Dr.Nandita DasGupta received her B.E. degree in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India in 1982, M.Tech and PhD from I.I.T. Madras in 1984 and 1988 respectively. She was awarded Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship in 1991 and spent one year in Germany doing Post-doctoral research in the area of Surface Passivation of Compound Semiconductors. She has been a Faculty member in the Department of Electrical Engineering, I.I.T. Madras since 1993 and is currently a Professor. Her research interest is in the area of Silicon and Compound Semiconductor Technology and Modelling as well as MEMS. She has nearly one hundred research publications in International Journals and Proceedings of International Conferences and has co-authored a book on Semiconductor Devices – Modelling & Technology.

What do you best like about being a professor?

I love the students, and getting in touch with so many people across generations. The most gratifying experiences I’ve had as a professor was when I went to other IITs and students there would come and touch my feet, telling me that they had listened to my NPTEL lectures, and calling themselves my “virtual students”. The flexibility of a direct and virtual relationship I get to have with the students is truly enriching.

How do you think that the teacher-student relationship has changed over time?

In my early thirties when I began teaching, I used to know everyone in my class personally, and they could be free with me. Getting older, however, students naturally tend to get intimidated by me. Today, with a 100 member class, on one hand, I don’t have that personal connection with my class, but on the other, my reach has extended to that many more people.

How has the scenario of women in science changed over the years?

The scenario has changed, however, the pace is still slow. I did a study on the percentage of girls coming to IIT every year and learned that it was creeping up very slowly. I guess the reason behind this is that success in IIT JEE is very coaching dependent, and some girls either can’t adhere to the demanding schedule or are considered not worth investing the money on by their narrow-minded parents. It is a fact, however, that in the board exams girls do better than boys, so I don’t know what happens in those two years to so drastically change things.

Do you think that the recent scheme of increasing the seats for girls in IIT is justified?

This question is very difficult to answer. I was initially dead against any sort of quota for women, as I refuse to believe that merit wise women are inferior in any way. I don’t want the girls that do get in to doubt their capabilities. However, this scheme doesn’t exactly do that. The philosophy behind it lies in the fact that IIT is a residential institute and a lot of parents don’t like sending their daughters out of the city to study. This scheme gives, only the girls who’ve cleared JEE the option to attend the IIT of their home city.

Did you experience any adversities when you were a student here?

Personally, I didn’t feel anything significant. As a warden here, however, I did see a lot of female students facing adversities. In those days, before everything was online, an assignment sheet would be handed out to a group of people and it so often happened that the girls didn’t get the assignment sheet. When the group was solving it, they wouldn’t be called, and even if they visited the boys’ hostel, they would have to face adverse remarks. Today, the virtual world has made everyone independent. It’s the small things that add up at the end of the day, which all together make someone feel discriminated. Even as a professor, I didn’t face many problems. Being an ex-student here, most of my professors knew me and I entered the campus privileged.  

What is your opinion on the increasing glamour surrounding positions of responsibility, and are the skills as important as they are marketed to be?

On one hand, the Saarang budget is ridiculously huge. On the other, I’m very impressed with the way students run it. How much they can pull off in one semester is very impressive and I don’t think that, at their age, I would’ve been able to do so. They do acquire a lot of soft skill and considering that many of these students are going for management, their interest and investment is justified.  However, I’m not entirely happy with so much money/sponsorship going into this, or with the quality of programmes in Saarang. Mardi gras was a much more highbrow festival, in terms of the quality of jam, quiz, and the audience participation. I also wish more importance was given to Shaastra.

You’ve been in Germany as well. Have you noticed any cultural and professional differences?

Germans are very professional. They work 8-5, are extremely punctual, and everyone including research scholars hardly work after work hours. They are very outdoorsy and spend weekends hiking, sailing, etc. They have many festivals, especially in the summer. A few years back, I went to Germany, and the day I reached, there was a beer festival. In the afternoon, everyone in the lab, from the professor to the youngest research scholar, went to the festival and sat together drinking beer. In the early 90s, Germany had very few women professors and hardly any female research scholars. Most of the women I met in the Institute there, were secretaries. The percentage of women in science was worse there than it was here. A few years back, they changed their policy. Everything else being equal, a woman will be hired if a man and woman have the same resume/ calibre. Academically, although there is no difference in the teaching structure, students were very open there and not at all scared to ask questions.

Do you have any general thoughts or experiences about girls in engineering that you’d like to express?

Even today, I believe that girls that join IIT have come here because they have that something extra. For boys it’s a little different, their peer group pushes them to get in, and the herd effect plays in. This German professor was telling me that his daughter was very good at Maths and because of that she was looked down by her peers there. Most girls in Germany opt for soft science, law and art. I think that’s prevalent in India as well.

I believe in the strength of numbers. Unless there are more girls here, the discriminations won’t go away. I still remember, when I joined here, and professor Ananth was a director, he called all the female faculty members to a meeting to express their views. In those days, very few women sat for Senate and Senate meetings were very long. However, there were no ladies toilets on that floor of the academics building. We questioned the head engineer on how he could sanction a public building without enough ladies toilets, and he naively said that, when this building was built 40 years back, they didn’t think any lady would ever be a part of the Senate. Times have changed a lot since then.

Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing research?

It is very difficult to explain to other people, but there is nothing else in the world that can even be compared to the joy that you get when you have achieved something in your research. Not even having a child. The first day my devices started working, man, I was over the moon! Even today, if you can explain something that no one else can, no matter how little impact it makes, it’s an amazing feeling.  

Have you had any prominent female role models in your life?

My inspiration is my mother. Although she wasn’t very highly educated, she always encouraged me to give my career the first priority. Very surprisingly, the second person who told me this was my mother in law. Both of them had worked before their marriage but had to give it up after. They both advised me to never compromise on my work.

Author:  Rishbha Jain (BT-ME ’21) 

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