By Dr Monika Sharma, Senior Programme Manager, RCUK India
Until October 2011, when I was an enthusiastic researcher, all that attracted my attention was to publish research in high impact factor journals. Thereafter, to taste something different, I joined Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) where my major task was to disseminate information on various research funding opportunities for young and established Indian researchers. In this new role, I had the privilege to interact with the Indian scientific community, wearing the hat of an international science administrator, where one can actually understand the way the Indian scientific community is looked upon with respect to the changing global landscape of science, technology and innovation.
According to Evidence for Changing Trends, India’s Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) recent bibliometry study of India’s scientific publication outputs during 2001-10, India are expected to emerge as one of the important scientific powers during the next two decades. This was concluded after analysis of changing trends in Indian scientific research outputs,, India’s growth performance in Science Citation Index (SCI) publications, changing trends in citation impacts and many such relevant parameters.
In the backdrop of this exhaustive study, which reflects the potential of Indian scientific community, I have also witnessed this ongoing transition at the ground level while interacting with young Indian students, researches and non researchers. There are two instances that come to my mind which have made me proud and at the same time astonished at the way science in today’s India is perceived:
The first instance was at a recent education fair at Science City, Ahmedabad, Gujarat where at a workshop the visitors had the opportunity to see how a cancer cell differs from a non-cancer cell. Amongst the visitors was a family, from a remote village close to Ahmedabad, accompanying their little daughter (a student of class 9), who had insisted that her parents bring her to this workshop. By speaking with the family I learned that the girl wanted to understand what was happening at the workshop and was keen to see the types of cells displayed. However her parents would not let her investigate further as they feared she may catch cancer just by seeing the cancerous cells.
The fears of the parent made me sad their effort to bring their daughter to the workshop was applaudable. I tried to provide a simple explanation of genetics and the science behind cancer, and was eventually able to assure them that nothing wrong was going to happen to their daughter. After long discussions that included providing examples from day-to-day life, the family was convinced to let the girl see the cells
I was elated by this but to my surprise the family returned, after a couple of hours, to tell me that their daughter wishes to be a scientist one day, carry out cancer research and would like to know what would be required to achieve her goal. Another inspiring story whilst touring the backwaters of Kerala, was that of a ferry driver. He owned a small boat and made a living transporting the locals of remote villages surrounding Kuttanadu (Alappuzha, Kerala). Of all the money he made from ferry crossings 70% was reserved to support the education of his son who is studying engineering in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. He was delighted to tell me that his son would be an engineer one day and the first to graduate in his whole village. I could not gather enough courage to ask him how much he earns and how he manages the needs of the rest of the family members.
Nonetheless, the message was crystal clear and reinforced the fact that remote India is equally part of new changing trend.
May 2014 begins my association with Research Councils UK (RCUK) India at the British High Commission, New Delhi, where I look forward with a new lens to see many more emerging trends which I am keen to explore and share.
So watch this space!