We welcome our latest strater, Chandini Jain who is an undergraduate student at Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Kanpur. She has been the Dance Club President at IIT Kanpur and is currently interning at University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign.
I recently came across an interesting piece of news. The U.S House of Representatives passed a resolution in 2005 honoring the contributions of Indian Americans, especially the IIT graduates to American society. The resolution states, “Whereas IIT graduates are highly committed and dedicated to research, innovation, and promotion of trade and international cooperation between India and the United States”. It seems ironical, that while the innovations and technological changes attributable to Indians are widely recognized and honored, there is a dearth of internationally recognized research output from within India itself. The state of research in India is evident from a McKinsey study that observes that a typical IIT was granted 3-6 patents in 1996-97 against 64 for Stanford Engineering and 102 for MIT Engineering. Also, the number of citations per faculty in 1993-98 was 2-3 for a typical IIT, while it was 52 in the case of Stanford Engineering and 45 for MIT Engineering.
Any sorts of research, apart from a researcher studying and investigating the topic of interest, and demands resources, both in the form of the lab, tools, facilities and funds required to carry out the work, and a demand or value for the output from that research. The industry with the demand for the output generally provides the financial backing for the work.
A comparison between the academic research scenarios in India and the US reveals several stark differences between the two. The most obvious are the Brain Drain and the lack of funding opportunities. We find the most brilliant of Indian minds opting to drive the technological advances in a foreign lab, than working here in India. But again, a foreign lab allows them the luxury of carrying out capital intensive research. Working in a lab back in India, they will first have to struggle against the shortage of resources, and unavailability of state of the art facilities, before they can hope to compete with their foreign counterparts. As an undergraduate intern in research group in a university in the U.S, I was allowed to order tools worth 400$ every week. However, working on a bigger project in a central lab in India, I was unable to obtain a simple instrument, essential to the accuracy of my project, worth just 5k during the entire intern. It had an adverse effect both on the speed of the work, and the quality of results.
Another difference is in the attitude towards research. While research in the U.S is centered on originality and innovation, in India it tends to move on the lines of work already done in reputed labs abroad. A factor for this would be the university-industry collaboration, which is one of the primary sources of funding and hence tends to shape the research trends. Industries in the U.S are constantly looking for new breakthroughs and developments, and also liberally support research promising new cutting edge technologies. The Indian Government and industries on the other hand are looking to attain self reliance first, and hence tend to support research that could reduce import of technology from abroad. The focus in most of the research labs is hence on attempting production of technology already available abroad in the country itself. I can quote the recent Chandrayaan Project by the Indian Government as an example, which I was a part of. It requires development of lunar rovers and spacecrafts suitable for lunar landing. Such projects have already been undertaken by NASA 40 years ago, and our group was instructed to use their work as a guide, and model most of my work after it.
Indians may power the Silicon Valley, or drive the indices at NASDAQ, but we are currently not in a position to attain notable success in quality research from within the country itself. Research accelerates development, but we are yet to reach the level of development that can promote original research. Research output from India till then can be expected to trail behind that in other countries.