The waning of science

Dec 10 2013, 20:32 IST
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SummaryThe young and brightest in a city once big on science and technology research have turned to IT, entrepreneurship, banking.

The young and brightest in a city once big on science and technology research have turned to IT, entrepreneurship, banking.

Saikishan Suryanarayanan, 27, makes Rs 20,000 a month. His wife’s monthly income is Rs 22,000. To buy a car, the couple borrowed from his parents. When they travel, they choose the bus or the train as they find flights unaffordable. Suryanarayanan has a Master’s degree from Texas A&M University in the US and returned as a doctoral researcher in fluid dynamics at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore. His wife, a PhD, is also a postdoctoral scholar at the same centre. JNCASR is one of India’s premier scientific institutions. Yet, the couple’s income contrasts starkly with others’ in a city where even customer support agents in call centres receive similar salaries a year or two into the job. Luckily, the couple has campus accommodation, which saves them a major expense.

Just as well that Suryanarayanan and his wife are passionate about their research and do not obsess about their meagre compensation. The couple’s monthly income, however, is one indicator of the wretched support that science receives in India. “Only the most committed can sustain themselves on such paltry recompense,” says Suryanarayanan. On top of it, even in the country’s foremost institutions, funding and infrastructure to pursue scientific research are several notches below what is available in the US and Europe.

A Bharat Ratna conferred on eminent scientist C.N.R. Rao last month brought the focus back on the country’s investment in science. Only more investments in science will make young Indians believe that the country’s future is linked to science, Rao is quoted as saying. “If India starts investing in science as much as China and South Korea do in the next couple of decades, we can make up for lost time,” Rao told reporters. Rao said he has had 150 PhD students work with him in the last decade and a half, but none has been from Bangalore. The young and the brightest in a city that was once big on science and technology research have turned towards information technology, entrepreneurship, banking and other careers.

Suryanarayanan says earlier generations of his peers were much worse off. Monthly stipends for those pursuing doctoral and postdoctoral research in science and technology have inched up over the past decade. But the amount is still poor by international standards. Suryanarayanan’s American peers make

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