For top place in basic and applied sciences

Published : Dec 03, 2004 00:00 IST

Interview with Dr. Maqsood Siddiqi, Director, Bose Institute.

Dr. Maqsood Siddiqi is the Director of the Bose Institute and an eminent cancer research scientist. Prior to his present assignment he was the Director of the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute in Kolkata. He was also Professor and Chairman of the Biochemistry Department at Kashmir University from 1984 to 1994. He spoke to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay about the activities of the Institute and the problem of science not being able to attract bright students any more. Excerpts:

The Bose Institute is entering its 88th year. Where does it stand on the national science scene?

I would like to say that our scientists are very well recognised in the country and many of us are involved in various national network scientific programmes in different disciplines. Several of our scientists are also members of important committees at the national level. Two of the major areas where we have considerable presence are Plant Sciences and Medical Research. I may add here that the Institute was recently chosen to be one of the five centres of excellence in bioinformatics in the country by the Department of Biotechnology.

What are the Bose Institute's areas of strength?

It must be kept in mind that we are an old institution and as you know the focus in science keeps on changing. For example, when the institute was started, the Departments of Physics and Botany were established, subjects in which J.C. Bose did a lot of pioneering work. The third department established by him was for Chemistry. During the long history of the institute various new departments have been established, such as Animal Physiology, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Biophysics, Plant Molecular and Cellular Genetics, Environmental Sciences and Immuno-technology. As regards the areas of strength, I think our scientists are well recognised in most of the areas we pursue. I may tell you here that based on the contributions of our scientists, the Scientific Advisory Committee of the institute recently recommended the establishment of Advanced Centres for Research in Plant Molecular Biology, Structural Biology, Astroparticle Physics and Space Science and Mycobacterium research.

Which are the areas that need improvement?

Well, as I said science is ever evolving, and almost every day new discoveries are made and ideas formulated. That requires updating of ideas and infrastructure in a scientific research institute. Although it is difficult for any institution to keep pace with the development of global science, it is essential that prioritisation of areas to be developed must take place from time to time. This institute, being an old institution, has faced this problem too, but we are already addressing the question of priorities in science by bringing about organisational changes in the focussed scientific disciplines. The reorganisation of scientific departments as well as the establishment of Advanced Centres of Research in several disciplines, I am sure will bring about the much-needed changes.

Are you satisfied with the kind of cooperation you are receiving from the government?

Certainly. We are funded fully by the Government of India (Department of Science & Technology) and thus are an integral part of the government's scientific programmes for national development. Being one of the pioneering institutions in the country, we do receive priority from the government for developing new infrastructure and research facilities. In addition, our scientists receive considerable support from various scientific research funding organisations of the government, such as the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Biotechnolgy, the Department of Atomic Energy, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

Though West Bengal has some of the best science institutes, most students do not pursue careers in basic sciences; instead they prefer engineering and business management. Your comments on the situation and its possible fallout.

Yes. This is indeed a problem that needs serious attention. It is true that the best students are not attracted to science, as was the case 25 years ago. One reason could be that employment opportunities in science are not so many as compared to other disciplines. The Bose Institute is very much aware of this problem and we try to contribute to programmes that are likely to promote science at school and undergraduate levels. Our scientists regularly take part in popularising science by delivering lectures as well as by visiting schools and helping their teachers in formulating scientific experiments.We recently began an important programme of sponsoring scholarships for school and college science students in order to provide financial support to good students for higher education in science. These scholarships are extended to deserving students through a competitive examination conducted by the Jagadish Bose National Science Talent Search.

Considering the kind of scientific development that is taking place the world over, where is India heading? Are the scientists of this institute equipped in terms of infrastructure to hold their own on the international stage?

I would say by any standards we have very good infrastructure, which we upgrade progressively with the support of national and international scientific organisations as well as the government. Recently, the DST approved two large schemes for infrastructure development for research to the institute. These are to establish the Centre of Advanced Research on Astroparticle Physics and Space Sciences at the Darjeeling campus of the institute and to have a National Facility on Genomics and Proteomics at Kolkata. I am, therefore, confident that with the kind of infrastructure we have and the quality of scientists at the institute, we shall continue to carry out science that is globally competitive.

How linked are your scientists with international institutes?

Well, science has no boundaries. Many of our scientists are very well recognised in international science and are part of international collaborative research programmes. We also encourage interaction between our scientists with scientists abroad by way of organising interactive meetings and conferences and through exchange programmes. Currently, we have scientific collaborations with research institutions in Germany and Switzerland in Plant Sciences, with the United States in Physical Sciences and with France in the field of Medical Research. I may also mention here that several scientists from this institute are invited to some of the most exclusive and specialised international scientific meetings in Biological and Physical Sciences.

Where do you see the institute 20 years down the road?

In science there has to be a balance between academic research and its application. Although we began as purely a basic research institution, I do see a change in trend as far as transfer of basic knowledge to technology is concerned. Twenty years hence, the institute will not only be the leader in basic sciences, but also be recognised in applied sciences such as Biotechnology, Bioinformatics and so on.

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