New Delhi: The idea of doctoral training is based on a vision to prepare the next generation scientists and academicians for the ultimate benefit of mankind. While the thought is extremely noble and just, it lacks a pragmatic approach within the current funding scenario in the academic world. It is a pain to see the budding researchers go through a period of unending struggles to find the respect and financial security within societal norms. Given the stigma, few times it is very difficult to strike a balance between career and personal life.
But that is not stopping the students to opt for the research which is apparent from the increase in Ph.D. awards each year, especially in developing countries. At the same time, the ratio of PhDs being awarded and the dwindling number of university faculty positions over the years appear to be no surprise. Compared to India, the US or European universities, the funding agencies have started spending a considerable amount of money to educate PhDs about alternate careers so that they don’t get stuck as an under-employed labor force in institutes or remain unemployed.
So whom should our Indian researchers turn to, to discuss their genuine issues? While it is not necessary that all their problems should get resolved in one go, but a platform of like-minded people can make them feel better. And there already is one such place now.
Facebook turns career mentor
With more than 3100 members and growing, the PhD Career Support Group (CSG) despite dwindling academic job market, is trying to utilize the years of hard work and channelize it in a positive manner. Irrespective of global position of the members, CSG is a place where members can make excellent professional connections, which can be extremely helpful as they progress through your Ph.D. or post-PhD career.
“When I realized that PhDs from developing countries have no clear idea about post Ph.D careers, I decided to create an awareness platform bringing in my friends from Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore network in a social media platform. That was the genesis of the CSG,” says the founder, Dr Ananda Ghosh, adding further, “The primary aim of this group is to build network among scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs. In a highly competitive world, the network becomes extremely important to determine one’s career growth. Not only careers but an emotional support system is also extremely crucial in a world where the dynamics of life changes very fast.”
However, make no mistake as this forum is not just another chit chat room. Founders are very clear about the objectives. “This is not a forum to just be a part of as a silent spectator. This is not an entertainment platform. The active members engage in discussions, share their resources, helping us make a vibrant community of professional PhDs which will eventually give back to the society,” says Dr Ghosh.
PhD CSG depends on its members’ shares, however, small they might be it can be a “like” or a job advertisement or suggestions to improve the forum or articles of career development. Many times the mentors are either in the midst of their projects, handling difficult bosses, troubleshooting projects, worrying about publications, visa status, next job etc. Founders clarify that CSG is not a solution for these things but for each other’s support system. They can hear out the younger enthusiastic members and based on their experience, try to help them in best possible way. Since, this is a social network platform, the only way to know the problem is through shares and engagements. So the members are encouraged to engage proactively and get the best out of this social experiment.
“Sharing of latest science and technology developments is very important to keep the general public informed. Congratulations ClubSciWri for completing one year of spreading science awareness.”
Dr Rajiv Sharma, Head, Technology Missions Division, Department of Science and Technology
Apart from online networking, members participate in networking meetups. CSG has an active blog, ClubSciWri, where the members are more than welcome to share their articles and grow their audience. “If Ph.D.s have ideas on how to improve network among members, please be proactive and share with us. If you want to initiate new programs, let us know we will help you set up new programs within your campus or city. If you want to assist us with setting up our website, please feel free to drop in a line”, says the team. The team says that they are always in need for enthusiastic volunteers. The group’s motto is to connect, share and grow- similar to its initials, i.e. CSG.
As per the Director, Outreach, ClubSciWri , Dr Viswanadham Duppatla, presently at Jacqui Wood Cancer Center, University of Dundee, “We want CSG to be a one stop place to connect with the PhDs all over the world. We are building a sustainable ecosystem wherein current PhDs can make use of the career related information from around the world and help them take an informed decision and eventually succeed. In return, they can be the next generation professionals who are helping the incoming PhDs.” Viswanadham has completed all his studies in the Government institutes. He feels lucky to travel from a remote village in Andhra to IISc and beyond. His dream is to make government schools excel corporate schools. His village and school gets part of his time and salary. He strongly feels that students like him from remote places do deserve a chance to be in Science. Hopefully ClubSciWri will make his dream come true.
“Recently, I was invited to 3 round of onsite interviews by Novavax, Inc. I received and accepted their job offer. Unlike my earlier interviews, I nailed this interview. What did I do differently? I sought help from the key CSG members who acted as my mentors during this job interview process. They helped me in each and every step to assure that I do the right thing now for me to move ahead for the next round.”
Dr Satarupa Das, Assistant Research Scientist, University of Maryland
The plans are to convert CSG into a non-profit startup which will depend on grants and private funding to bring the best platform of knowledge and awareness needed to the pool of motivated and talented intellectuals. To have workshops, seminars, outreach events to create awareness among the industry hiring authorities about how industries can be in an advantageous position by hiring the brightest of PhDs who have over many years of such training have developed almost all skills which industry cares about.
Pursuing Ph.D. unlike other professional courses is not a linear process. Because of the sheer number of factors which controls the process of getting the thesis into a proper shape the entire process can be daunting. CSG will provide the support system like the google map to help students who are stuck in their academic careers for various reasons, through crowdsourced knowledge from PhDs across the world.
“Overall we want to make a top class university outside the physical campus setting, once people leave the “real” school so that they can still enjoy the intellectual cultural values, what a good institute brings,” says Dr Ghosh.
Welcome to the researcher’s club!
The Club of Science Writers, popularly known as ClubSciWri, officially came into existence on January 05, 2016 with its website www.sciwri.club. The founder, Dr Abhinav Dey, is a postdoctoral scientist at Emory University (Atlanta, USA) and he has been actively supported by the co-founder, Dr Ananda Ghosh.
“The discussions on CSG forum served as the breeding ground for the conception of the ClubSciWri idea. Exchange of career development ideas on the CSG forum have had different flavors. However, there was always a common driving force that has compelled every discussion from day one. The driving force was and continues to be the changing landscape of Scientific Research Training in the US and other parts of the world” says Dr Dey. He added, saying that “With the National Institutes of Health (NIH) realizing that academic career route in only possible for less than 5 percent of the postdoctoral trainees, the unsustainable future for the remaining 95 percent required the trainees to think and train for options beyond the academic ivory tower. Most of the postdoctoral appointees from India have been trained for an academic career and disappearance of academic options with funding drying-up leaves them unprepared to gear-up for the road ahead.”
Scientists love to see their work being talked about at various forums as it adds impact to their research, especially after the arrival of altmetrics. So ClubSciWri was established to provide a platform to the scientists on the CSG forum in disseminating their research in a simplified form, i.e., “Scientists Simplifying Science.” With time the repertoire of articles on ClubSciWri diversified, and soon it started talking about the lives and careers of scientists from across the world.
“Scientists are learning to value communication with each other and with the lay public through the path-breaking efforts of organizations like ClubSciWri and CSG. Kudos to them on their first anniversary”
Prof K Vijayraghavan, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology
On February 21, 2016, the ClubSciWri organized an open interview with Prof K VijayRaghavan, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), in the Twitter townhall, #AskVijayDBT. There was an overwhelming response with 30 active participants in 7 countries joining the discussions. The sheer turnout at the event and the variety of questions asked, as per the organizers, were not only heartening but also demonstrated the very evidence of fire in the belly of a young and dynamic Indian research sector.
As a first step towards connecting Indian researchers from across the world to the DBT, it was a major move because this Town Hall made virtual bridges for ClubSciWri with other science policy makers on Twitter. Dr Viswanadham Duppatla (UK), Dr Kartika Shetty (UK) and Dr Ankur Sharma (Singapore) have continued to strengthen these twitter bonds with their tweets. “We actively use the twitter handle @ClubSciWri as a medium to communicate with Policy makers, Science Journalists and students. It is very good to see @DBTindia @IndiaDST being very active and promptly responding to any query about new policies and schemes. It is commendable development that social media space being used to solve the simple problems which otherwise would have wasted so much time and resources,” says Dr Duppatla.
“India faces multiple challenges on sustainability, and one way to solve would be to bring in the best ideas on the table,”says Dr Ghosh. Both CSG and ClubSciWri bring together individuals who share common interests like music, nature, photography, etc. and therefore creating such small subgroups interested in varied things is one of our goals to keep the forum culturally engaged. These have a network of PhDs who are spread over the world, and many of them are involved in projects involving sustainability issues. The founders hope to use the networking platform and harness those intellectual assets to solve problems faced by India.
Behind the initiative
The founders of CSG plan to make it a networking platform with implications beyond academia. A networking platform which will get you connected with some of the best PhDs around the world. It will also help to harness their knowledge and mentor the members about various issues of career growth.
Dr Ananda Ghosh- Founder: Ananda completed his PhD from Indian Institute of Science and moved to USA to pursue postdoctoral studies at Yale and Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University. He has since then transitioned in University Technology Transfer, and is passionate about seeing good applicable science develop into products which will be useful for the society at large.
Dr Abhinav Dey- Co-Founder: Having ventured into all three domains of life forms- viz. particulate, prokaryotic and eukaryotic- in his research career, Abhinav aspires to be a science practitioner in an unconventional way. To be a part of this next generation of scientists, he foresees that his role will envisage encouraging mentees to create fruits of scientific labor that go above and beyond the confines of research papers.
Dr Viswanadham Duppattala- Director Outreach and Marketing CSG: Viswanadham has completed all his studies in the government institutes. He feels lucky to travel from a remote village in Andhra to IISc and beyond. His dream is to make government schools excel corporate schools. He strongly feels that students like him from remote places do deserve a chance to be in science.