The Nobel Prize Series India 2017, in the last leg of its program, witnessed Nobel Laureates Prof. David Gross and Prof. Randy Schekman actively engage in a Q&A session at ITC Gardenia this morning. After attending the grand inauguration of the Nobel Exhibition by the Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at Science City, Ahmedabad on 9th January, the visiting laureates engaged in the Nobel Dialogue, held as a part of Vibrant Gujarat Summit at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar.
Eager to spend their time with the youth of the country, the visiting laureates were busy with various Q and A sessions, discussions and dialogues organized at various institutions in Delhi and Bangalore. While Prof. Serge Haroche, Prof. William E. Moerner and Prof. Harold Varmus flew to Delhi, Prof. Randy Schekman & Prof. David Gross arrived in Bangalore for a series of lectures and discussions at the Indian Institute of Science, National Centre for Biological Sciences and International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, among others.
Bangalore had the opportunity to host a Q and A session titled, “Strengthening the ties between Science, Industry and Government - a Recipe for Innovation” with the visiting laureates that was moderated by Ms. Laura Sprechmann, Deputy CEO of Nobel Media AB. The interactive session raised some key points about the importance and necessity of a greater interaction between the academia, industry and government.
The discussion started with an emphasis on the need to strengthen the ties between the three entities and the laureates explained why the attitude of policymakers and bureaucrats towards science needed to change. They opined that not only should the administrators and policymakers be better exposed to science, but also understand the nature of the scientific process. "Science is a long term investment and can't be done with short term planning", remarked Prof. Gross. He also pointed out the increasing difference in the quality of teaching and research in top-notch institutes like the IITs, as compared to other public funded universities in India and furthered reiterated on the need to narrow this down.
The laureates made a keen observation on the alarming trend where most faculty in majority of smaller educational institutions in India lacked higher educational qualifications like PhDs."Improving students' research aptitude requires good teachers, and getting good teachers once again requires competent training -- essentially making it a chicken and egg problem", remarked Prof. Gross on the need for having more qualified faculty. Prof. Schekman added that for achieving good quality research, students must be able to realize their research aptitude and inclinations, and for that to happen it was imperative that students at the Undergraduate level got adequately exposed to a cutting-edge research experience.
The discussion further touched on other institutional hurdles to doing good science. Talking about brain drain, Prof. Gross suggested that like most countries, India too should allow dual citizenship, in order to avoid losing out its most competent scientists. Bursting the myth that all scientific research needs to be backed by application, Prof. Schekman criticized the unnecessary obsession of finding practical applications for all sciences. "Doing basic sciences in universities and applied sciences in the private sector was a perfectly symbiotic relationship", he added.
Talking about the importance of science communication in today’s world and the need for ‘soft skills’ among the scientific community, Prof. Schekman pointed out that people who could effectively communicate science, were increasingly becoming crucial. When asked about the strict pre-requisites of scientific publications and their impact on doing science, Prof. Schekman remarked that publication metrics like impact factors were antithetical to scholarship, and must not be used as the sole criteria for universities and grant agencies to select young scientists.”
Prof. Gross later in the day presented a public lecture titled “Frontiers of Fundamental Physics” at the Indian Institute of Science. He remarked that India had immense potential to become the next leading economy in science. “Make in India can be best achieved by employing Invent In India and Discover In India”, he said. He further suggested that India can do many things to improve its research and development field; doubling the investment on research and development over the next 10 years, making science funding more flexible and stable, as well as including more peer reviewed steps in this process.
Both the Nobel Laureates agreed that India must act to capitalize on the potential borne by its youth and continue to make a mark in the areas of science and technology.