Greener pastures beyond IT

Biotechnology, nanosciences and material sciences require inter-disciplinary focus, but hold immense career possibilities.

February 06, 2012 04:15 pm | Updated 04:15 pm IST

RESEARCH-INTENSIVE: Experts working at a biotechnology lab in Kochi. Photo: K.K. Mustafah.

RESEARCH-INTENSIVE: Experts working at a biotechnology lab in Kochi. Photo: K.K. Mustafah.

For over a decade now, IT has ruled the job market for engineers, with graduates from all disciplines preferring to join the IT bandwagon. The facts are in its favour. IT employs two lakh every year.

“It is a great job — pay-wise. The work environment is great. It is one of the cleanest industries a young graduate can be in,” says Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, IIT-Madras. “It doesn't matter if most of the guys are only writing simple software. The IT industry doesn't really require anything more than good common sense and some broad training,” he says in appreciation for the sector that has taken the nation to great heights.

In future, there are quite a few disciplines that will need manpower, if not to the level of the IT industry, and an inter-disciplinary focus, and research as a career option to take the nation forward.

In the limelight for a decade now, biotechnology is a research-intensive industry and requires good experimental skills, which is usually obtained by working on long-duration projects and integrating a variety of experimental skills.

“Unfortunately, biotechnology has become a hotchpotch course and many colleges immediately started the course. But often four years is insufficient to teach a vast subject like biotechnology. Postgraduate students who did their B.Tech in biotechnology are much in demand as they are adept at lab-skills,” says Mukesh Doble, head, department of Biotechnology, IIT-Madras.

Often there is very little exposure to the industry and the laboratory work is very limited at the UG level. “Our undergraduate course was dominated by theory classes. And the industries we applied to for jobs expected at least five years of work experience,” says S. Nandhineeswari, a second-year M.Tech student of Food Technology at Anna University.

Of late, other engineering disciplines have a greater interaction with biology and there is also a greater degree of overlap between different bio-engineering disciplines, in terms of the tools and techniques used for research.

“There will be unlimited options in the next 20 years for students with a master's or Ph.D with specialised knowledge in a particular field,” says Prof. C. Thangaraj, vice-chancellor, Anna University of Technology, Chennai. “Urban infrastructure will be critical in the decades to come, especially in water, transport and health sectors, for which we need engineering solutions,” he emphasises. Prof. Thangaraj underlines the need to take the message to the postgraduate-level students that research is a career option and profitable proposition also if they get down to patenting from which royalties could be huge. “Research is knowledge generation,” he notes.

Talking of health, nanoscience seems to hold the future in medical diagnostics and treatment. Still in its infant stages in the country, nanoscience is another subject frequently talked about. It is not an easy discipline. Any graduate of biology, chemistry and physics can study nanoscience at the postgraduate level but he/she needs to know all three disciplines to succeed, as knowledge of chemistry helps in making nanomaterials, physics in the change of properties, and use biotechnology for medical applications.

“Students mostly pursue research or take up teaching positions. The industry is slowly coming up but it has the potential in future,” says S. Sriman Narayanan, Director, National Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, University of Madras.

“Nanoscience will play a crucial role in medical diagnostics by way of new biosensors and in treatment through effective drug delivery mechanisms,” he emphasises.

Another discipline, the academics think has a future is material sciences. “Material science has remained a centre point throughout civilisation — stone age, bronze age, iron age and after which nuclear and (information) silicon age,” says Baldev Raj, former director, Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR), Kalpakkam.

“Wherever there is a challenge, there will be investment. In India, new systems which are affordable, sustainable and with better safety mechanisms have to be in place for challenges in energy, water, food, climate change and many other areas. Moreover, the government and industries have begun investing in R&D of material sciences heavily,” he says.

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