SWATI portal: 20 questions and a bit more

The new portal SWATI “endeavours to have data of all women scientists of the country included”. Here's what you need to know before signing up.
By | Published on Mar 8, 2024

Last month, on the occasion of International Day of Girls and Women in Science (11 February), a new portal named SWATI was launched by the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Government of India Ajay Kumar Sood during a day-long event at the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), New Delhi. 

During the event, a number of dignitaries, including Subhra Chakraborty, Director of National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR), commented that SWATI was likely the first “complete interactive database” in India and globally. NIPGR is the institute that developed, hosted and maintained the portal. 

Chakraborty described SWATI as a “dynamically growing portal” which “endeavours to have data of all women scientists of the country included”.

We are extremely intrigued by the SWATI initiative and the lofty ambitions of the people behind it. Before the launch, Aashima and I wrote an Op-Ed for The Indian Express, explaining why we are hopeful, but also wary:

Good intentions notwithstanding, it is prudent to be wary, considering how often new initiatives are launched with much hype, only to fizzle out soon after. SWATI itself has been victim to this. It was first announced on International Women’s Day in 2021 by then Department of Biotechnology (DBT) chief Renu Swarup as a “portal dedicated to all Women Scientists in DBT and its Autonomous Institutions”. There was no word about it after that until recently. (Source: The Indian Express)

Like many other women in science, we had questions. SWATI wants “each and every” Indian woman in science to join its portal. What does this mean? Why do they want this? 

Based on responses to a poll on X (details of the poll are provided at the end of this post), a few people in our network who care about the gender gap, and of course our own curiosity, we have prepared this set of Frequently Asked Questions. The answers have been framed based on what we were able to gather from using the portal, statements made during the launch event, and inputs from scientists behind SWATI. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is SWATI?

An acronym for ‘Science for Women-A Technology & Innovation’, SWATI has been described as searchable interactive portal of (eventually each and every) Indian woman trained in a STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Medicine) field, across all career stages and subjects, spanning both academia and industry.

2. What are the interactive elements of SWATI?

When the creators of SWATI say ‘interactive’ they refer to the search bar in the portal, through which users can browse the database. Keywords may include name, affiliation, social media handles, career status, awards, subject expertise, etc. There are plans to include other interactive features in the future.

3. Who is behind SWATI?

SWATI was a brainchild of Renu Swarup, who “announced” it on International Women’s Day in 2021, and “inaugurated” it on October 25, 2021, while she was Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). Somewhere along the way it was entrusted to the Inter-Academy Panel for Women in STEMM (IAP-WiSTEMM), under whose ambit it currently falls under. The IAP-WiSTEMM is a special panel that was created in 2014 to unite the women-in-science aimed efforts of India’s three national science academies. 

DBT provided some initial funding. Under the leadership of Subhra Chakraborty, the National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR) took up the responsibility of developing, hosting and maintaining the portal. For the time being, SWATI is being funded by NIPGR, but a request made to the science academies to continue funding the portal is expected to be approved soon. 

4. How is the SWATI database built?

The HR cell of NIPGR began by inviting Indian women researchers who have been funded by Department DBT, including PIs, postdocs and students. In 2022, the IAP followed up and the women fellows from the three Indian science academies signed up. There is now an open Google form enabling others interested to sign up to be included in the portal. As of February 2024, there are over 3,500 women in STEMM in the database.

5. What/who can the portal be useful for?

  • SWATI is intended to be a platform that enables every Indian woman in STEMM, regardless of age, geography, role, employment status or affiliation, to have her own scientific profile page, and a place to connect with other women in STEMM.
  • The SWATI database is intended to allow for the IAP to conduct large-scale data science on gender diversity and inclusion in India.
  • SWATI can also be used by any member of the public searching for women in STEMM in/from the country. For example: 
    • Students and early career researchers in STEMM looking for mentors or role models
    • Researchers looking to build networks or collaborations
    • Journalists and mediapersons looking for more gender-diverse experts
    • Event organisers looking to invite more gender-diverse participants

6. How does one sign up to be included? 

Through this Google form: http://bit.ly/JoinSWATI

7. Am I eligible if I am: 

  • Trained in science but not employed? Yes
  • In the social sciences or arts? Not in the current version
  • A school student? No, only undergraduate students and above
  • Working outside India? Yes, as long as you have ever studied STEMM subjects in India
  • A non-Indian working in India? Not in the current version
  • Work in science but no PhD (eg. lab technician, admin role)? Yes
  • In a non-research job (eg. Techies, School teachers, Scicommers)? Yes
  • A transgender woman? Yes

8. The form asks me for an affiliation, however I am currently unaffiliated to any institute. Can I still be included in SWATI?

Yes. Even those marked as ‘unemployed’ or ‘independent’ will be accepted as long as they are an Indian woman who is working/studying or has studied STEMM in India. 

9. Who does the curation & on what basis? 

NIPGR’s HR cell officers which includes developers and program managers are currently doing the curation manually. They make sure persons who have filled up the Google form fulfil the criteria, and once this is confirmed, they are added to the database. The officers do not change any information provided by the applicant.

10. How long does it take to appear on the database after signing up? 

According to NIPGR, the institute currently maintaining the website, this will take up to a week as updates are made every Friday.

11. What is the mechanism to deal with errors such as double entry, outdated entry? 

The Google form does not allow multiple entries from the same email ID. According to the team, this is SWATI’s mechanism to avoid redundant entries. To make updates to one’s profile SWATI relies on the individual herself to make the changes. 

12. How can I edit my profile, once it’s in the portal? 

The same Google form allows for individuals to make edits to their profile. The edits made are supposed to be reflected within a week (updates made every Friday).

13. Can I fill an entry on behalf of someone else?

It is important to the creators of SWATI that “each woman in science is the author of her own story”. Thus they discourage individuals from adding profiles on someone else’s behalf. However, they do allow for inclusion of women who have passed away, “in which case, the respective card for the late woman in science can be created by the SWATI portal managers, if full information is provided via email, upon approval by the IAP”. 

14. My profile has appeared on the site without my consent. How can I remove my profile, how long will this take, and how can you prevent this from happening?

The Google form does not allow multiple entries from the same email ID. The SWATI team believes that this will prevent such situations from occurring.

15. How were the people chosen to be featured in the menu categories on the website (Pioneers, Faculty, Post-docs, Students, Communicators, Industry)? 

According to the descriptions on these pages, the highlighted profiles “include lady scientists across India on the frontlines” of the respective categories. Apart from the ‘Pioneers’ category, which features late women in science as well as some leaders, the rest of the pages seem to be auto-generated selections from the database based on the key word “Faculty”, “Post-docs”, “Students”, “Communicators” or “Industry”. Everytime you refresh the page, the featured list changes. 

We were told that the ‘Pioneers’ section represents some historical women in science from the past century. They were chosen by the SWATI team from among winners of national awards, heads of organisations, as well as other prominent women in science. The team is open to new suggestions for people to be added to this page. 

16. Currently, who has access to the database?

The portal itself is public and open to all, however the database is not, and it’s only NIPGR’s HR cell with access to it, and likely the members of IAP. 

17. How can one access the database, if – say – one wanted to do some kind of analysis?

We were informed that if someone outside the SWATI team wants to access the database, they can do so with approval of the IAP

18. Considering that Google Forms is being used to collect data (including google email addresses), are there plans for proper encryption, security, storage of personal data and protection from possible security breaches?

The answer we got to this question was “this has been included in the design”. From our conversations with multiple SWATI team members, we got the sense that they were aware of the need for cybersecurity measures and the need to protect privacy, however they were unable to provide details on how this will be done.

19. Is SWATI expected to have any measurable outcomes? What are the aims and how will this be monitored? 

The answer we got to this question was that the SWATI portal “aims to serve as a gateway to view expertise and contributions of Indian women in science, specially to mark the 75th year of Indian Independence, in celebration of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.” They added, “Currently, data is being collected for Indian lady students of colleges and universities, graduate research scholars, post-doctoral researchers, administrative staff, scientists, science communicators and academic faculty. Our goal is to scale up this effort exponentially, to include each and every Indian woman in science, across all career stages and subjects, spanning both Academia and the Industry, enabling reliable and statistically significant long term research on the issue of equality, diversity and inclusivity in India.”

20. Who can I contact at the SWATI team if I face any problems while using the portal, and how long will it take for a response?

You may write to the SWATI team (swati[AT]nipgr[dot]ac[dot]in) or NIPGR Director (director[at]nipgr[dot]ac[dot]in) or Gitanjali Yadav (gy[at]nipgr[dot]ac[dot]in).

Responses to the poll on X 

The SWATI portal wants to be a database of ‘each and every’ Indian woman in STEMM. But signing in is voluntary, as the team behind SWATI believes that it’s important ‘each woman tell her own story’. This means that the success of the IAP’s mission is based on the assumption that all women in STEMM want to be part of the portal. Is this true? 

To get a feeler, we ran a poll for Indian women in STEMM on X for 3 days asking three questions: 

1. Have you heard of the new portal for Women in Science called SWATI? 

183 users answered. 35.5% said Yes; 55.2% said No; and 9.3% chose ‘Vaguely’.

2. If yes (to poll 1), are you already/have you enrolled to be part of the SWATI database?

71 users answered. 15.5% said Yes; 77.5% said No; 7% said ‘I’m not sure’.

3. If ‘No/Not sure’ (to poll 1), would you be interested to be part of a national database of women in STEMM?

95 users answered. 78.9% said Yes; 8.4% said No; and 12.6% said ‘Not sure’.

Further, we invited those who were unsure about being part of SWATI to share their reasons with us privately or publicly. Some of them were [paraphrased]:

  • Difficulty in understanding how SWATI will achieve its goals, without a specific path or plans shared.
  • A wariness that enrolling for yet another database will mean more useless emails and not much more.
  • The question of who will benefit from these lists – will it be the same set of people who already may have access to networks?
  • Not convinced that the portal will be able to disrupt the way we do science and forge something new. 
  • Lack of clarity on how SWATI is different from a regular directory.
  • Unsure of the technical capability of the portal – will it too succumb to crashing servers and upgraded OSs like former databases?
  • Insecurity about who has access to the database, and no clear disclosure of where one’s personal data may be shared. 
  • Worried about the conflation of gender & sex in the entry form, and the portal’s failure to be inclusive of other marginalised genders. 

We hope the above information is useful to women in science who are considering joining SWATI and also the teams behind the portal who are interested in identifying gaps and areas for improvement. Thank you to all those who participated in the poll and shared your concerns about the platform with us. We would particularly like to thank the members of the SWATI team Gitanjali Yadav, Rohini Godbole, Shobhona Sharma and Anindita Bhadra for their time, and for helping us prepare this FAQ.

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