Dr Parvathi Basrur: Scientist, Researcher, Administrator, and Mother-figure
Dr Parvathi Basrur was born in 1929, in a village located in what was then British India. She attended the only secondary school within 100 miles of where she lived. The Head Master of the school initially discouraged her from pursuing science saying that the studies would be better suited for a “boy”. Nevertheless, Basrur persevered and fell in love with animal sciences and laboratory procedures. She would go on to earn her B.Sc in biology at the University of Mysore.
Barsrur describes this period as the most significant of her life. At Mysore, Barsur met her classmate and future husband, Vasanth Basrur. They both pursued master's degrees in cytology (the science of plant and animal cells), studying under Dr. B.R. Sechacar, a cytologist with laboratory experience in several countries. In 1954, Vasanth was accepted to a Ph.D. program at the University of Toronto and Basrur pursued her own Ph.D. at the Research Institute of Bangalore. Though her research was progressing rapidly, Basrur missed Vasanth and wanted to join him. In the fall of 1955, she joined the same Ph.D. program at the University of Toronto. In addition to starting a new life in a different country, she became a wife and a mother.
In 1959, Basrur accepted the position of Assistant Professor at the Ontario Veterinary College. She became the first female faculty member in the organization's history. She became a full Professor in 1967 and a Professor Emeritus in 1995. At the University of Guelph, she helped develop a method for culturing biopsies from mammalian tissue. She also accomplished incredible work in the field of cytogenetics as it relates to reproduction in domesticated animals. Her body of work includes over 200 peer-reviewed papers, 5 books, 11 chapters, and a number of abstracts. She received the Norden Award for Distinguished Teaching, the Sigma XI Award for Excellence in Research, the Distinguished Professorial Teaching Award, the YM-YWCA ‘Woman of Distinction' Lifetime Achievement Award, and the University of Guelph Medal of Merit Award, as well as being inducted into the Order of Canada.
Basrur helped train over 5,000 veterinarian students, including 20 Masters in Science, 26 Doctors in Science, and 11 Post-Doctoral Fellows. Her laboratory is fondly remembered as a friendly meeting place of a diverse range of students. Almost 50% of her graduate students and Post-Doctoral Fellows were international students. Such a welcoming environment was an extension of Dr. Basrur’s motherly instincts. Her caring and encouraging nature extended beyond her two daughters, Jyothi and Sheela, and her three grandchildren to the students she was mentoring. (Sheela shared her mother’s love for biological science and became Chief Medical Officer of Health in Ontario in 2004.) Basrur was affectionately known as "Mama Basrur." She would often cook for students and invite them over for meals, taking special care to look after those who were far from home. She passed away in November 2012. She left a legacy of scientific achievement not only in published literature, but also in the inspiration she instilled in so many students.
Dr. Pavarthi Basrur photographed while working at Ontario Veterinary College. She is wearing a white jacket and a blue shirt. Her hair is pulled back and she is wearing glasses. C.A.V. Barker Collections, Archival & Special Collections, University of Guelph Library.