On Inspiration

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has the brilliantly named INnovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired REsearch programme, INSPIRE. We have, as a University, benefited from it, notably in the CIS where a number of our integrated MSc students are recipients of fellowships. As the INSPIRE-DST website puts it, the basic objective of INSPIRE would be to communicate to the youth population of the country the excitements of creative pursuit of science and attract talent to the study of science at an early stage and build the required critical human resource pool for strengthening and expanding the Science & Technology system and R&D base.

The three components of the program are

  • SEATS: Scheme for Early Attraction of Talent
  • SHE: Scholarship for Higher Education
  • AORC: Assured Opportunity for Research Careers

and the numbers they hope to reach is impressive. One million- 10,00,000 – in SEATS, 10,000 each year in SHE, and an unspecified number of doctoral fellowships in the AORC. There has been nothing like it in the country, and one can only hope that this will make a difference.

The falling numbers in enrollment in the sciences has been a matter of concern, particularly to the Academies of Science in the country for a while. (There are 3 Academies of Science, the Indian Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy, and the National Academy of Sciences, in addition to an Academy of Engineering, one of Agriculture, and one of Medicine). The Academies have undertaken a number of measures- particularly their Summer Research Fellowships, where undergraduate students and College teachers can spend a summer in a laboratory of their choice. Nevertheless, in terms of reach, INSPIRE both aspires differently and does it differently- the numbers are larger, and the choice is greater.

One initiative that the Indian Academy of Sciences undertook was to ask another question, why are there so few women who take up a career in science. Around 2005 they set up the Women in Science panel to look into this question, as well as into other related questions. The panel did a number of things- one being a survey that asked how many women did a Ph D but then chose not to pursue a career, and why they made that choice. Another was to establish a mentorship programme- having a number of successful women scientists talk to undergraduate women science students. A third was to bring out a set of books in which women scientists of some accomplishment spoke of their lives, what helped them, and what did not.

As a member of the panel, I was involved in editing the book, Lilavati’s Daughters: The Women Scientists of India that came out in 2008. And last week, a follow up to that book, The Girl’s Guide to a Life in Science (edited by Rohini Godbole, Mandakini Dubey and myself) was released at the annual meeting of the Indian Academy of Sciences in Ahmedabad. The blurb of the book, that has been published by the Academy and Zubaan Books (New Delhi) says

Inspiring, informative, ingenious…meet twenty-five of India’s most celebrated female scientists. From astrophysics to zoology, learn what it takes to make a career in science. What led them to choose their particular field? Who encouraged them? What were their struggles? What are their sources of inspiration? What are the key questions at the cutting edge of modern research? Why choose a life in science at all? From astrophysics to zoology, learn what it takes to make a career in science.

The idea in putting together these essays by and about working women scientists in India was to try to provide inspiration by having role models who were local, and who were in a sense “within reach” rather than to always try to derive inspiration from those who were at lofty Nobelian heights. And to provide reassurance to both the young women and their parents that a career in science was do-able, fulfilling, and enriching in as many ways as any other career can be.

Numbers. In the end, that is going to be our only salvation and that would be the best result of our “demographic dividend”. We need to inspire as many young people as possible to take up science as a way of life- whether they make it a career or not- if we are to seed innovation, to become self sufficient in intellectual capital. And all measures that we can take towards this path are, I guess, useful.


6 thoughts on “On Inspiration

  1. Dear Sir

    I would like to mention that though a lot of integrated students have benefited from this INSPIRE scholarship, it doesn’t go to the apt people.

    Almost all the students who get this scholarship are deserving. But very few of them actually need it. This is in contrast to a number of people who need it but do not fulfill the eligibility criterion. They are not far behind these deserving students at all.

    In my opinion this scholarship should be based on two criteria, One merit and the other Need.

    Such a scholarship can then serve the purpose. Also one needs to take into account the school board before awarding such scholarship. While scoring 95% marks can be obtained by 1000s of people in AP, getting above 80% marks is a big achievement in Bihar. DST has not revised its system or bothered to cater to the opinions of the students. If such scholarships are supposed to help students with interest in science, they should be awarded in the right manner.

    • Many, if not all, of these problems will go away if we regularly update our own conscience. Unfortunately, we are running on pirated intellectuality and automatic updates are disabled by default.

      Giving a fellowship is, in most cases, is just a recognition of your inner potential. Yes, marks are a poor indicator of your potential in innovation and creativity. I believe that there should be a token fellowship for all students of higher education. And the rot starts in the school and that is the place we should focus and try to improve.

      Yes, I received a fellowship of Rs 10/- (yes, that is right) that was adjusted towards my tuition fee in the school. I received a fellowship of Rs 50/ during my B.Sc. which came so irregularly that it served no purpose. During my M.Sc. days I got Rs 75/- but it is not the amount but the recognition that matters.

      Today this amount may not be enough even for the mess charges. But then we were not subsidising corruption those days!

      There is a relatively simple solution to the marks problem: report all marks as percentile for the last 5 years (for each university).

      One thing I do not understand is what is science? What is wrong with the humanities? What is wrong with the fine arts? If a part of your body takes away all the vital resources, it is not called good health.

      A priest advised Voltaire on his death bed to renounce the devil.
      Replied Voltaire, “This is no time to make new enemies.”

  2. The successive governments from independence to date have devised many such brilliant programs, but it is very unfortunate, as we all know, benefits will not reach the deserving people. Reason…………!

    The story is same with “INSPIRE”. The objective is “NOBLE” but procedure and systems are very cumbersome. Campaign can only reach URBAN and elite students. Most of the teachers of Government school and colleges will not take interest because there is no incentive for promoting talent.

    As 80% India lives in villages, a fair chance needs to be given to students pursuing studies in villages and remote places. A student studying in a town or big cities will have more learning resources and options along with guidance and motivation from parents (mostly educated). In case of students studying in small and remote places the resources are very less, no proper teachers, library, leave apart tuition/coaching and guidance and motivation of parents as most of the parents in the small and remote villages are illiterate. There is no chance of reaching EVEN the campaign of “INSPIRE” or any other scheme to the schools and colleges situated in rural and remote places.

    It would not be fair to compare the performance, marks and knowledge of an urban student with that of a rural student for obvious reasons. The competition must be between the equals. If we see the list of beneficiaries of such schemes we will find all from URBAN areas and elite families (parents working in high positions). These students will definitely pursue the career what they want whether there is a support of schemes like “INSPIRE”. But the story is entirely different with the students of rural and backward areas, the small money of award and encouragement can ensure that they pursue the career which they want and in which they are strong. In absence of financial support and encouragement their dreams will be shattered and they end with doing paltry works.

    If so much talent is available only in the 20% of urban India what would be the potential of 80% untapped rural India.

    Following may be likely solution at least to reduce corruption to certain extent, if not eradicate completely:

    1) Use technology and link and integrate all schools and colleges in the country and monitor the program and progress on line. When postal department, railways and banks can integrate their offices and branches spread across the country, why not schools/educations institutions?

    2) Instead of routing the money/remuneration to the students through DST/State Nodal Officers/D.E.O./School they can directly deposit the same in the bank account of students/their parents. Benefit must reach directly to the beneficiary as is now being done in some Central schemes like NREGA etc.

    3) There must be separate allocation of funds and number of seats for rural and urban students.

    4) The competition should also be among equals. Rural students should not be made to compete with urban.

    5) The details of schemes must be translated in local languages of the states/UTs and sent to nook and corner of the country.

    6) Introduce remuneration for teachers for nominating their students.

    7) Set District wise and Mandal wise targets to District Education Officers/Education Officers.

    8) Involve public and public audit in the conduct of events/exhibitions meant for tapping REAL TALENT.

    9) Universities, corporate colleges and schools must adopt remote villages to promote education in general and science in particular.

  3. While the INSPIRE initiative is certainly laudable, luring young students through a well paid scholarship is not the best of methods to encourage them to pursue science as a career. Rather, the Science education at the middle and high school levels needs to be more meaningful and stimulating so that one opts for a career in Science by choice. To attract more numbers, awareness about the potential of science in terms of research and employable opportunities must be raised.

    The criteria for awarding the INSPIRE scholarship has a very narrow window and needs to revisited. According to the 2010-11 Annual Report of DST only 2400 INSPIRE scholarships were awarded under ‘SHE’ as against the sanctioned number of 10,000 which means the scholarships are under utilized. Possibly a common national test in Science, which can also serve as a score to enable admission in IISERs and Central Universities may be a rational and reasonable way of awarding these scholarships..

    Having a certain number of scholarships in INSPIRE exclusively for women would be an added incentive to encourage girls to pursue science.

    • Reservation is a loaded word- certainly in India. Only our politicians understand the nuances of this wonderful concept. I am not a politician (that is why I am here) but I often wonder why some people who fight for equality also fight for reservation.

      Indian budget for S&T is generally considered respectable but we have not produced a single world class scientist in the last 50 years. We have not produced a single world class engineer or even an entrepreneur in this time. We need to ponder what is wrong…

      Your idea for a common national test for entrance (admission test) in central universities and IISERs is certainly excellent on the face of it but there is too much at stake for the idea to gain traction. We have not been able to implement the “student feedback on the teachers” so far. Need I say more? Why annoy the powerful?

      Half the number of fellowships should be awarded purely on merit and the remaining half should be awarded purely on need. Anyway the students have to find their own jobs (sooner or later) and there is no need to mislead them with a “great career in science”. Good students will anyway leave for the US, right?

  4. Pingback: Rock(et)star « A central Central University

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