The gender gap in computing: Shobhana Narasimhan featured in Nature for the Ada Lovelace Day

This was published on October 13, 2023

On the Ada Lovelace Day, which every year celebrates and raises awareness of the contributions of women to STEM fields, Nature asked six women in computer science and technology reflect on their experiences in the field. One of them is Shobhana Narasimhan, a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bengaluru, India and a member of the SNSF's MARVEL Review Panel. 

Shobhana Narasimhan

I studied physics at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, in Mumbai. At that time, India had five IITs; each was partnered with a foreign country from which they received computers. Our partner was the Soviet Union, and we had a clunky and slow Soviet-era mainframe computer that used paper punch cards for data storage. Punching and running cards on it was a logistical nightmare. Anyone who could produce an output was guaranteed an ‘A’ in the programming course. That is, in my experience, unless that person was a woman. I was not alone in feeling that the professor in charge was more likely to give women lower grades. And so, when I moved to Harvard, I was disadvantaged compared with my computer-savvy US classmates

I eventually caught up and returned to India 11 years later as a computational scientist, a role in which I found myself one of few women. Computational science is often perceived as being more ‘woman friendly’ than experimental science, because it is comparatively easy to work from home and so a good work–life balance seems achievable, yet the gender diversity hasn’t improved all that much, especially in academia. I am often still the only woman on a committee, or invited to speak at a conference


Compared with experimental science, computation is cheap and a relatively small investment can go a long way. Roughly US$10,000 can buy you a computer cluster that can tackle interesting problems. There’s no need to buy expensive chemicals and reagents, although a stable electricity supply and a fast Internet connection are needed, which are not always available.

Read the full article here

Stay in touch with the MARVEL project

Low-volume newsletters, targeted to the scientific and industrial communities.

Subscribe to our newsletter