((About the author- Prinyanka Das Rajkataki)
Priyanka Das from Dhemaji, Assam, achieving her dreams and reaching the sky heights has made her name as a team member to work for the development of the satellite navigation wing with Safran.
Passionate about space, Priyanka started her academic career with Bachelor’s Degree in Physics (Honors) from St. Stephens College, University of Delhi. Later, she joined Ecole Polytechnique for its 4-year Ingénieur Polytechnicien program (promotion X2013), specializing her third year in Data Science. She joined ISAE-Supaéro during her fourth year for a double degree masters in Aerospace Engineering, specializing in Autonomous Systems and Data Science.The Assam girl is currently in her first year of PhD, on a CIFRE contract with Safran Electronics and Defense, directed by Prof Eric Chaumette of ISAE-SUPAERO, and co-supervised by Prof Silvère Bonnabel of Mines ParisTech.The title of her PhD is ‘Robust and Precise Navigation using Tightly-coupled Hybridization of Inertial and GNSS Phase Measurements’.)
On Traveling and Education for Women
It is our curiosity, which has driven human history from primitive life in caves, fending off wild beasts, to today, wherein we have managed to tame our own machines and build rockets that can intelligently land back on their launch pads. Oh, what a time to be alive in! And if we look back through these thousands of years of rich human legacy, we can see the progress we have achieved as a species, men and women together. Nonetheless, somewhere along the journey, humanity managed to destroy a part of our environment, construct artificial social divisions based on arbitrary criteria such as caste, creed, skin colour, gender… and it is the need of the hour to join our hands together and drive the wheel of change toward a progressive, better future. Here, I address two subjects close to my heart that I believe will help in our progress: travelling and women’s education.
What makes human history such a rich potpourri is the diversity of our cultures. Personally, I could not do justice trying to describe the sense of pride I feel whenever I introduce myself as an Assamese. I really am grateful to my parents who immersed my brother and me within the rich culture of the soulful Assam, in spite of living at a distance. I was brought up listening to Assamese music, traveling through the beautiful countryside, and celebrating Bihu! Each year, as I discover foreign cultures, I feel closer to my roots as I appreciate its uniqueness. The richness of our customs is incomparable- the beauty of our handlooms, the colours of Muga mekhela, the might of the Brahmaputra, the thrums of Bihu dancing, and the delicious ‘dhekia haak’… When I travel, I enjoy discussing and propagating preambles of Assamese culture within foreign lands. This underlines why I feel travelling is so important – to share the knowledge of new cultures, to learn from them and experience their novelty. Also, since I want to explore Space, I need to first start with the Earth!
Another reason that fuels my love for travelling is that it teaches me how to become a better version of myself. Growing up in a society, we forget to be individuals, and voyages help us connect a bit more with our souls. Humans have an amazing brain – while studying Artificial Intelligence, we have realised how complex and incredible our brain is and how difficult it is to replicate it. However, in order to optimise the capacity of our neurons, the building blocks of our brains, we need to learn to discipline ourselves. Travelling helps me draw inspiration in this regard. For example, I love learning languages, and I pick one up much faster when I interact with a native speaker. Now, if you are wondering how to start travelling, there are many approaches: some work for some time, gather resources and one fine day, prepare a backpack/ suitcase and leave. You can also sign up to contribute to social projects, and they could fund your trip. My personal approach is to let my work, my scientific academic career, take me places. After all, education is a journey to discovery, and the scientific community is thankfully very international.
This brings me to my second point: education, especially for women. Firstly, a lot of people equate education with the number of degrees we have, but in my opinion, these degrees are simply a consequence of exploring a field. In an amusing incident, recently someone called my mother and exclaimed, “Your daughter has so many degrees, how will she ever find a husband?” I could not believe what I was hearing, it was 2018! Well, my direct response to such people would be: open your eyes, there are many women out there with ‘so many degrees’ and who are brilliantly managing a family in parallel (perhaps the media should cover them more often?) It is unfortunate that we still have this sort of mentality even today, and I strongly believe it hinders the progress of our society.
Have you heard of Margaret Hamilton? She was one of the chief brains behind the Apollo 11 program that took mankind to the Moon. How about Marie Curie? She is the person to have won two Nobel prizes in two different scientific fields: Physics and Chemistry – and her degrees did not stop her from having a family; her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie also won the Nobel prize in Chemistry! India too has produced amazing women: Ritu Karidhal and Nandini Harinath were both Deputy Operations Directors for ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission! Even Assamese girls back home have gone onto create a niche for themselves: fun fact, my own roommate from St. Stephen’s College – Shivangi Borah, was the History topper of the University of Delhi. Recently, we are seeing an encouraging increase in the number of women who are climbing the ladders, and showcasing their prowess in various fields, while holding important positions. The change is gradual and therefore should not be obstructed by close-minded attitude.
Women everywhere are contributing to the advancement of knowledge in every field and we should not, as a society, clip their wings to ‘keep them in the kitchen’. After all, it is ironic that a large percentage of famous chefs are male, so quite clearly, men can do the cooking as well. And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I wish you all a very Happy Bihu!