow scientists to speak about their work so that it attracts a wider audience.  “This is critical to address myth and misinformation. We have to educate people from the bottom-up.” she adds. It’s been 85 years since INSA was established. Since then, the main objective of the organisation is to promote science among the masses and harness Science and its benefits for the betterment of humanity and national welfare.

Chandrima Shaha and the 30 other elected members will be take charge of their office from January 1, 2020. She is not only the first woman president of the INSA, but she was also the Vice-captain of West Bengal’s first women’s cricket team and the first woman cricket commentator for the All India Radio. “Women have to first believe in themselves in order to take over leadership positions. I have been elected by a council consisting of mostly male members,” Shaha told The Print.

Picture Credit: New Indian Express

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