The Declining Era Of Scientists And Scientific Research- Is It The End?

Posted on May 5, 2012 in Sci- Tech

By Nakul Arora:

India has a very rich scientific heritage. Aryabhatta, a mathematician is known for giving the world zero “0”. Also, the presence of the iron pillar, whose composition still amazes scientists, is itself a proof of the technological advancement of India during that period. Coming from such a rich background, it is surprising to find the apathetic state of Indian science and research today. The mention of apathetic state here should not be mistaken for the lack of scientific research or the fact that India is not producing scientist of world stature anymore. Both the statements are false, what it actually means is the absence of any glory attached with scientific research in India, today, or the fact that the young minds are today more attracted towards the professional fields of engineering and medicine, which has more money up for grabs in shorter time. However, the situation is not all bad here; there have been considerable improvement in recent times. We will now try to analyse the present situation here by considering all aspects.

Post-independence, India has produced Nobel-prize winners like H. G. Khurana and C. V. Raman but it has not been able to maintain the quantity of people wanting to pursue research-based careers. The reason behind this can be linked back to the Nehruvian policy of socialist development, wherein, though basic science was given importance but individual funding and promotion of financial incentives for research was totally absent. Thus, as a result of following this policy, there was a clear absence of intellectual property. However, keeping in line with Soviet policy, there was heavy investment in atomic energy and nuclear energy, the results of which show in India’s leadership in both the sectors. Also, the Undergraduate education in India is totally de-coupled with research. This is mostly due to the lack of importance given to it by the state universities themselves. The state universities can’t themselves be blamed for they, unlike their foreign counterparts, suffer from lack of proper equipment and funding. Due to this, they are also unable to retain any good faculty, which they generally end up losing to foreign universities or the highly mushrooming Indian private colleges. The private colleges offering UG and higher education, due to presence of lack of stringent quality control, are operating just for profit and have almost negligible research infrastructure. Even if the infrastructure problems were to be sidelined, the curriculum been followed by the Indian universities is heavily outdated. Newer topics of research such as molecular biology, NMR spectroscopy, etc, are yet to be even included in the syllabuses.

The problem with the lack of a research mindset amongst the students is deeply linked to the societal conditions present today. The post-globalization era has increased the demand for Indian technical and business professionals a lot. This, in turn, has led to these trades rising up in social stature because of the huge amount of money they are able to fetch in a shorter time interval. Thus, colleges catering to technical, medicinal and business education have seen huge mushrooming in the recent times. The study of sciences and humanities has taken a backseat. There is a race amongst the top students of high school to get into the best technical and medicinal institutions. Those, who are left out, also prefer to take the secondary level institutions. It’s only the lowest grade of students, who are left over and are mostly forced to take up studying science. Since, there is so much social stature attached to the two fields, for the people generally link the monetary situation with intelligence and capability, that anyone who is found not doing anything in them is generally considered by the society to be doing nothing at all. Imagine the plight of a good student, who ends up taking humanities or science for the love of it. Thus, there is a total absence of any societal respect for the people pursuing sciences, which in turn, forces most of them to take out a professional job/course instead of pursuing their interest further. The situation has improved a lot in recent years, though, and there are some really good institutions like DU for the study of humanities.

Another big problem that plagues scientific research, or for the matter of fact any other area, in India is the beauracracy and red tapeism present in the system. This, undoubtedly to say hinders the research for a scientist is required to submit all requests for further materials and equipments needed to the beauracracy which takes a lot of time to process even the simplest of requests. This factor is the main hindrance in bringing back the expatriate Indian scientists for they have seen and worked in different, much friendlier conditions. Also, the presence of reverence for old people’s work and age in the Indian society interferes with the scientific practice of questioning the status-quo. A young scientist, here in India, can’t question the work being done by a senior of his for fear of societal backlash. However, if any major scientific discovery is to be observed, it was only done after a young mind questioned the status quo and challenged the older, in many cases even dead, scientists’ research on the same subject. This practice adopted by the higher scientists of keeping themselves surrounded by people who don’t express any dissent should be stopped.

The situation is not all gloomy and there are several good opportunities which make one hopeful of the improving levels of research in the future. The Indian government has recently set up the Indian institute of science and research, which are aimed at focussing on coupling UG education with research. Also, the government has recently set up some world class laboratory facilities like the nanotechnology lab and the neutrino observatory. Also, the Indian government has several fellowships running which give the returning expatriate scientist with a choice of setting up his laboratory anywhere in the country. Also, there is a huge availability of good jobs of senior positions in the Indian universities which provide amazing opportunity for scientists to come back and settle here. Even being an assistant professor in the state-run universities has its own set of perks and also, the mushrooming of the high number of private colleges has led to a hike in the pay structure as well.

The conditions look favourable, but still there is a lot to be done to change the basic mindset prevalent in the society toward the sciences. The reputed scientists have to play an important role here by using their fan-following to push people into realizing the importance of science and technology in a country’s economic development. Also, a whole host of changes will have to be made at the policy level to ensure introductions of an updated curriculum, better conditions of labs and equipment in the universities, promotion of individual research through financial incentives and state grants, etc. Last, but not the least, the young minds of India will have to be prepared through a curriculum and methodology of teaching that promotes reasoning over rote memorisation, so as to build the inquisitiveness in them, which can later come out in their questioning the status-quo and hopefully, some of them, ending up in research. Till these long-term changes come into play, we all can begin today by looking up to the people pursuing science out of their interest and zeal for research.

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