Do not work on anything you are not interested in. This is an absolute minimum to succeed, says the Nobel Laureate

What does it take to become a Nobel laureate?

Venkataraman ‘Venky' Ramakrishnan, who won the coveted award for chemistry last year, is of the view that no special attributes are needed to achieve the feat.

“There is no magical formula for winning a Nobel Prize,” Professor Ramakrishnan said at a public lecture here on Monday.

Replying to a question from the audience, he also stressed that there was no need for India to win a Nobel Prize to become a scientific power. “I also don't think that if India wins a Nobel Prize, it would mean suddenly that Indian science is okay.”

Interacting for nearly half an hour with students and researchers, Professor Ramakrishnan said: “Do not work on anything you are not interested in. This is an absolute minimum [to succeed].”

He advocated the ‘Crick test' for the students. “It is a classic test that you can use. It was first proposed by Francis Crick. He said if you do not gossip about your problem, that means you are not really interested in it.”

Professor Ramakrishnan added: “If you are a science student…everyday science is a tedious [affair] and you have to have the patience to see a problem through. This depends on how much you care for the problem.”

He urged young researchers to set a five-year horizon for their work. “This is more applicable to young investigators — where do you want to be in the next five years, not in terms of status but in terms of work.”

Professor Ramakrishnan said researchers should choose the right place to pursue their area of interest. “It does not necessarily mean the most prestigious place, but it has to be one with a very good intellectual environment for your work.”

Elaborating on this, he said: “If you go to a second-rate place and you are first-rate, it is very difficult to do first-rate work because you do not get that critical feedback you need for first-rate work on a daily basis.”

‘Booming field'

Replying to another query, Professor Ramakrishnan said he chose biology as his field of work after graduating in theoretical physics because the new field was booming and there were fresh breakthroughs every now and then.

“Physics is in a difficult situation in the sense that fundamental problems in physics have become extremely difficult, and [it is] really going to require amazingly smart and original thinkers to lead the way out of it.”

The public lecture was organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in collaboration with the Science and Technology Ministry's Department of Biotechnology.

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