Monday, May 28, 2007

CSIR: headless for five months!

A while ago, Nature did a story on how CSIR -- India's largest science and technology research organization with some 40 odd labs and nearly 19000 scientists -- has not had a Director General since Dr. R.A. Mashelkar retired at the end of December 2006. Unfortunately, that story was behind a paywall, so I didn't bother to link to it. The Daily News and Analysis (DNA) did a story yesterday, covering many of the angles in the Nature story (and interviewing some of the same people).

While you will have to read the story to get the details, I want to point to a couple of things in it. The first is this sentiment:

The other reason is that truly competent scientists now have opportunities outside the government system without having to worry about the administration.

This is patently absurd. First: as one moves up in an organization -- public or private -- there is certainly more and more of administration. The rare scientist who stays clear of administrative responsibilities does so with the full knowledge about the price of his/her choice: foregoing the chance to shape the course of science in the country, and the accompanying lack of influence among his/her peers. Second, top administrative positions are so rare (by definition!), and there are always a number of capable people willing to take them up.

Sure, leadership at CSIR comes with some difficulties (covered in the DNA story), but it also comes with a great opportunity to show off one's capabilities in the administrative realm. It also comes with enormous influence. It's difficult to imagine that there are very few capable people queuing up for this position. That people are even mouthing inanities -- such as DG-CSIR is unattractive compared to private sector jobs -- is quite amazing.

The other thing I want to point to is this statement attributed to S.K. Joshi, Mashelkar's immediate predecessor the Director General of CSIR:

Real talent from within the CSIR system is scarce because, "except one or two, most of the CSIR labs failed to create a second line of scientists who will take care of CSIR once the older scientists retire".

Coming from an ex-DG of CSIR, this is a bit rich, isn't it? During whose tenure as DG did CSIR fail "to create a second line of scientists" for leadership positions? As a smug, self-congratulatory ex-bureaucrat making self-serving statements, S.K. Joshi is, alas, following certain very illustrious people. As Yogi Berra put it, it's déjà vu all over again!


  1. Pratik Ray said...

    Lack of a "second line" of scientist is largely due to the paucity of people wanting to take up research as a career. Why is scientific research not attractative any more?

    Is it the lack of financial remuneration? Is it that the colleges are not able to identify students who really want to study? Is it because of the infrastructure (or lack of?)

    Or is it because the road to a stable job in a research institute is so long that many of the bright students are put off from a career in research?