My story: Matters of heart and head

It was the winter of 2016. Christmas was around the corner with poinsettia flourishing in my balcony. Soaked in the soothing winter sun, I was reflecting on my conversations with Usha. I had met Usha a day before during a teachers training programme that I had conducted at Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi. Usha informed me about a workshop on ‘Research Based Pedagogical Tools’ (RBPT) for teachers and trainers that was to happen at Mohali, Punjab in January 2017. Within a blink of an eye, my fingers went into action on the keyboard and no sooner the details of the workshop flashed on my laptop screen, I applied, got selected and reached Mohali, to further my skills as a teacher trainer. The choice to participate in RBPT workshop was purely a professional skill building need aligned to my work practice.

At Mohali, I was amazed by the scale of the workshop, attitude of the organisers, and overall approach to develop teachers as changemakers. After the orientation session, I met Prachi and Apoorva of the organising team from COESME, IISER Pune. Prachi informed me about the ‘Women in Science’ workshops which were to be conducted in collaboration with British Council under the Newton Bhabha Fund*.

‘We will be conducting a workshop on Science Journalism in March’, said Prachi. ‘Science Journalism’, the words got stuck in my head and stayed there for a while. I began thinking about how to get through the science journalism workshop. RPBT was about my professional needs, but writing was my personal inclination. An inclination which had gone into hibernation owing to my choices of obtaining academic degrees, doing post-doctoral research, having and managing a family and so on. The only writing I had done so far was in the academic space – dissertations, thesis and research articles.

To put things into context, let me give you a bit of a background. I joined CSIR-IGIB as a project scientist and co-ordinated a project on science education outreach. Teacher training and interacting with students was a regular task. While working on this community project, I realised that science writing would be a wonderful means to convey ideas and bring about the required interventions. My computer had a folder titled, ’Write it soon’ that had several half-baked, incomplete ideas sitting as word documents waiting to be brought to life.

I would often push myself, but was not able to make through it. May be, I needed some confidence, an anchor,  and mentoring. At 39, knocking at my forties, totally consumed by the regular business of day to day life, I needed an external push. Sitting in the RBPT session, I realised that the upcoming workshop on science writing may serve as this ‘external push’ and get me out of this inertia. I remembered the words of Rumi – “Let yourself be silently drawn by strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”

March 2017, I travelled to IISER Pune twice and finished both Level 1 and Level 2 of the Science Journalism workshop. At Pune, I met wonderful, aspiring young women who had freshly completed their Post-graduate and PhD degrees and were looking for creative career options. We were told that very soon a few of us will be offered a writing internship.

One afternoon in the scorching heat of May 2017, my fellow workshop participant Kavita and I met Prof. L.S. Shashidhara at INSA, New Delhi to discuss a popular science writing assignment – an anthology on success stories from Indian Science. It was challenging, but our joy and excitement grew by leaps and bounds as we started working on the book. Thereafter, began an enriching journey of writing scientific accomplishments that had impacted the lives of common people and our nation. The book titled ‘Indian Science Transforming India’ was funded, published and launched by INSA in April 2018.

Book cover Indian Science: Transforming India

I can say with conviction, that the book was an outcome of the Science Journalism workshop that built my confidence and visibility as a science writer. On a personal note, my gratitude  towards people and organisations who made this happen is in infinite continuum.

The next leap came in 2018. By then, I had founded a not for profit capacity building organisation working in science education, communication and outreach. I had to disseminate whatever I had learned. I wrote a few articles on varied subjects and started popularising careers in science writing and communication among young students. In June 2019, Shivani Upreti, an undergraduate student and my mentee, published her article in the ‘Science Reporter’. This was a humble move, yet I feel very contented to have taken forward the spirit of building capacity for ‘Women in Science’.

My computer still has the folder,“ Write it soon”. However, now I am enabled, skilled and bubbling with ideas to pen.

*British Council through the Newton-Bhabha Fund in partnership with IISER Pune has delivered workshops for women scientists on opportunities for widening participation of women in science. The programme aims at providing opportunities for diverse expertise in allied science careers to ease the transition of women in the field of science. Since 2016, the workshops have trained over 300 women scientists, providing access to training and professional development in Science Administration & Management and Science Journalism.

Contributed by Adita Joshi, Director, Sansriti Foundation, New Delhi

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