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Updated: August 2, 2010 14:55 IST

A research institute with a focus

Sruthisagar Yamunan
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WORLD CLASS: The French Institute of Pondicherry provides a perfect atmosphere for students pursuing research in various fields of studies. Photo: T. Singaravelou
WORLD CLASS: The French Institute of Pondicherry provides a perfect atmosphere for students pursuing research in various fields of studies. Photo: T. Singaravelou

For over 50 years, this institute in Puducherry has been serving the interests of research scholars.

The French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP) has been functioning as a premier institute of research since its inception in 1956. Collaborating with universities and educational institutions across the world, the IFP has earned a reputation of providing world class research facilities for students pursuing their doctorate and post-doctorate degrees.

A financially autonomous institution, the IFP was established under the terms of the Treaty of Cession of French Territories in India and is jointly supervised by the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the French National Centre for Scientific Research. It is one of the biggest of the 27 research centres under the Ministry that are functioning abroad.

Generally, a candidate is expected to have completed a master's degree in their specific field of study to be eligible for admissions to these research programmes. At present, students and interns are admitted for research in three areas of studies.

Ecology

The department of ecology was created at the institute in the 1960s with an aim to study the conditions and evolution of the environment in south India, particularly the Western Ghats. There are three main axes of research: Palaeoenvironment studies, where pollen deposits in the soil and sediments are analysed to try reconstruct the past and to predict a future trend in climatic conditions; Biodiversity Information and Forest Ecology where the functions and dynamics of forests are studied and sophisticated activities such as vegetation mapping are carried out by taking advantage of modern technology, and Usage of Biodiversity and Ecosystems Modified by Human Activity, where the impact of human interaction with the ecosystems is studied. The department publishes research papers in international journals such as Biotropica and Landscape Ecology. Apart from providing in-house facilities including advanced statistical analysis and remote sensing software, the institute has a 28-hectare permanent plot on the Western Ghats in Kodagu, Karnataka, which helps them conduct intense experiments on evergreen forests and growth pattern of such trees.

Dr. B.R. Ramesh, research director at the IFP, says that job opportunities in the field of ecology have proliferated in the recent years. Though most researchers end up with jobs that are academic in nature, they also have the option of becoming consultants for conducting environment impact studies or research officers in the Forest Department.

Indology

The Department of Indology at the IFP has over 8,600 palm leaf manuscripts in various languages apart from 300 paper manuscripts and 1,144 transcription manuscripts housed in its prestigious library. Their collection received the “Memory of the World” certification from UNESCO in 2005. Digitisation of the manuscripts has also been done and most of them are available on the IFP website.

Most of these manuscripts are related to Saiva Siddhanta, which is the main area of research in the department. Other projects such as Tamil Studies and analyses of Sanskrit literature and language are also taken up. A candidate is expected to hold a Master of Arts degree in Sanskrit and is also expected to be proficient in some of the ancient scripts that the manuscripts contain.

Deviprasad Mishra, a researcher at the Indology department, says that there is a huge demand for people who have expertise in understanding such ancient scripts, as cataloguing these manuscripts is vital for their preservation. Such students are also in demand at the Archaeological Survey of India and other such bodies across the world.

Social Sciences

Measuring Urbanisation, Micro-Finance, Indebtedness and Migration, and Medical Tourism are the main fields of research in the Department of Social Sciences. Analysis of the growth of population from 1951 onwards, study of Self-Help Groups, their empowerment and indebtedness and causes of urban migration are some of the topics being researched at the moment.

Every year, 20 to 25 students are admitted to the various programmes by the IFP though there is no cap on the numbers. The institute also has a pool of visiting faculty from prestigious institutions across the world guiding the students in their undertaking. The selection of candidates is purely based on merit.

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