Farzana Zarin Maria, a geology graduate from the University of Dhaka, had won the Dean's Award for her extraordinary result. However, her good grades were not sufficient for fulfilling her dream of pursuing a career in geology.
Now, Farzana works in a bank. When asked why she chose a career unrelated to her degree, she replied, "I think not even one percent of geology graduates get to work in the scientific field," she said, adding, "I had to start earning quickly and support my family."
But there are many female science professionals in the country; should she have stopped trying?
According to Farzana, those who are working in science in Bangladesh, are going through daily struggles to remain in their positions. "It is difficult for women to work in science since they sometimes have to go for field visits and spend time at the laboratory."
She also mentioned how only her batchmates from affluent families could go abroad for higher studies or at least plan about it.
It is not just Farzana, there are many others like her who successfully complete honours and masters in science-related subjects but do not get into professions related to their degrees.
The barriers include lack of social security (staying at the lab at night or going on field visits are generally considered unsafe for women), job insecurity (insufficient positions for female science professionals) and overall, an environment that is unfavourable for women and their growth potential.
In Dhaka University, 30% to 40% of students studying physics and chemistry are female.
Data from 2020 show that 188 female students enrolled in the physics department of Dhaka University. 172 female students enrolled in the mathematics department whereas 158 new admissions were female in the chemistry department.
Despite these figures, the number of female professionals in scientific and research organisations is low.
As of 2021, there are 90 scientists and engineers in the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and 16 of them are women. According to the list provided on the website of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, out of 227 scientists, only 54 are women.
Excellence in scientific field
However, there are exceptions such as Scientist Dr Firdausi Qadri, winner of Ramon Magsaysay Award 2021 and lead at the Institute for Developing Science and Health Initiatives.
We reached out to Dr Firdausi, who has also been awarded as one of the top 100 scientists in Asia, to understand the importance of higher engagement of women in our country's scientific fields.
On the low participation of women in science, she said, "It is taken for granted that women will not come into science; they cannot spend a lot of time away from family. And my life goal was to do things so others get inspired and see they can do them too."
Women have to work much harder to prove themselves and when they work, they work very well, the scientist opined.
"I think of my life 40 years ago and I have to say things have improved over time. However, the disparity between boys and girls begins from home so the change has to begin from there as well," she added.
Assistant Professor at the department of chemistry of Dhaka University Dr Saika Ahmed shared with us, "Although my family is supportive, I still face many obstacles as I progress in my career. Because society still believes I would not be able to give time for career growth as I am a woman."
Dr Saika believes if more women join the scientific fields, there will be more role models for other women to follow. This will also help to dismantle stereotypes such as women are not as efficient as men.
Going back, the pros and cons
In case someone had a fallout in her career and wanted to come back, how difficult would the journey be for her?
Zakia Roushan Runi is a deputy manager at Sadharan Bima Corporation. She completed her honours and masters in chemistry from Dhaka University. As a student, she wanted to pursue a PhD abroad or at least work in the industrial field or gas fields in Bangladesh.
With most industrial jobs being based out of Dhaka and also her family wished for her to stay in Dhaka with her husband, she chose her current job.
After a nine-year hiatus, she has recently begun her PhD in chemistry. "I came back to science because I wanted to gain more knowledge," she said, adding, "despite all the support, it is becoming incredibly difficult for me to balance between family, job and PhD."
The barriers and the solutions
A student has to spend years studying and learning in order to complete a master's degree. When she cannot pursue a career that is aligned with her education, it becomes a loss of talent as well as resource.
On this, Professor Dr Abdus Salam of the Institute of Education and Research at Dhaka University added, "We lack in education and industry alignment. Our job market does not match the degrees."
He suggested, "Every institution should have a link with companies so that students get ample opportunities for internships. Through strong internships programmes, they will be better prepared for jobs that are related to their degrees."
Dr Firdausi Qadri said, "The government is playing a great role in ensuring we have lower dropouts from science. There are PhD programmes for women posing excellent opportunities for them," adding, "more scholarships, training and of course, a changed mind-set of family members, will help to increase women's participation in science."
Dr Saika believes female students are not continuing with science or joining scientific fields due to a lack of job positions and job security.
She added, "Authorities have to create a women-friendly environment to encourage women to join research and science areas. At the same time, by providing daycare support, they have to make sure motherhood does not become an obstacle in women's careers."
This report was produced as part of a women journalists' mentorship programme organised by DW Akademie.