IDEAS NCBR: Why you decided to pursue a career in AI research?
Sonam Parashar, PhD: I was passionate about science, mathematics, technology, engineering, and computers since childhood. During my bachelor studies, I joined a software company, was very happy and accepted a job offer letter. I was waiting for my joining letter after the completion of my bachelor’s like other students do. Unfortunately, due to huge recession in software industry, I didn’t receive it, but my journey didn’t stop there. Actually, it was where it started!
Incidentally, I joined an engineering institute as an Assistant Professor during the waiting period of my joining letter. The job changed my life. I explored my hidden capabilities, such as interest of learning, researching and improvising IT solutions. I decided to pursue the master’s studies and then PhD.
As I was an electrical engineer and have always been fascinated about the automation, new technologies, computers and programming languages, I was thirsty to explore AI techniques in electrical engineering application, because these systems are too complex and challenging with so many technicalities. So I did my projects at the intersection of AI and Electrical Engineering and wrote master’s and doctoral thesis for the technology advancement in the field of power and energy systems.
What are you currently researching at IDEAS NCBR?
At IDEAS NCBR I am working on problems of green energy systems. My current research is about the mechanism design and game theory model for long-term planning in green energy systems. The upcoming papers will be related to designing local energy markets using AI techniques. Additionally, I am exploring how the AI could contribute to improvement of the medical and healthcare industry.
Do you think there is a gender disproportion in the number of AI/ML experts? If yes, what could be the reason so few women decide to pursue a scientific career in AI?
Yes, there is such a disproportion. There are a number of potential reasons. Firstly, a women’s own mindset due to cultural background or due to her own interests in other fields. Then, women are underrated and underrepresented due to male-dominated thinking. Others’ decisions depend on family and financial circumstances. It is possible for women to start scientific career, but often later they give up due to lack of time and can’t perform the long-term scientific career due to other personal responsibilities.
What, in your opinion, could change that situation?
Women’s situation can be improved by ensuring a fair and secure work environment, introducing dedicated project grants and fellowships, and increasing the recruitment of women in the IT industry. Furthermore, women could be provided with mentorship and skills development programs and given opportunities to showcase their work. Inviting them as speakers and providing platforms for them to share their experiences can inspire and encourage others.
In the workplace, it is important for women to be equally involved in working teams and granted working flexibility. They should also be appreciated, promoted and given credits and recognition for their work. Additionally, they should receive equal pay for their work, just like men.
What is the interest in AI/ML among students and PhD students in your country? Are there any related cultural factors that can encourage women to pursue their careers in AI/ML? What factors can discourage them?
In India, PhD students are highly inspired and actively interested in AI and ML in many fields of study. Recently, India is making a lot of effort to motivate and empower female students by launching many programs addressing the social, educational, financial and security aspects of their life.
But still, women in India are facing the cultural, societal and family pressure to give priority for marriage, starting a family and other personal responsibilities over pursuing scientific career. Moreover, gender discrimination can be found at some workplaces. The safety and security of women is also an issue, specifically in late night hours and in isolated places. Also, women may not want to be in the IT profession due to work-life imbalance.
How can women contribute to the development of AI?
In the past there were glorious women in science. Consider Marie Sklodowska Curie, Shakuntla Devi or Rosalind Franklin. They proved through their work that women can think logically and have the potential to excel in any field. Gender bias can influence the outcome of scientific discoveries.
Women should not fall behind, they should pursue necessary education, develop the skills needed in AI. They should persist with their efforts and contributions in AI and should not succumb to fear.
If you were to point out one character trait that describes a good scientist, what would it be?
A good scientist should not be afraid of failure and should be persistent and patient.
Sonam Parashar, PhD is working as a postdoc at IDEAS NCBR. Her research interest is application of AI techniques in green energy and power systems: heuristic algorithms (evolutionary, metaheuristics), game theory, neural networks, forecasting, optimization and decision making in energy and power systems. For a number of years, she was professionally associated with various engineering institutes and universities in India. During her professional career she was responsible for research and teaching electrical engineering to undergraduates.
Sonam Parashar has been awarded PhD in Electrical Engineering at Malaviya National Institute of Technology, Jaipur, India. She graduated from RGPV Bhopal, India with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering as well as master’s degree in Power System Engineering at Sharda University Greater Noida, India. She is an author of number of articles in scientific journals, conference papers and book chapters in the field of energy and power systems. She is also the member of IEEE (USA) and ISTE (India).