Friday, October 29, 2010

N.R. Narayana Murthy on how to attract young people to science

After the recent announcement of the Infosys Prizes, N.R.Narayana Murthy (Chairman and Chief Mentor, Infosys) was interviewed by Gopal Raj of The Hindu.


BTW, the Infosys Science Foundation's website has finally been updated with a page filled with a citation, bio-sketch and "scope and impact of work" for each Prize winner. I have also updated this post.

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Here's Mr. Murthy's prescription for making a research career "attractive to young people."

The best students will always go to where they get the best jobs and pay, and that is to be found in industry these days. A research career on the other hand, means protracted training and less remuneration. So how does one make such a career attractive to young people?

I have suggested several times to various institutions that for every paper that is produced in a world-class refereed journal, they could give Rs. four lakh. So that if you produce four papers in a year, then you have got Rs. 16 lakh. Add to that a salary of Rs. six or eight lakh a year, then you have got a decent sum.


  1. cipher said...

    Well. We would like to know your opinion on his opinion.

  2. Pratik Ray said...

    Where do the institutions get the money to give 4 lakhs per paper?

    What happens when industry hikes the salary to put the 4 lakhs/paper money to shame?

    How do you define a world class refereed journal? A mathematician publishing a paper in a math journal of impact factor 2 or a mathematician collaborating with a biologist to publish in a bilogy journal of impact factor 5 (imapct factors in math is much lower than biology)

    Scientific research is not a money-making enterprise. It is high time people realize that. If they dont, I doubt whether they would really have the patience to spend years on researching something that might or might not throw up cool results. The type of folks who cant see beyond the $$ cant bet a scientist - they are more suited to be a manager and deserve to be in the industry.

    IMHO, the other benefits of an academic life are equally, if not more important than the $$$ - freedom to choose research topics, get adequate research funding, access to quality research facilities, all the while earning an amount that lets us life comfortably (and given the campus housing, one doesnt even need to think beyond the 6-8 lakhs of basic salary).

    Long time back, I recall a professor telling me "The difference between the industry and the academic payscale is the amount of money you are willing to pay for your freedom". This is something anyone wanting to come to academics will do well to keep in mind. There is a price to be paid for everything. The cost of academic freedom is the lavish lifestyles that the industry honchos can afford. It is this freedom, the access to good facilities, libraries and other perks that matter so much more, or at least that's how it seems to me.

  3. Abi said...

    @cipher: What Pratik said!

    Here's some more by way of reiterating stuff I have said (many times) in this blog: I would like to keep the focus firmly on setting young faculty up for success -- with ample start-up grants, travel grants, priority for assigning students, and reduced teaching load during the early years. These are all eminently doable within the current system, and without sounding all revolutionary.

    While personal remuneration is (probably) an issue, at current salaries, it's not a deal-breaker; but those things that I mentioned above combine to form a formidable deal-breaker.

  4. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Mr Narayana Murthy seems to be the typical Indian businessman: he thinks throwing money is enough to solve any problem. I am disappointed.

    But the first question really is -- do we need more scientists at our existing research institutions? I think not. What we need is more and better universities. And, of course, scientists to fund those universities -- but we need to make our universities attractive places for a career in science (and humanities and other fields). Perhaps Mr Narayana Murthy has thought about throwing money at that problem?

  5. Rahul Basu said...

    The views of Narayan Murthy are hardly surprising. He has always been fairly trivial, particularly with regard to education, science and research. For them everything boils down to money. Just because you started a successful outsourcing company does not mean you have the wisdom to know how to encourage research.

    BTW by his prescription (and to make it slightly ridiculous) Einstein's paper, say on special relativity, and say any one of my papers, say in Physical Review D would get Rs 4 lakhs each. How nice...didn't know my papers had equal value. And poor Mr Einstein would finally end up with fewer lakhs than many of our local scientists who are paper producing factories.

  6. Ungrateful Alive said...

    Must folks of your stature grace this gas bag with any reaction at all?

  7. Giri@iisc said...

    Dear Abi,

    I do not know why you are against me getting Rs 1 crore per year (25 papers per year). I would make it retrospective to Y2K, so that I can get Rs 10 crores. How come citations are not paid? Maybe Rs 1000 per citation? :-)

    Seriously though, you state, "While personal remuneration is (probably) an issue, at current salaries, it's not a deal-breaker;" I am not so sure. The current starting salaries in chemical engineering in good R&D companies is Rs. 20 lakhs and would be around Rs. 30 lakhs in computer science. There are many good people who refuse to apply to academics because of the salaries in the range of 6-8 lakhs. Academic freedom can not be this expensive.

    Best regards,


  8. Narasimhan said...

    Dear Rahul Basu,

    To be fair to NRM, he says paper published in world class Journal and he is just giving his opinion. He can possibly think of only an economic incentive, because he believes in it and it has reaped benefit for him and his company. It may or may not help, how does any body know? It is not his fault if media and rest think him of a philosopher or somebody with wisdom to encourage research.

    When he started his company, he didn't think whether it would be successful or it will be become an outsourcing company. They were developing software and when opportunity arose, they jumped at.

    With Regards

  9. Ungrateful Alive said...

    At my IIX, dominant student culture suggests that soon, students will hand down Rs 5,000 to faculty members for writing the papers and keep the remainder of four lakhs as "management consultancy fees".

    @Giri: "Academic freedom can not be this expensive." --- if you are intimately aware of the kind of work done in IT companies in India, you might change your mind. I'd say academic freedom is still sold short in India.

    @Narasimhan: "It is not his fault if media and rest think him of a philosopher" --- NM needs dyslexic people on his team. His fault is opening his mouth armed only with his wallet.

  10. Santosh Sali said...

    Interesting discussion,

    Idea of monetary benefits is worth exploring , That can be added advantage & will surely be a good incentive.

    A Indian b-school & some non-Indian b-schools also gives similar monetary incentive to the faculties.It is not successful in "producing the papers" in the area of management science.

    Key here is A-grade journals, publishing in a top-notch journals is not easy , you really need to make a fundamental contribution.

    Plus many faculties think , they earn better in consulting & training , than sweating on publications...

  11. Giri@iisc said...

    Webminer: While I am not intimately aware of the work done by IT companies, I find it hard to believe that they need to pay 30-40 lakhs per year for a Ph.D in computer science to do low quality work. In case of chemical engineering R&D multinational companies to which I consult, the quality of research is reasonably good and they pay at least 3-4 times that of academia. A lot of good people that I know do not choose academia just because of the salary.

    The way to fix this is not by paying for publications etc. but doing things within the current system like higher startup grants, grants for travel, the institute will not charge 40% overheads on the first few lakhs of consultancy, contingency grants for doing certain jobs like GATE etc and many more. Some of these are already in some systems. The first two are in NCBS, the third in IIM-B, the fourth in IIT-B. There are many more of these that can be done if one agrees that more talent has to be attracted towards science and academia. Of course, if one feels that academic freedom is still sold short in India, then nothing needs to be done.

    Best regards


  12. Ungrateful Alive said...

    @Giri -- I used a hidden pun; I meant, academic freedom is not advertised enough. The reason IT companies pay 30--40 lakhs is not because the work is good. It's because the labor supply situation is so very desperate. Some multinationals are having a very tough time delivering on contracts, although to the outside world they might maintain that it was a good idea expanding ops to India. IT MNCs with worldwide reach are already looking at Brazil and China with renewed interest. Two search companies are finding serious disparities between their China and India arms, and asking serious questions about what's going on. The other reason MNC are obligated to pay like there's no tomorrow is precisely that: there is no tomorrow given how USA is inflating and devaluing its currency.

  13. Zee Bee said...

    Since when 6-8 lakhs per year become indecent ?
    when a fresh PG works in a scientist lab as a project asst. he gets 6000 pm.I got the same and when i looked around salesmen, other ppl with similar background were getting paid around same as starting salary.I don't know what is the current remuneration however in industry only the topmost ,seniormost or ppl who are valuable and bring business get paid obscene salaries and of course the top honchos,consultants and ceos. I'm sure the same is in academia - the Phd scholar ,post doc and scientists are usually paid well in premier institutes and plus have comfortable offices and working hours. No more slogging in the lab at the bench. So, what's the complaint about ? The one who slogs at the computer/lab at the lower or middle rung are paid very little compared to their work hours and for basic incentives and perks they have to compete with their colleagues. Not to forget, there is no free housing,no mobile bills paid , no free vacations.