Monday, March 2, 2009

What Scientists Want

Currently in India, the average age of laboratory scientists is close to 50. Bright university students aren't drawn to scientific careers with little pay and little glory. They either defect to the West or choose more lucrative work at home. But India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is making sure this trend is reversed within the next decade. Last December, the journal Nature reports, Singh launched a five-year, 21 billion-rupee (US $427-million) scholarship programme for a million 10-15 year-olds, whose funding can continue through graduate school if they stay in science. Singh's plan also guarantees research positions for new science PhDs. These changes will be a boon for older scientists as well. So many new science teachers will be needed that the retirement age for science professors will be changed from 60 to 65, and foreign professors will be recruited as needed. India is going scientific. But will the coming new batches of scientists stay in India? They will if the following three life qualities also improve in India:

  • Scientific freedom and plenty of funding

  • Great places to live long term and raise families

  • India's own heroes of science: people the young will want to emulate

For India to go scientific long term, it must also embrace a culture in which it is O.K. to, in the immortal words of Ms. Frizzle:

take chances, make mistakes, and get messy, because the best science swims in such an attitude.

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