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At Harvard, city scholars get to know what ails Indian research

Admin| Jan 11, 2017 - 10:10 PM India

At Harvard, city scholars get to know what ails Indian research

Computational biologist Praveen Anand could not have asked for a better welcome at Harvard University's department of molecular and cellular biology .His office and workstation had been set up even before his arrival in November and he went straight to work. 

“Technical resources are at your fingertips and that makes a scientist extremely productive,“ says Anand, who holds a PhD from the Indian Institute of Science and was a campus fellow at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS). He works in the area of ribonucleic acid editing. Anand is one of the five PhD scholars from Bengaluru to have been selected for the first Boston-Bang alore Biosciences Beginnings (B4) fellowship, instituted by the Harvard South Asia Institute and the citybased  Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology . Three of them have already started work at Harvard and have realised quickly why the likes of IISc and NCBS, highly revered in India, are not in Harvard's league. 

“The first thing is the quality of infrastructure that is provided to scientists. While premier institutes in India do have funding, sometimes a lot of effort goes into setting up technical support before you get to do real science. A dedicated staff here ensures scientists get to concentrate only on their research,“ Anand says. “The other thing here is nurturing scientific talent at the undergraduate level. Most of the successful scientists are excellent teachers, which ensures that inter est in research is kindled. The BS course at IISc might be the step in the right direction.“ 

Gayatri Ramakrishnan, another computational biologist from the IISc, works on understanding key rules of molecular interactions that are tolerant or intolerant to mutations. At Harvard Medical School, Ramakrishnan has been attending weekly meetings, journal clubs, theory meets and seminars. “While such meets were organised in IISc as well, it is here that one often gets to have healthy discussions with pioneers,“ she says. 

At last week's Indian Science Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India would be among the world's top three in scientific output by 2030. Infrastructure is a concern, Ramakrishnan points out. “While IISc houses some of India's most brilliant minds, its current infrastructure is the reason it still lags behind.High expectations from a brilliant student is unjust when there are difficulties in obtaining necessary resources.“ 

The B4 fellowship for science and technology was open to PhD scholars from all over Karnataka. The year-long programme, funded by the Centre and the state, comes with a $36,000 stipend. The other two fellows -Premananda Kalidas from IISc (plant biotechnology) and Ramya Purkanti from NCBS (evolutionary biology) -will leave for Harvard soon. 

Plant biologist Parvathi M Sreekumar is the only B4 fellow from the University of Agricultural Sciences. At Harvard, she is working on how the basic biological processes in living organisms are manoeuvred. “We have to undergo certified training courses for various equipment that we use for experiments. The research atmosphere is more sophisticated and focuses even on minor aspects of the question under study ,“ she says. 


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