Being A Woman In STEM | A Discussion With Falguni Paul


Being A Woman In STEM | A Discussion With Falguni Paul

Being a woman in STEM is tough. In this episode of AtomsTalk Podcast, we discuss the difficulties a woman face in the field of STEM with a doctoral candidate, Falguni Paul.

She talks about how we are tuned from childhood to think that STEM is only for men. She also talks about the difficulties and problems she personally faced in this field just because she was a woman.

Falguni gives a valuable suggestion at the end. So, do check out the whole podcast.

Transcript

AtomsTalk Intro (00:09):
Intro Music

Sarah (00:10): Hello, everyone. Who’s listening and thanks for joining us today. So today I’m with Falguni Paul. Thank you so much for joining me.

Falguni Paul (00:19): Thank you so much, Sarah. I thank you so much for having me.

Sarah (00:22): Yeah. So for the people who are like tuning in right now, they want to introduce yourself.

Falguni Paul (00:28): Okay. So the thing is as you have already mentioned my name my name is Falguni Paul. I am currently a doctoral candidate and I’m also a teaching assistant at the Florida international university. I am, I would like to talk about my research, I guess I think that’s going to be very it’s it’s it would be able to kind of give you an idea of what I’m trying to achieve. Okay.

So I’m working with a probiotic group that most of us are quite familiar with. They are traditionally been referred to as a blue-green algae, right. But they do look like algae behave like algae, but they are not algae. They are bacteria. And this is the oldest photosynthetic organisms or not. And one interesting thing that can be considered even though there are a lot of counter was, is going on, is that life on the planet today would have been much different without this of all the cyanobacteria on the planet.

Falguni Paul (01:33): And, and the main reason why I’m so much interested working with them is because of their the chemical richness. They are considered as prolific source of this chemicals like secondary metabolites, AKA. It can also be considered I’ll also be known as secondary metabolites. This molecules can be toxic at the same time, they can be also used as potential drug templates. So, both they are, they are very much important, but ecological perspective, as well as biomedical perspective. But the issue of start the major problem is that they are the taxonomic system of cyanobacteria is, is a mess and it’s constantly updating. And so far there is currently no identification technique available that will be able to tell us that, okay, this is, this, this group is for producing the toxic. This is the group who is producing the potential drug molecules.

Falguni Paul (02:42): And I’m so much interested into that. And my goal is to develop a novel and highly sophisticated screening method when I will be able to use these chemicals as a Marcos in order to identify and for this, I’m trying to use some techniques that will be able to identify these chemicals, which will eventually identify this this Marine bacteria rapidly and accurately. I also do have a strong interest to identify the genes that are responsible for the synthesis of these unit drug molecules which are often overlooked. And that has so much importance to human life. Yes, so far, I think I’ve tried to, there are so many other aspects also, but I’m not going getting into there. I’m trying to kind of squeeze it and give you a summary of it if that’s okay.

Sarah (03:44): Thank you for the sneak peek into your very interesting research. I, my add so throughout your career, as a person who’s pursuing science and who also happens to be a woman, I am sure you would have had a lot of experiences, which many folks might not have. And I think you also really wanted to talk about your experiences being a woman in STEM which is a male-dominated field. So yeah.

Falguni Paul (04:17): I mean, yes, I think I have experienced this I won’t be able to give you like he whole picture of it or like it, every, I have experienced this, but I don’t remember everything, but yes. There are, some few examples that I would be able to talk about.

Something like I think when I was kid, I was like in 4th grade to 5th grade maybe. And A lot of times happen is that like you know, when the time where all the parents gather and they used to discuss and everything like, Hey, have you chosen a tutor for your Kids? And now how is he or she are doing, I think one time and it happened not only once but multiple times people like my friend’s mother and the father also, they have told my parents that, Oh, okay, fine. Are looking for a tutor for science, please make sure that it’s, it’s a, it’s a boy.

Falguni Paul (05:19): It’s not a girl, like, there was kind of a feeling like kind of thought process that like women are not as good as men in science or slash like math field, in order to be a tutor, it has to be a man. And, and and I also kind of started believing in that, you know I thought of being a girl and being good in science or math, it’s, it’s not possible, like, because I feel that time. I started like what I’m seeing or I’m hearing, I’m trying to, it’s kind of getting into my head. And I, I started to believing in that there’s some other examples that I can give you is that yes.

The image, the image of a scientist, like whenever there’s some discussion happening in science, like the father of microbiology or something, you know, there’s a showing us the picture of a man. We talk about so much. We talk about like, Oh yes, you are loved. You are good in this. You can you should be pursuing science, but something, but we’re not actually showing or talking about this. It’s not happening. Maybe you’re only encouraging or showing even in the schools. And in other classes where there’s only talking about men in there yes, go ahead.

Sarah (06:49): So you’re saying that basically since childhood, it’s like sort of conditioned to be this scenario where girls are taught to say like, Oh, it’s not really. I mean, we tell you, that you can be anything you want, but it’s not really the reality of what’s going on. Yeah.

Falguni Paul (07:08): I think that, I think if I can, if I can say that something like your gender is very important, whether at that we’ll decide whether you’re planning to be in the field of science or math, or if you’re planning to pursue science or not, and your gender will decide and something like that. If, if I can say, say that. But another thing that also happened to me is like, yeah, I have heard this a lot. Like Oh, I think it happened to me when I was in undergrad. And it also happened to me of when I was, when I did my masters, the teachers, and those are like female teachers some of my friends, their parents, they said Oh, I mean, Falguni, you are, you look really good. So, science doesn’t suit you.

Falguni Paul (08:00): I mean, you should not be doing science. And I was like, how does this matter? And, and, and, and it, this is sort of small remarks. These are small remarks, but this comments it’s kind of it’s kind of giving me a feeling that, okay, fine. I might not be doing this and something that kind of stuck. Like I started question myself, I won’t be this, this is, this is, this is those things I might not be good enough or for science. Another thing that I, I sh I haven’t spoken about this before like two, because only my, my few of my friends know about this about a very, like, when I was in doing my masters and now I was looking for a summer internship paid summer internship, and I started meeting on the PIs, even in India at that time.

Falguni Paul (09:02): Yeah. and a lot of, couple of them responded to me because that time, you know, getting a response is also a very difficult thing. I, but what happened is that once I received a response from the scientist, he is from a renowned research institution. I don’t want to take his name or that the name of the Institute. And I, I have been called for an interview.

They said, okay, you should be coming in because it was not in the same city. I had to travel and I went to some other city and I had to take, I think, an overnight journey or something like that. And I went over there because I got really enthusiastic. And I thought maybe I would be able to get our, this internship. This is at a very renowned one. And it’s something like where I would be like, I really wanted to work in that institute, Hmm.

Falguni Paul (10:06): So yes, the interview went, well, I think did enough. But I think after that we met me and one of the PI who was a scientist. He came outside and he kind of we had a conversation at the cafeteria. He kind of invited me over there, like after the interview got over. And he said, yeah, okay. I think I really like you, You are very much energetic. And you have this amount of knowledge. You should be, i would really like to hire you and not only that. I think after the internship, I would be able to like could give you an opportunity where you would be able to you can do your PhD in my lab. And I would be able to give you grants and fellowships and stuff like that. And I got really interested.

Falguni Paul (10:58): Yeah. But at the end of the the discussion, he mentioned that okay. But the one thing I would like to mention is that you have to fulfill my expectations. Expectations doesn’t really matter where there’s this expectation related to the research and or outside of it. So it’s like, he also kind of said one more sentence to it. That kind of, because that time when he mentioned expectation, I thought maybe he wants something, someone who wants to like, who would be working really hard with the lab. That’s, that’s what he meant.

But after that, he mentioned something like okay. So we would like to be helping each other. I would be helping you out wit your research and writing papers and stuff. And I also need some sexual favour from you. And that has happened to me. I was like, at that statement was, I never imagined like this also, like before that, I never used to think that even this kind of thing, you all happens in the field of science.

Sarah (12:12): Yes. That is really unfortunate. And rather disturbing. I, might add.

Falguni Paul (12:18): Yes, of course. And in the journey, when I was going back to my Institute because I had some tests, like you know, a suspense on the following week and the same week I got really disturbed the journey was really bad. And I, I was like, I, because this was something unusual. I was not expecting that. It just suddenly and especially a scientist who is so much good in his field and also from a good Institute like that. And I really, it was not at all. It was really unexpected that time.

Sarah (12:56): So I think you might have had like a couple of peers and female friends and classmates and all of that. So have you conversed with them about like similar incidents and have they said anything similar of the like

Falguni Paul (13:14): Yeah. Something like I think not exactly this issue. But I have, I haven’t talked, I haven’t spoken about this to everybody only very, very few people knows about this. One of my friends, I think that she mentioned to me once like that has been a hard PI has said that to her there’s that you are too emotional to be in this field. You are very much emotional. You should not be emotional in order to do science, you know.

All of these remarks and all of these statements, it does really impact of a lot bad impact. It’s kind of like give you a kind of a feeling that you’re not good enough in order to do science and that has happened. And I’m talking about my experience so far. And some of the other experience, like the one I’ve just mentioned, like this, this kind of yes.

Sarah (14:16): Yeah. So you could say that this is a rather general, like, it’s very common thing right now in our country or anywhere for that matter. Like, how is it different from like you’re currently in the U S right?

Falguni Paul (14:30): Yes. But right now I have just come over here because of the pandemic. Yeah. I will be going back. So, yes.

Sarah (14:36): Yeah. So how was the situation, different there? Is it the same? Do professors or other seniors or peers, do they treat you similarly to the way people treat you here? Or you have had treatment here or is it, is there a difference? Can you feel the difference?

Falguni Paul (14:54): Yes. The differences are there, but I would be saying that the environment is better. I would be saying it’s getting better. It’s not like, okay, it’s fine. It’s I think it’s slowly getting better. But the issue is like I think the major issue, which is a varied combination, I think is worldwide that there’s the pipeline, there’s a pipeline. Right. and the pipeline is, is not like the pipeline. I mean, I, okay. Let’s not talk about this. I think the main, I already mentioned before I start talking about it, I think when we are having a small discussion, I mentioned that women, I think more nowadays, more and more, more when they are taking up science for their degree, you know, but the issue happens when they take science for their careers. Yes. And that is worldwide.

Falguni Paul (15:58): It is happening in the field of science, especially I think men and women, they are very much equal till the age of, I think, 29 30 or something like that. Once they are married, there starts the gap, you know? And it’s, it’s kind of widens up once as they grow older. That I think the main reason behind that it would be what I feel is that they are not like women, they’re not getting enough support to stay in this pipeline, to stay in the field of science. Rather they are getting all the encouragement and everything to get out of it.

Sarah (16:46): Mm. Yes. That is true. The, the heart, yeah. Yes, yes, yes. You were saying, sorry.

Falguni Paul (16:54): Yeah. Yeah. So this is the thing. Yes, this is, and this is not only country specific. I think worldwide, This is the issue. Yes. and this needs to be changed

Sarah (17:08): From what I’ve been talking to my peers, my classmates, from whom I’ve been talking to, they mainly say that, you know, the conditioning starts in early childhood, you know, very true. I think like there was a Ted talk. I don’t remember which one exactly about a woman who was, who was basically talking about how there are certain toys even that are considered. These are for girls. And these are for boys and girls can’t play with building blocks and boys can have, you know.

Falguni Paul (17:52): This is so common. And I have heard about this and not only that, the color also. And then blue door is yeah. It’s higher.

Sarah (17:55): Yeah. So I think this whole idea starts in childhood that somehow girls need to stay in a very specific area. And somehow STEM is not for them.

Falguni Paul (18:07): Yes. Yes. And I think it’s because of the mindset, the main reason is, is the mindset. And if there’s like a fixed mindset, okay, it is been happening and this is going to be happening like this for the rest of the year. You know, the mindset needs to be change the kind of mindset that is being followed right now, those are, I think those are called fixed mindset. I would, if I can call it that we need to be having a different sort of mindset, which would be having a growth mindset where we start really to believe in the potential for the intellectual growth. Right. I think now it is not only that this has happened to everyone.

Like, Oh my God, this kid is so smart. Oh, this is a smart kid. I mean, this, this is a smart boy. None other than seeing something like, Oh no, you have done it. You have done a good job. Like, you know, we are kind of giving them a feeling that smartness is an innate characteristics

Sarah (19:08): Like that also led to like a certain thing where like kids who are told they’re smart to work as hard progresses. And therefore they start dropping down in performance over time.

Falguni Paul (19:21): Yes. That is the thing. Yes. But because when they start seeing some challenges and obstacles, they’re kind of doing all the work. Yeah. If they don’t know what to do that time, because they were following a certain pattern, once you were kind of breaking the pattern, didn’t like it, they don’t know what to do that time. Hmm. Right. And in, in, especially in healing, in the field of science, especially women or the girls who are planning to get into science.

They should be having, especially with the parents and the teachers, they should be having a growth sort of mindset and the, Oh, it should be giving them a feeling that intelligence can be developed through a certain amount of training through the you know maybe you might not be having all the knowledge or all the intelligence right now, but you will be able to achieve it.

Sarah (20:20): Yes, that is true. Yeah. So what do you think the solutions are in the end to like a long-term solution to like get more girls into science first of all, and make sure that once they’re in science, they like stay in the long run and don’t drop off after their thirties or forties, like it is pretty known that. Somehow over time, the women in STEM, the numbers keep dropping. So what do you propose based on your experience?

Falguni Paul (20:49): I think the one important, interesting value already mentioned, I think that the patterns and the features, they need to change their stuff. I mean, they have to have this growth sort of mindset and that start giving them the toys are something like legos and logs or something like that. And also another thing is that would, I mentioned in the beginning is that instead of telling the students that girls can become scientists or girls can be being in the field of science or take STEM for their careers.

I think they need to actually make them meet or talk to those female researchers or female scientists and make them understand, you know, where they thought scientists, females are, who are doing the research. They will be able to talk about their jobs and give them a feeling that this is achievable. And this can happen because right now what is happening is we’re just talking.

Falguni Paul (21:47): We’re just telling them all, yeah, it is possible, but there are, I’m able to just see or meet with them or speak with them. That is one of the things. And I think what I would be able to say is that we have to, there should be more number of female faculties and researchers, you know those need to be enrolled because I think all those big companies and institutes, they’re also having this sort of a kind, kind of a feeling that fine. If we are hiring for this position, it has to be a man, you know, for this position, it has to be more female. This discrimination needs to be changed. Something like that.

Sarah (22:34): I would also like to add to that quickly to get more I mean, sorry to ensure that more people stay in that faculty positions like top positions, you also need to have the family or the men who support. Yeah. They should. Yeah. So that should also be brought to the forefront where, you know, the gender roles within the house also must have some shifts made so that this also can be accommodated.

Falguni Paul (23:06): Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. This is something I’ve got you’re right about that. And also I think we all, we see it, you know, we are doing all of those, a woman empowerment thing and all, all of those things, but they’re not actually doing something significant in the field. That is necessarily like now, for example, taking care of the kids, I mean, the men needs to be, needs to take a significant amount of like their baby to come forward they need to also say it like, okay, we are going to be taking care of the families, you know, along with the female.

And for this, I think the companies also which is over there, like the parental leave, like it’s not only the mothers who are going to be taking leaves to, in order to do take care of the kids, the parents, meaning that the husband also, they are going to be getting some leaves else or others from the companies, you know, and also some onsite or near site childcare, something like this can also be added onto it to kind of make sure like, okay, they piece it all together because that realtor, I think being a mother being in the pattern or this, this kind of feeling is always there.

Falguni Paul (24:24): And, and, and I think in order to have a very good environment working in environment all of these things needed to be considered. And another thing, what I feel that I somehow have experienced this we need to, I think, the, the, there should be diversity in the field of the working group so that the mixed gender teams, so that men, they should be knowing they should, they should be, there will be will be able to take all the opinions and everything from the female collaegues. Because sometime what I have seen is that there is some something like ego clash. I’m not sure what, what it is.

Sarah (25:09): Yeah. ego clashes happen.

Falguni Paul (25:13): Yes. This has happened. Like they need to be, they need to be made, then we need to, I think the companies need to put them into the group where there will be like mixed gender teams, you know, something like that. Yeah.

Sarah (25:30): So I’m, if there are any like little girls in the audience who would plan to like take up science or take up a career in STEM, or do you want to add anything for them as an inspiration or any messages of encouragement?

Falguni Paul (25:49): I think that the first thing, what I would like to mention, there’s only one thing is that they need to be very much clear about this, what they actually want to do with science, especially the commitments after doing masters, especially when you’re planning to get into PhD. I think they have to be very much sure about that and they are getting it. They want to be in the field of science, you know no matter, what kind of, because, okay. I think one example I can give it is that I lost my father when I was in fourth, sixth grade. At that time, a lot of family members have mentioned and have told my mother was like, Oh, she’s a girl. She needs to be in the kitchen. She needs to get mad, blah, blah, blah. Right now I am doing science.

Falguni Paul (26:39): I am doing my PhD in the field of science that’s because of my mother, she was there and she kind of told them if you want to study, she wants to study. And she wants to study science. So, you know, that kind of a decision-making that has to be very much like they need to make their own decision. They need to be kind of strong enough to make that, to make the decision and kind of ignore all those silly remarks and comments to it and just get going. That’s all. Yeah.

Sarah (27:16): So, thank you so much for joining us today. It was such a pleasure talking to you. I learnt a lot.

Falguni Paul (27:23): Thank you so much. Yeah. Yes, of course. It was really nice discussion about all of those things, which is a very important thing though. Yes.

Sarah (27:32): Yeah, of course. Hopefully, you’ll be back. And maybe we’ll talk more about your research if that comes up.

Falguni Paul (27:37): Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, definitely. Yeah.

Sarah (27:42): Okay then. Thank you.

Falguni Paul (27:44): Thank you, Sarah. Bye

AtomsTalk Outro (27:52):
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