Dr. Ranjana Srivastava

Managing Motherhood And Science

Ranjana is someone who pursued her dream despite all odds and managed to be a good mother while excelling in her career.

This is my story, a young girl from Kanpur who had a dream, how she pursued her dream defying all odds, rose to head the Microbiology department in a CSIR lab and formed a biotech company after superannuation.

As a child, I witnessed my father as the breadwinner and my mother as a homemaker. The seeds of science were sown by my father in my early childhood. My father always encouraged me to pursue higher studies and become a scientist. As destiny would have it, soon after finishing my M.Sc, I got married to Brahm Srivastava, who was pursuing higher studies in Europe. My father had obtained his D.Sc degree from the University of Wisconsin, USA and he would very often narrate stories about life in US. His stay abroad also gave him a broad vision and allowed us to grow in an open environment. I left for Brussels, in 1972, 16 days after my marriage. Brahm worked in University of Brussels. Belgium is a French speaking country and I felt like an alien, not being able to understand and talk to people. I joined French classes. Once I knew French, life was real fun and I joined the Laboratoire de GenetiqueMoleculaire, one of the premium labs of Molecular Biology. Those two years were great, they taught me molecular biology and gave me global exposure.

We returned to India in 1974 and 9 months later I was blessed with a daughter. I joined CSIR-Central Drug Research Institute in Lucknow as a Research Fellow. I was now witnessing the problems of working women in India. My in-laws and parents lived in other towns. I had to finish my PhD work and Brahm had been offered job in Nagpur. I, with a heavy heart, left my 6-month-old daughter with my mother in Kanpur. It was my first bitter taste of the problems of working women. I finished my PhD work, took Radha, and joined Brahm. Within six months, Brahm returned to CDRI. I was still not ready for a permanent position. Lucky for me, I got an offer from Brown University in US. Before accepting the offer, I wrote to my professor Susan Gerbi that I will be coming with my daughter. To my delight, she wrote back “No problem, we have day care center for children of the faculty at Brown”. Brahm was not accompanying me as he had some trials going on.

I left for Boston with Radha in 1978, when she was hardly three years old. Life was fun but full of hard work. I was supposed to work in an area of gene cloning, which was like Greek and Latin to me at the time. I would leave Radha at the daycare center at 9.00 am, pick her up at 5.30 pm, go home, come back to the lab, and work late till 11 pm. I wasn’t the only one who was working late in the lab, almost everyone would be there. Radha would come with me to the lab. She soon became the darling of the whole floor and everybody loved to talk to her.
Providence was cold and we had very cold winters, with snow. I did not have a car, which made things tough, as we had to walk on an icy and slippery lane, but she never complained. I had good communication with Radha, we shared our problems, as well as our happy or stressful moments, which probably gave her a lot of maturity and the ability to hear and deal with a situation. Radha made one tremendous contribution to my lab. Several of my American colleagues did not have children. Seeing how Radha adjusted with her mother and helped her carry on with her professional life, they could consider starting their own families.

After spending four years in the US, we came back to India and I rejoined my place of work. The problems of being a working mother continued, but with the support of my daughter, it was not difficult. She had no problem accompanying me to the lab till late hours. This gave me ample time to interact with her, tell her mythological stories and values of life. I am glad that the government is now providing for in-house creches in offices. Today, my daughter has done her MBA and is working as the Director HR for Asia Pacific, in a multinational company. She has a 6-year-old son who is bright and shows qualities that his mother possesses.

My journey of science has not yet met an end. In 2012, I, with my husband and former student, opened a biotech R&D non-profit company ‘NextecLifesciences Pvt Ltd,’ for the welfare of science, society, and the underprivileged.

It was a long journey, but it’s not difficult to maintain a balance between work and motherhood, with sheer determination. It delights me to see my daughter manage her home and work so well, even better than me. It speaks of my success as a mother. A woman has lot of responsibilities. She is a daughter, wife, and a mother. Only a woman can play multiple roles with utmost sensitivity and efficiency. As a mother, she moulds the life of her child to become a good citizen. And that is the biggest satisfaction.

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