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Sri Lanka: Finding Balance Between Work and Life, Science and Politics

Published: 2019-07-31

During 2019, our blog posts will primarily feature a range of countries in which IFS has awarded grants to early-career scientists, drawing on responses to a 15-item survey with mostly open-ended questions that we are sending to former and present grantees in selected countries, as an element of this year’s process culminating in our new 2021-2030 strategy. This month we highlight Sri Lanka, where 113 people (40 women and 73 men) have been awarded grants by IFS since it was founded in 1974. Of the 113 grantees, 14 went on to receive a second grant, and three a third grant. As one survey respondent noted, “… the situation for science in Sri Lanka is improving”.

Nighisty Ghezae, DirectorNighisty Ghezae, IFS Director

Of the 66 invitations sent to colleagues in Sri Lanka, 15 (or 23%) responded to the survey. Among them, 7% have master's degrees, 86% have doctorates and 7% have done post-doctoral work, with 93% of respondents living and working in Sri Lanka. They are professors and teachers of various ranks, post-doctoral fellows and department heads. Their research areas involve soil microbiology; plant nematology, entomology and zoology; postharvest disorders of edible fruits; wildlife management and conservation; parasitology and conservation biology; wetland ecology; water quality, natural resources and solid waste management; fisheries biology and aquatic resources management; animal nutrition; molecular and cellular biology and reproductive biology; nutrition; anti-cancer drug screening and cancer stem cell research; adsorption of metal ions; and urban environmental planning, post-disaster environmental planning, natural and nature-based methods for disaster risk management.

Of the examples given of how their research has been put to use, of note are improving nutrition of preschool children through a diet rich in pulses and leafy vegetables, with rice, and promoting consumption of sprouted pulses; contributing to the IUCN's red data list and suggested management implications for wildlife conservation; use of botanicals for plant nematode control; water purification using natural remedies and assessment of heavy metals in local aquatic ecosystems; introduction of best ovarian synchronization protocols for high-yielding dairy cows; molecular detection of human papilloma virus infections in clinical samples; herbal formulations with anti-cancer properties; improved water quality of shallow wells in coastal Sri Lanka after the tsunami; policy formulation for sustainable utilization of fisheries; and the WWF's Building Materials Environmental Guide for post-disaster reconstruction, locally adopted in Nepal and Sri Lanka. Ninety-two percent of respondents have published more than ten peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters or books, 12 colleagues are members of professional scientific organizations, and nine have received awards for their work, both in Sri Lanka and in other countries.

In response to a question about exciting or rewarding professional experiences, the examples were visiting remote areas to collect samples and observe various sites that would not otherwise be visited; working with university students and carrying out research; getting IFS and other grants; being recognized by the national and international scientific community; receiving awards for excellence in research; and publishing a controversial review paper towards career end. Cited by several respondents as an important factor contributing to career development was the grant received from IFS, along with motivation, courage and family support. Examples of career challenges faced by respondents included scarcity of research funding, institutional bureaucracy and inadequate infrastructure and equipment. In terms of what would be most helpful to them in achieving their career goals, women respondents mentioned striking a balance between work and home lives, establishing independence from the influence of men, having a supportive husband, and being able to source research funding. When asked what they think needs to change so that women can play a more significant role in science and research, one of the men respondents said, “Recognition by scientific institutions that women carry a disproportionate burden in household expectations and are disadvantaged by security concerns and social norms. There should be special provisions, clearly and procedurally laid out, to help women researchers overcome these challenges”.

Common suggestions for how linkages can be strengthened among scientists, research institutions, grants-making organizations and funding sources included better communication and sharing of information about opportunities. Finally, with regards to perceptions of the role of science in national development, it was seen as essential, though in the words of one respondent, “Rational scientific thinking is often compromised in favor of shortsighted economic or political gains.” Another colleague noted in contrast that, "... the situation for science in Sri Lanka is improving".

With thanks 

Nighisty Ghezae



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