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International Women‘s Day: Construction, transportation, and beyond, through JICA-DSP: Journey in STEM research field

March 7, 2023

JICA Interviewee profile


Name: Jaya Varshini Kala
Country of Origin: India
Faculty and University: School of Engineering, The University of Tokyo
JICA Course: IITH Japan FRIENDSHIP Scholarship (Project for Future Researchers at IITH to Enhance
Network Development with Scholarship of Japan)
Studying Abroad Period:October 2021 ~ September 2024
Research Area/Theme: Transportation technology

Ms. Jaya Varshini Kala is pursuing her post-graduation in the School of Engineering at The University of Tokyo. She is interested in pursuing a PhD in transportation technology eventually and wishes to build a career in academia. Her objective is to contribute to and provide solutions to real-world problems through research on quality management of expressways by analyzing traffic accidents.

Being a woman in STEM in India

Ms. Varshini's experience resonates with that of many other women striving to complete their higher education in India. The prevalent discriminatory sociocultural atmosphere leads to increased drop-out rates among women, as they climb the higher education ladder. Ms. Varshini shares a similar story, citing an example from her own batch in college where among the 240 students, only 26 were girls. However, she applauds the support the government has recently started extending to women, in the form of reservations and scholarships, to ensure women's greater participation in and successful completion of higher education.

According to World Bank Report(2017) (*1) (*2), when it comes to the job market in India, less than a third or only 27% of women 15 years or older are working or are actively looking for a job. Ms. Varshini transliterates a popular but rather backward Hindi proverb, saying, "A boy is a family's fortune. A girl is someone else's property." This draws from the common belief system still prevalent in India wherein families willingly invest in a male child's education because they are expected to contribute financially to the family, while a girl child does not receive the same treatment because their eventual fate Is decided to be marriage, post which they are expected to handle household chores.

How inspiration and support from the family formed the backbone of her career


Brought up in a family with two elder sisters, Ms. Varshini recalls no such discrimination in her own home. She believes it was probably because there were no male children in the family to discriminate against. After completing her higher secondary education, she went on to pursue civil engineering for her graduate studies in a prestigious institution – the Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad.

Her inspiration for moving into this field of specialization was her grandfather, who was a civil engineer himself. Construction and transportation technology had fascinated her from a very early age, when her grandfather would bring home parts of his professional life – equipment to survey or measure large portions of land, complex scaling and measuring equipment to understand varied geometry, and others.

Bridging Japan and the international students : JICA

JICA had an important role to play in upscaling her educational path and career, says Ms. Varshini. She enthusiastically recalls the background support she received from JICA, with regards to the application and admission procedures, getting in touch with Universities in Japan and prospective supervisors, even before coming to Japan. Even after she landed in Japan in 2019 as a master's student, a JICA scholar, the hand-holding continued. "JICA is bridging Indian students to Japan," says Ms. Varshini, explaining that it would not have been possible for her to come to Japan for her career development if not for JICA. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, she couldn't come back to India even though she finished her study in Transportation field at the University of Tokyo. Thus, her supervisor Prof. Oguchi, and JICA gave her the opportunity to continue the doctoral course there, which was an unexpected chance for her.

JICA remains in touch with the international students even after they start pursuing their career in Japan, through frequent updates regarding their career, issues with settling-down, and even health. In the very essence of it, Ms. Varshini describes JICA as her "guardian" in Japan.

Career and beyond through JICA

Through JICA, many international students are receiving career enhancement in a foreign land, by getting access to state-of-the art facilities and research infrastructure. However, Ms. Varshini also applauds the efforts in introducing JICA scholars to the life, culture, and professional network in Japan. It ranges from inviting students to Networking Seminar programs on Japan's development experiences, cultural events such as Zen meditation workshops, and so on. JICA even organizes tours for students, which not only covers historical landmarks and monuments in Tokyo but also trips beyond Tokyo to visit natural landscapes and wonders through the Local Program (*3).

Ms. Varshini feels these experiences help JICA scholars develop a global mindset and encourage collaboration across disciplines and fields. These are also important to forge friendly connection that can contribute to building a satisfactory career, especially for women in STEM.

The university assists in collaborating with other researchers throughout the world, thanks to its extensive network of contacts from all over the world. During Ms. Varshini's master's program, she has conducted joint research with the THU-LEAD Lab from Tsinghua University. Ms. Varshini also adds that her professor is an excellent mentor who has been helping her through her time at the University of Tokyo and providing advice on a research subject. After her graduation, she wishes to join an R&D company in India.

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