First woman to head the Atomic Energy Commission
When Dr. Madhabi Islam joined the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) in the early 1980s, only a few women worked there. Few women were pursuing higher education at the time and, naturally, the number of female employees, with expertise in the scientific field, was even lower.
During her time on the commission, Madhabi witnessed remarkable progress among women, with some growing up under her direct supervision and many others inspired by her relentless work ethic.
Dr. Madhabi and her husband, Dr. Tajul Islam, a retired professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University, raised three children, who also pursued higher education in various scientific fields. All three – two daughters and a son – have doctorates in different scientific studies.
Madhabi Isam was born and raised in Kolkata. A Mathematics graduate from Presidency College, she earned her M.Sc. and Ph.D. from the University of Calcutta.
In the late 70s she went to Moscow in Russia on a postdoctoral fellowship.
“I met my husband in Moscow,” Madhabi says.
Professor Dr. Tajul Islam had been in Moscow since 1972 for his doctorate.
Soon after they met, they knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.
After getting married, Madhabi returned to Dhaka with her husband in 1980 and settled there for life.
In 1982, she joined the BAEC as scientific manager. Over the years, she was promoted to Principal Scientific Officer, Chief Scientific Officer, and then Director at the Institute of Computer Science where the nation’s fastest computer was installed.
“Back then, we didn’t have any universities offering computer science degrees. I was involved in computer programming, system programming, software, etc.,” Madhabi recalls of his professional career at the commission. .
The brightest pen of her career was added in 2007, when she was appointed Director General of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE) at BAEC.
“I was the first female CEO of the atomic commission,” she said.
She retired the same year she was named CEO. But she never left work.
Madhabi Islam, since her time at the BAEC, was very attached to teaching. During her weekends, she taught at Dhaka University and Jahangirnagar University.
She is currently a professor of mathematics at the American International University (AIUB).
We asked Madhabi how they manage to raise their children so well when they are a working couple with very demanding job responsibilities.
“As we are both academics, our children naturally had this influence. My eldest son and my daughter already have their doctorates. My son studied industrial and production engineering in Buet and did his doctorate at the University from Nottingham after doing her masters in Canada. My daughter studied genetic engineering and did her PhD in the US; my youngest daughter is also pursuing her PhD in the US,” Madhabi said.
“We were both very busy with our work, but instead of leaving our children to private tutors, we taught them ourselves,” she added.
Her husband, Professor Islam, was then Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Jahangirnagar University. He was also a member of the University Grants Commission (UGC). He retired in 2016 and now works as the head of the economics department at a private university.
“During my time, the government retirement age was 57. But my husband retired at 65,” Madhabi said.
When asked if the couple felt lonely with their children living overseas, she said, “I don’t consider it loneliness. Although my children are overseas, I don’t think so. that we are alone. It’s not like that. It’s up to how they want to live their life. I have to give them space to grow and let them build their future.
Witness to the empowerment of women in science
Since the 80s at BAEC, if there is one thing that has inspired Madhabi, it is the exponential growth of women’s participation.
“Women’s participation was low at first. But it gradually increased,” she said.
“When I arrived, you could say I was the first to have a doctorate, but gradually more and more women came forward and did their doctorates,” she added.
“I’ve always told my junior colleagues that they have to prove themselves with their work. That’s what I believe in,” Madhabi advised his juniors.
Talking about what influenced women’s participation more, she replied, “It’s desire. When I went to Vienna, to the headquarters of the Atomic Energy Commission, I found a lot of female colleagues. It inspired me a lot, and likewise, in my house, five other women were inspired by me and they also inspired others at some point, and that’s how the participation of women increased exponentially.
Madhabi said she is very optimistic about the future of Bangladeshi women.
“As I said, I was brought up in Kolkata. If I compare my days there in terms of the scope of education for women, things are better in Bangladesh today. Girls here can stay on college campuses to study,” she said.
“Our girls no longer stay at home after their studies. They want to do something and thus the women here contribute directly and indirectly to the development of the nation”, she added.
When asked if the couple were planning to relocate with their children abroad, Madhabi replied: “Never. I never thought of relocating abroad, it never bothered me. rained. We’ll be here for the rest of our lives.”
She added, “We will be busy with work here and visit our children from time to time. But we don’t want to leave the country.”