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Stay ahead of the curve

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At the beginning of 2020, no one would have expected to spend much of the year being at a standstill. Currently with the talk focusing on vaccines, there is hope that science and research will help us remain resilient and find solutions.

Deepening interest

Something that S. Gopalakrishnan, Executive Vice Chairman and Trustee, Infosys Science Foundation, refers to when he talks about the “tremendous and deepening interest in science because the solution to the pandemic is naturally going to come from science and research.” Gopalakrishnan points out that research has never been more crucial. “There is a global effort to create a vaccine; research on how to inoculate seven billion people; effective mechanisms... there are plenty of research opportunities available.”

Some of the trends that he highlights are acceleration of research, global collaboration, and increased cooperation across industry, academia, governments, start-ups and others who are all working together. “I firmly believe,” he adds, “that dependencies from a research perspective, knowledge perspective, IPR perspective also count. It has to start with research, innovation, entrepreneurship, and creating the capacity needed for a country of our size.”

India, he believes, has great potential to contribute, given the talent base in the country. “One of the fastest growing segments of services to be delivered out of India is research-related. If you look around, R&D facilities of MNCs are all over the place. Indian brainpower contributes to most products being created, technological or otherwise, with Indians being situated in labs abroad or within the country.” He mentions the LIGO India project to show that India is beginning to contribute to original research projects as well.

The attitude to research, which not many considered pursuing, is also changing, he says.

He points out that earlier people did not have the liberty to go into research, as it wasn’t seen a steady stream like engineering or medicine. But now with average incomes increasing, people are looking more at social sciences, liberal arts, literature, and other specialisations including research. “The amount of money the government is allocating to research is also significantly increasing. Industries are also investing more in research and this will only accelerate, as we transition to a knowledge-based economy, in which new knowledge and innovation will drive economic growths.”

Make it cool

Asked how research culture can be improved in India, Gopalakrishnan responds, “The first thing we need to do is to make research cool. This is one of the reasons why Infosys established the Infosys Science Foundation (ISF), which acts as a platform to identify and honour eminent scientists and research scholars across different categories.”

ISF looks at furthering an understanding and liking for science and research from the grassroots, with the Infosys Prize to inspire young people. “Every society needs to ensure that the work of scientists and researchers is recognised, encouraged, and rewarded to continue to feed innovation and progress. This is where the Infosys Prize becomes relevant.”

Another reason is to create icons and role models and to show that research can be rewarding. “The idea was to also showcase the laureates as new-age heroes whose work will enable people to build a better world. Younger scholars will hopefully feel inspired and educators, parents and students may realise that a solid career in the sciences is an exciting option.”

Scaling up research, however, requires resources and Gopalakrishnan points to the need for more research universities and to increase funding for research. “Today, India spends about 0.7% of GDP on research, of which 6% is from the government and 0.1% from private sources,” he says, calling for this to be increased “by a considerable amount to be able to fund research work.”

Yet another aspect involves ambitious goal-setting. Research is more than just publishing a paper and getting a Ph.D. “Research is to say, for example, let’s find a cure for cancer or a better and more affordable medicine for diabetes, or studies on neurological disorders ...” He believes that we will now be able to achieve these aspirational goals.

India has an advantage in being able to carry out research at a lower cost than elsewhere because of its low per capita income. “That’s why all multinationals come to India,” says Gopalakrishnan. “One is talent and second is cost.”

With our academic institutions slowly upping their game, Gopalakrishnan reiterates that “in time, more of our youth will join the research community in India.”

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 1:35:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/s-gopalakrishnan-of-infosys-science-foundationwhy-indias-role-in-science-and-research-is-crucial-now/article33200321.ece

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