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Panelists at the B4 Young Scientists seminar discussing the future of life sciences.

Professor Venkatesh Murthy moderates a panel at the “Preparing Young Indian Scientists for Life Sciences in the 21st Century” seminar.

On January 23, the Building Bharat Boston Biosciences (B4) program — a collaboration between the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute at Harvard University, Harvard Global Research Support Centre India, the Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB), and the Indian Institute of Science and Education Research (IISER), Pune, funded by the Department of Biotechnology within the Government of India — held an in-country seminar entitled “Preparing Young Indian Scientists for Life Sciences in the 21st Century” at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research (NIPGR) in Delhi. Professor Venkatesh Murthy moderated a discussion between five panelists, including:

  • Sanjeev Galande, Indian Institute of Science and Education Research, Pune
  • Rajesh Gokhale, National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi
  • Alka Sharma, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India
  • Parvathi Sreekumar, Kerala Agricultural University, Thrissur; 2016-2017 Mittal Institute B4 Fellow
  • Sandhya Kaushika, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai
  • Moderator: Venkatesh Murthy, Professor and Chair of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University

The panel discussion focused on the important issues that impact life science advancement in India today. Topics ranged from academic versus hands-on research, funding opportunities, statistics, new technologies, publishing issues, and diversity and ethics in the sciences.

Balancing Theory and Practice

The conversation about hands-on research and applied science focused on the balance between theory and practice. The panelists agreed that hands-on scientific research promotes critical thinking in young people through experiments and troubleshooting. As a beneficial result, hands-on research helps young people discover the area they’re passionate about. When it came to basic versus applied research, the panelists discussed how the line between the two types of research is often blurred, since both typically aim to benefit the public in some way.

Another point that the panelists debated was the extent of technology, statistics, and physics in the advancement of life science research. Some panelists believed that strengthening research in biology with quantitative, statistical data is imperative nowadays. They agreed: unless something is statistically relevant, you can’t claim it’s a trend. A few discussed the impending digital revolution anticipated to occur within the next 10 years, which will change the way science research is conducted. As a result, scientists must be ready to use and understand new coding and statistical technologies to keep pace.

Issue Areas in the Life Sciences Field

As the discussion continued, the panel brought up two divergent ways of looking at scientific publishing. While some believed that publicly funded research should be made publicly available via open access journals, others felt that publishing is a business model in which the quality of a research paper is managed through peer-review, thereby adding credibility — which is not the case in an open access system.

The panel ended by discussing the need for regional, gender, class, and caste diversity in the life science field in India. The Government of India has programs and scholarships that encourage women to start or restart their career in science research, but it’s imperative for non-governmental, private, and civil society institutions to also promote diversity in the field.

The Mittal Institute looks forward to continuing to promote science and technology in India in collaboration with in-country institutions.