Apr 22: 57-year-old medical scientist Gagandeep Kang brought laurels to the country by becoming the first Indian scientist to be inducted as Fellow of the Royal Society in its 359 years of existence. Considered to be a prestigious honour in the scientific community, Gagandeep is one among the 51 scientists elected to the fellowship for the year 2019.
With this honour Gagandeep joins the list of some of the famous scientists who were honoured with this prestigious fellowship namely Issac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Michael Faraday, Dorothy Hodgkin and many other well-known scientists. Indian male scientist Ardaseer Cursetjee, scion of the wealthy Wadia family of shipbuilders and naval architects, was the first Indian to be honored with the fellowship way back in 1841. Before Gagandeep two women scientists of Indian origin - British microscopist Pratibha Gai and American microbiologist Lalita Ramakrishnan were bestowed with the honour in 2016 and 2018 respectively.
Gagandeep is bestowed with the honour after a gap of almost 180 years and that is certainly a reason to cheer and a proud moment for all Indians especially Indian women scientists. In an interview after her induction to the prestigious fellowship she said the 18-decade gap period is mainly because ‘women who take on and address big problems in medical research over long periods on time in India are rare’.
She also pointed out that lack of recognition for the work done by women scientist is also one of the reasons for the yawning gap. She believes that though there are women scientists who have outstanding achievements to their credit in diverse fields of science they might not have been nominated.
Gagandeep who started with laboratory-based research later shifted to research in communities. For the last 30 years she has worked on gut infections in Indian children and its pact on children in terms of nutrition and mental development. In her effort to find a solution she has tried new approaches and, in the process, built a team to support the development of vaccines in India and networks that creates data to support policy decisions by the Indian government.
Reacting to the honour Gagandeep who did her medical education from Christian Medical College, Vellore, said that she was delighted that the research work she has designed and done in India has been recognized. She is quoted as saying “Our training ability is second to none. As a woman I certainly hope my election is not because of or despite my gender”.
Gagandeep who is currently associated with the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad, says it is her ‘unwillingness to give up so easily’ that helped her in getting inducted into the coveted fellowship. She said that feels fortunate to have been hard-pressed into assuming leadership situations, making her what she is today. She now wants to push her younger colleagues into similar situations so that they are able to realize their true potential.
Gagandeep is of the opinion that women and their work is under-appreciated and underrecognized and they don’t push themselves forward the way they should have which is a major stumbling block in recognizing their contributions. Gagandeep’s family hails from Jalandhar and her father was a mechanical engineer in Indian Railways and her mother was a teacher. Though her father had a transferable job, her parents took Gagandeep and her younger sister along with them wherever they were posted. As a result, she had to change many schools though it gave her an opportunity to live in different parts of the country including small towns and get acquainted with the multi-cultural ethos of the country. The exposure she received during her school days helped her broaden her outlook contributing to her success.
Gagandeep took up medicine as her family which has a Defence and central service background firmly believes in ‘serving the society’ and Gagandeep too wanted to carry forward the deep-rooted belief of the family. She completed her higher education from Christian Medical College in Vellore and on completion of her MBBS and graduation as MD in microbiology. After obtaining membership of the Royal College of Pathologists she did her postdoctoral research with Dr Mary Estes at the Baylor College of Medicine Houston and returned to the Christian Medical College as faculty. Gagandeep will certainly serve as an inspiration to women in general and Indian women in particular who often face the dilemma of balancing their career and family life because their prime years of research clash with that of the motherhood period. Gagandeep’s message ‘not to give up’ will be a motivating factor to such women.