There aren’t many plant scientists on the lovely Mount Pleasant Road, fewer still as you amble into St Edmund’s, but this college is exactly where I picked up the shovel for the first time, despite being a botanist for almost two decades! Much of my research is limited to the laboratory, within high performance computing clusters investigating food grains, legume crops, floral chemistry, invasive species and algae, trying to understand photosynthesis and plant communication. But the Eddies plantation drive turned me into the resident expert in Botany(!), when the new Master, students, staff and other college members joined the gardeners this winter, keenly deliberating planting depths for daffodils, distances between snowdrop bulbs and apprehensions of Squirrel-Gate!
We are celebrating 50 years of women at St Edmund’s this year, and it’s a matter of pride for me to have joined the Fellowship in the same academic year, along with the new (and first!) lady Master. I’m a Lecturer at the Dept of Plant Sciences in Cambridge, and I hold a joint appointment between India and Cambridge. In fact, this was one of the main reasons for my interest in joining St Ed’s, which has the largest and most diverse international contingent among college members. Much of my work in food security involves working at the interface of our two nations (TIGR2ESS) in terms of research, teaching and outreach. Over the past year, I’ve made forays into policy making, and St Ed’s Development office has been vital in linking me to our extensive network of alumni, many of whom are now leaders of science policy in India. Recently, we had a wonderful reunion with Arabinda Mitra, one of our alumni from early 1990s, who returned to Cambridge as the first international CSaP policy fellow and made it a point to stay at the college, his alma mater!
Connecting with the women of Eds has been a journey of discovery for me, full of pleasant surprises, deep empathy, and great camaraderie. From Catherine Arnold, the Master, who enthusiastically tries to accommodate everyone’s wish-list (the plantation drive was her response to our pitch for more flowers on the college grounds!), to Angela Coltman, our senior administrator, who has a subtle but sure way of resolving any problem! From working late into the night, to waking up early and finding a tiny handwritten note slipped under my door- “Take care of yourself Gita, you’re working two time zones; see you at Breakfast!”, the list is unending: Helen Mason (with such a vast college experience, she will have three great ideas before you ask her for one!); Tina Barsby (Director of NIAB) (who first introduced me to St Edmunds, and the goal of bringing more plant scientists to this college; we are now developing a new crop science fellowship at the India-U.K interface); Anna, Michelle and Susan, for immediately agreeing to an impromptu Global Women’s breakfast in the Eddies dining hall to celebrate UN Women’s day, along with Judith Bunbury, our Sr. tutor, who instantly recognized my puzzle-addiction on our first meeting, and invited me to join her little Ravensburger club, where we’ve had some of the most interesting evenings, musing over 1000-piece-jigsaw-starting-strategies, lives of working women, adolescent daughters, archaeology field trips, fellows’ pantomime and much more! No mention of women at Eds can be complete without Iuliana, Beatrice and Inga who run the college reception and formals so perfectly, it doesn’t matter if you’ve bombarded them with difficulties early morning, mid-day or past midnight!
St Ed’s is where we come together across boundaries of diverse disciplines, enjoying truly trans-disciplinary sessions at our research salons, where I presented our ongoing food security research (in six minutes!) to an audience of theologians, lawyers, reverends, entrepreneurs, engineers and FB data analysts, followed by a very lively discussion!
I pride myself at being a successful woman in science, but I’m also a wife, mother and daughter-in-law. Much of my success on this joint appointment wouldn’t have been possible without the socio-cultural support at St Edmund’s, one of the few colleges at Cambridge that are family-inclusive and positively enabling. We live in family apartments on the college grounds, my children love the college, attend garden parties, get invited by CR to pre-exam socials and joint festivities!
St Ed’s is where my usually reserved 5-yr old boy finally found his best friend in little Toby, the son of another student Olivia Salter. This is also where I found time to have long conversations with my seven year old daughter, baking and taking walks together. Eds is where my 80yr old grand-mother-in-law attended Formal Hall, seated next to Fr McCoy, the Dean, who treated her with such great regard, and regaled her with such bright tales, she will forever hold exquisite, unforgettable memories of her very first visit outside of India. St Edmund’s is my home away from home, no wonder why it’s called the college with a heart!