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December - 2016 - issue > In My Opinion

Research as a career path

Prof. S. Gopalkrishnan
Chairman-IISc Bangalore
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Prof. S. Gopalkrishnan
To Make in India indigenous technology is needed and it requires a lot of research and development. With the PMs Initiative, our technology requirements may not be fulfilled by foreign countries. Hence, to meet our requirements, research and development in this field is required. However there is a dearth of qualified researchers as not many people take research as a career. Higher education institutions where only people with PhDs are hired are facing difficulty in hiring qualified candidates. Often, due to this, Indians graduating from universities abroad are often recruited.

This is because students today are not entering the research field. There are many factors contributing to this. Research requires a lot of sacrifice and it is not an easy field. Fresh graduates getting a well paid job would not want to go into research as a result. The number of growth paths in the research field is also limited as compared to a corporate world where someone can start from the bottom and rise to be the president of the company, provided he has the necessary skills. That kind of growth is not there in research. Students also have to take up jobs because they are driven by debt, by factors of money and lack of growth.

The emphasis is going to change mainly because there is a mandate to produce more PhDs especially in the light of the requirements for the country and the Prime Ministers 'Make in India' initiative. Research is about challenges and students today require more challenges. So opportunities need to be provided to create a challenging environment to encourage students to enter the field of research. Research requires a lot of good quality infrastructure. For this the number of quality higher education institutes, needs to increase and heavy investment will be required. All institutes depend on the companies and the government to fund research as they cannot survive without it. They cannot depend upon government funding completely as it is insufficient. Thus, funds from private companies are needed to take research to the logical conclusion. So without companies coming to research institutes, research will not grow.

Companies today understand that to maintain their profit levels they need to be innovative. That space is extremely competitive. Companies need to come up with newer products which are far superior to the competition in the market and that will change the lifestyle of the people using the products. Innovation comes out of research and research happens in academic institutions. So companies now invest in R&D in these institutes for which the faculty and students work, creating products for the company that in turn markets the product. These companies also come to institutes with technical problems. The institute, through the investment of the company are able to take on the projects and provide solutions. Without academic institutes and industry working together there can be no growth in research.

Research requires higher degrees than a basic Bachelors degree as higher knowledge is required proceed forward in this field. A Masters degree is a minimum requirement in order to make a research career. With a masters degree one can enter the field of R&D in private companies, defence labs, space labs or government labs. But for a career to be made in academia, a PhD is essential as it trains an individual in carrying out research. In today's scenario, a well worked upon PhD can guarantee one a good job. This is because there are many higher institutes that the government are opening and there is absolutely a lack of a number of PhDs who are available to teach the students on research. If students want to get into research as a full career, they have to get into academics. They will have to handle different problems from government agencies and industry. As more people enter the field of research it becomes the responsibility of institutes to produce quality manpower for years to come. This is absolutely necessary for the country to grow.

Research culture should basically be encouraged at a younger age, because when students begin the undergraduate program they are not sure what they want to do. Research needs to be marketed. Institutes should encourage research as an alternate career path. If a student is to be encouraged to take research, the advantages of research need to be portrayed. Research as a career is very enlightening, profitable and the kind of visibility and social stature that is attained is much higher than the other career paths. But at the same time research is not easy cup of tea. A certain mindset is required to enter research. It requires a lot of perseverance, patience and the ability to put up with some frustration because it is very common during research. All of this is a part of the process. But at the end of it when it is finished, the happiness is so immense that everybody will want to pursue research.

Professor S. Gopalkrishnan

Professor S. Gopalkrishnan has been a professor of Aerospace engineering since past 18 years and he is currently the Chairman of the Department Aerospace Engineering at IISc Bangalore.
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