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Lab it up!

education Updated: Jul 07, 2010 10:08 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi
Vimal Chander Joshi
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

When Dr Michael Adewumi, Penn State University’s representative came to Delhi last week, he told HT Horizons that the varsity intends to join hands with the Indian research institutions such as the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Management Development Institute (MDI) and many others. On being asked why Indian universities were being considered for research tie-ups, he answered, “Out of our faculty strength of 5000, more than 300, who are among the brightest, are of Indian origin. There is something special among the Indian researchers and also the institutions which produce them. We can certainly not afford to ignore India.”

Going places
It has been just a year when Indian born scientist Venkatraman Ramakrishna won the prestigious Nobel prize in chemistry. There are many scholars and researchers who, though not as accomplished as Ramakrishna, are making rapid strides in the international education arena despite coming from small towns and living simple lifestyles. Laxmi Tomar from Rohtak, a PhD student from CCS Haryana Agricultural University, is one of the 14 winners from around the world to have got through Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Programme. This will give her a fully funded scholarship of $72,000 to carry out research at the University of California and CCS Haryana Agricultural University. “Both my maternal and paternal uncles and their children are farmers. With my research, I intend to improve the nutritional value of grain and its productivity. While doing research, I will spend two years in India and one year in the States,” says Tomar.

For them, research is fun
Tomar finds the long hours spent in the lab pleasurable and uplifting. “When you experiment with different things, there is always a new result to look out for. It’s quite exciting. We have our share of fun too, and enjoy our weekends, especially during the summer, as crop breeding takes place in the winters,” she adds.

The other scholars from India who made it to the scholarship programme are also female scholars from Punjab and Delhi. Anuradha Bansal from Delhi is a Hansraj College alumna and is currently a PhD student at John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK while Amandeep Sandhu has studied at Punjab Agricultural University.

“In college I was inspired by my teachers’ passion for research work. They also faced problems related to funding, but this didn’t bog them down. Now, even India has good research laboratories such as those run by the CSIR, TERI and IARI,” says Bansal.

Though one gets frustrated when results don’t align with one’s expectations, positive results lead to “great satisfaction,” explains Bansal, who will spend six months of her four-year long research in CIMMYT, Mexico, and the rest of the time at John Innes.

She trashes the myth that scientists work in seclusion. “We also have a large laboratory staff to help us,” she adds.

Another plus-point of research work is the opportunity you get to do your bit for the society. She is working on crop genes which ward off diseases and prevent crop damage. “Scholars should not only look for their own advancement but also develop varieties and products which are useful to farmers,” she says.

Making money
Monetisation is a key area of research, which conventionally researchers pay least attention to. But some have financial inclinations too. Debapriya Chakraborty, a PhD student of mechanical engineering at IIT Kharagpur, is already contemplating monetising his research work, which aims to reduce costs and improve the efficiency of pathological tests using the technology of micro fluids. He is expecting to finish his doctorate in a year’s time and after that, he along with two others, will work on his corporate venture which will produce, sell and market the diagnostic tools. Chakraborty, along with his team members, even presented his plan at a business plan competition recently organized by DFJ where this was the only team from India among 16 different teams from seven different countries.

He had turned down a well paying corporate job after his BTech from IIT Kharagpur to study for his doctorate. After a brilliant score in CGPA (8.59), he got direct admission in PhD and is now witnessing the changing scenario of research in Indian laboratories. “In my branch of micro fluids, the facilities which IIT Kharagpur provides are one of the best in the world. Earlier most of the IIT graduates used to go abroad to do research, but now the scenario is changing and scholars prefer to stay back. And there are tie-ups with foreign universities. In our project, we have collaborated with the University of California.

Their students come here to help us and sometimes we go there,” he says.

Research options
. IIT Madras offers short-term post doctoral fellowships for women in engineering departments. Visit www.iitm.ac.in for details or call 044-2257 0509
. The Wellcome Trust and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) jointly offer scholarship to give full support for four years to the most promising newly-qualified postdoctoral and clinical researchers to launch their independent scientific career in India. Visit www.wellcomedbt.org for details or call 040 4018 9445. Last date to apply is July 23

Ramanujan fellowship: Department of Science and Technology offers fellowships for five years to the active scientists and engineers. Contact Dr SS Kohli at 011-26590499 for further details

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