Profile with Anita Mehta

Dr Anita Mehta (India & St Catherine’s 1978) is one of the world’s pre-eminent physicists. She pioneered the field of physics in the granular state, and recently held a position as India’s first Science Ambassador to the United States. Currently working on the dynamics of memory among other topics in neuroscience, she is also passionate about music, creative writing and travelling. She currently lives in Calcutta with her daughter. Dr Mehta holds an MA and a DPhil in Physics from the University of Oxford, and a B.Sc. in Physics from Presidency College, Calcutta.

Rhodes Project: What is your favorite thing to do in Calcutta?

Anita Mehta: Honestly: to stay in, read, play the piano and have quiet time listening to good music in the company of friends.

Rhodes Project: And what is your favorite kind of music?

Anita Mehta: Western classical.

Rhodes Project: What was the first job you ever held?

Anita Mehta: I was a consultant at IBM.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you read for pleasure?

Anita Mehta: Gosh, I have to think. The Forgotten Affairs of Youth by Alexander McCall Smith, Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, and Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson, who I like a lot. He’s hilarious.

Rhodes Project: What’s his best book if I was to pick up something?

Anita Mehta: The Lost Continent, without a doubt.

Rhodes Project: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Anita Mehta: A writer of fiction.

Rhodes Project: What is the best part of your job now?

Anita Mehta: That’s a hard one. The ability to travel to different places and meet new people and do exciting science with really intelligent and stimulating people.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman just entering your field?

Anita Mehta: In which country?

Rhodes Project: Here in India.

Anita Mehta: Leave, unless you are prepared to face an awful lot of challenges, which might seem terribly unfair. If you can make a cohort and fight the system, good for you. But be prepared to be patient and get extremely irritated. I have to say that this is based on my own experience, and perhaps others who haven’t had such a hard time would say different things.

Rhodes Project: If you could have lunch with one female historical figure, who would that be and why?

Anita Mehta: Jane Austen. I adore her books. I love her way of looking at the world. She is not often seen as one, but she was a very quiet feminist. She was such a wonderfully ironical and detailed and sensitive observer. One of my favorite books of all time, Persuasion, is hers.

Rhodes Project: What do you just for you?

Anita Mehta: Good question. Not very much. But if I were pressed, I would say I do take a couple of hours a week to get spa treatments.

Rhodes Project: And what brings you the most joyful moments in your life?

Anita Mehta: The knowledge that my daughter is happy and looked after. And the pleasure of a job well done.

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