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Increasing visibility of Indian women in science

Wikipedia edit-a-thon will be held on July 16 at Indian Institute of Science.— FILE PHOTO  

It may be 2016, but ask a layperson to think of a scientist, and an absent-minded male professor with lab coat and a shock of white hair is probably what comes to mind.

Women in science continue to be underrepresented in public imagination, and to put right this anomaly, science outreach initiative IndiaBioscience, based out of the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, is organising ‘Wikipedia edit-a-thon’ on July 16 at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc.). The goal is to create and complete Wikipedia profiles on Indian women in science.

In an edit-a-thon, participants are trained to edit Wikipedia articles, generally centred around a theme. When asked about the effectiveness of such an event, Vidita Vaidya, Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, said that any event that increases the visibility of women in sciences is a commendable activity.

“When you don’t see anyone who represents who you want to be as you grow up, it is harder to think you can navigate a career in science,” she said.

In disciplines like biology, the representation of women at research levels is more than 50 per cent, but that representation is not reflected at senior positions, said Sandhya Visweswariah, professor, Department of Molecular Reproduction, IISc. “We may have a long way to go before we reach parity there,” said Dr. Visweswariah.

Currently, around 40 women scientists from India have Wikipedia pages, but many of the articles are incomplete or lack supporting credentials. Under Wikipedia guidelines, the notability of the person has to be established for an entry to be approved.

“The approval process relies a lot on online information, and other than department websites or awards won, women scientists are not that well represented in print and online media,” said Harini Barath, Program Manager for Scientific Communication, IndiaBioScience. Wikipedia recently simplified the process for putting in citations that have a digital object identifier (DOI) as reference. This will make adding journal references for these scientists easier.

Padma Priya, who completed her post-doctoral fellowship at IISc., was part of the earlier edit-a-thon. “Better representation of the women scientist career path will certainly inspire young women researchers. In fact, finding mentors in appropriate areas of research will be handy to everyone, irrespective of gender,” she told The Hindu .

Although the organisers have put together a list of mid-level to senior scientists for inclusion/editing, participants are free to add any notable names to the online encyclopaedia.

“People are welcome to add a name to the list. It’s about giving visibility to Indian women scientists …. we don’t want to be gate-keepers, we want to be enablers,” said Ms. Barath.

While the number of participants to the event is limited to 30, anyone can be a part of the event online. The first two back-to-back events were held in October 2014 and an online-only event was held in August last year.