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Debasmita Samaddar is an Exascale Algorithm Specialist at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, at Culham Science Centre near Oxford, and oversees algorithmic development alongside mentoring PhD students and bringing up her adopted son, Irabaan.
A leader in STEM, and with a full working and family life, Debasmita is an inspiration to aspiring scientists and particularly women looking to go into STEM careers. We spoke to Debasmita about her career, her passions and what it’s like working at the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).
Debasmita has been with UKAEA since 2013, she is an inclusion ambassador which means she promotes diversity within the company and, in addition to her daily duties, currently co-supervises four PhD students and mentors six others.
“In my role, broadly speaking, I look at ways to improve simulations numerically. We are the UK’s national laboratory for nuclear fusion and are an experimental facility. However, designing, predicting and analysing these experiments via computer simulations is not only an integral part of what we do, but this technique is very common nowadays in medical science and climate and different other areas, including how COVID-19 is dealt with. My work is very varied but that’s the exciting bit. I find mentoring an enriching and nurturing experience,” said Debasmita.
Debasmita is an award-winning scientist who has worked in multiple countries throughout her career. She was appointed to a Postdoc fellowship at the ITER Organization (a large international fusion project located in southern France), where she was one in just five fellows that are appointed every two years.
“Winning the very competitive fellowship and work there with these great minds at such an early point in my career was definitely a highlight,” said Debasmita.
Debasmita also won the prestigious Alan Tayler Visiting Lecturer award from InFomm (Industrially Focused Mathematical Modelling, University of Oxford).
Debasmita working from home with her son Irabaan.
Debasmita is passionate about encouraging more women into STEM careers and is living proof that women can enjoy both a full working and family life.
Just 22% of the STEM workforce are women but why aren’t more going into STEM careers and how can we encourage more girls to take up such subjects and balance out the gender gap?
“We need to encourage early and we need more role models. Parents should stop thinking that their girl is not good enough. It’s often the case that women have to prove they are super great to get to a position a man would get. Today I work in an environment where we discuss these issues – which wasn’t the case a few decades ago. But I hope that when my son grows up – we will not need this discussion at all. Their workplace should have the same number of women, the workforce will know how to accept them and women are treated like anyone else. We can create that better world.”
The question of why we need more women in STEM can be answered by taking a look at the benefits of diversity.
“This is a cliché but if you have a group of five very bright people with the same idea - that’s useless. You need a room full of different people with different ideas. It’s more enriching and leads to better results. You’re not utilising half of your population if you don’t engage women,” said Debasmita.
Debasmita has lived in India, France, various parts of the USA and finally settled in the UK in 2013.
“When you work with various groups diversity is automatic and when you work with different minds it enriches your work. The language, food, the whole culture is unique to each country. Unless you have differences of opinions, and are challenged, your best doesn’t come out. You’ve got to go outside your comfort zone. You might be used to one kind of pattern and thinking and suddenly you’re exposed to different methods and ideas. I think I’d be a different kind of scientist if I’d worked in the same way for my whole career,” said Debasmita.
Debasmita’s son Irabaan is just over two and half years old and she has chosen to be a single parent. The flexible working policy at UKAEA means she has not had to make a choice between having a family and enjoying an illustrious career. She is fiercely fervent that the common belief that women must choose either a career or a family is simply not true.
“Flexible working helps me keep my life in control. I don’t have to run through guilt or stress and not be able to focus on my child and other aspects of life. Parenthood is not just about putting food on the table. It’s also about chasing the birds and the squirrels. It would have been the end of the world for me to not become a mum. I have the best thing I could ever wish for, which means I am now more settled and motivated at work and I’m more focused. Motherhood does not take life, it gives you more,” she said.
The UK Atomic Energy Authority have a parent buddy initiative where parents are paired with others to offer each other support. When asked what advice she would give to candidates about working there, Debasmita said:
“The best thing about UKAEA is the inclusive environment and flexibility. The cutting-edge science I get to deal with and the variety of scientific research makes for a fulfilling career. I know I’m working towards something that can change human life. There’s a philanthropist aspect to it.
“You can change the world and if you are interested in doing something ground-breaking that’s what we do. If novelty excites you this is the place for you.”
And when asked what she would say to young women interested in STEM careers she said:
“You can do it! Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise.”
Thank you Debasmita for talking to us today.