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Ready to help India on focussed research: Venkatraman

Source: PTI
Last updated on: December 20, 2009 15:03 IST
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Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and Indian-American scientist Venkataraman Ramakrishnan says he is willing to help India if the government asks for the same on some focussed research on his subject but will not be "wasting" his time for a "ceremonial" project.

"The scientists in India are good and, therefore, if the Indian government asks me to help them, it has to give me a convincing reason for that. I am ready to help if it is focussed on research on the subject I am working on," he said in an exclusive interview. However, the Indian government has so far not approached him, said Ramakrishnan who is on his first visit to India after winning the Nobel prize. "I have not been asked but I can tell you if it is something focussed in my field where it is worthwhile, then I will consider. But if it is something ceremonial where they want just a guy who has been awarded a Nobel prize, then I won't do it. I have a lot of work to do and won't be wasting my time on some ceremonial kind of things." Asked if the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) is very serious, he said "yes. But why do they need me as there are several Indians here and they have to convince me why theyneed me. "All these scientists working in Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Indian Institute of Science, Centre of Molecular Biology, National Centre for Basic Science, how come none of them can do and if DBT or the government can answer me this seriously, then I will consider," he said. 

Asked if the government comes out with some programme for collaboration with him, Ramakrishnan said "I do not do anything on which Indian scientists need any help from me. I do not think really they need help from me. So that is why I said -- when somebody asks me to do something, I have to ask what do I do when so many of the scientists are here they would have to give me a good reason for that." On meritocracy, he said it is "a condition where you do not care for the background of the person whether they went to a famous school or not and ask only is this person good for the job, does this person show particular aptitude for the job and you select them purely on merit". "The other extreme is nepotism -- give it to your friend, colleague, that is all based on background. In India this practice is prevalent," he said.

"I feel that poor people should be helped to come up in life and beyond certain stage in India, you cannot afford to take people who are definitely not qualified." Ramakrishnan is on a private visit meeting relatives and will be leaving for Chennai on Monday. He said, "I have been a visiting faculty. I am already a visiting professor in the IISC for the last three or four years. "I do not think that will change," he said replying to a query whether he is coming to India to take up some position. "I won't change that because as a joint head of my division in my institute, I have a group of people and a lab and a lot of work to do. So I am not free just because I got the Nobel. I have a lot of research to do," he said.

Asked whether he would like to teach Indian students through EDUSAT facility, Ramakrishnan said, "You must realise that I have never taught in my life except for two years in Utah. Otherwise, I have been doing research in labs wherethere is no teaching." "But, I have been able to lecture about my research. I am actually not a professor," he said. Indian students, he said "do not look or have to look for me for a lecture". There are several lectures available from the best teachers around the globe on the internet and even on 'Youtube', he said. "There are so many high-class lectures available through Internet and Youtube technology. May be some of them are with licenses and may be they have to pay some money for that and many others are completely free and many famous people are on 'Youtube' and the students can take great advantage of these,"he said. He, however, suggested students that they should not give up reading books in a rush for technology. "If the Indian student is curious, he or she can learn a lot. But they should not forget books. Although they can go to internet and get lot of information, but it is passive. "Reading books makes one think and is more active. I do not think the art of reading books should be forgotten in the rush for technology. They should be used side by side," was the Nobel laureate's advice for students.

Regarding science education in India and around the globe, the India-born scientist said, "You know I was saying yesterday to the media that how the Indian parents push their children to safe lucrative profession like engineering, medicine, MBA. They (parents) never want them to do basic science and in fact consider it as a failure in life. "Then forget about the child who wants to do art or history, the parents think that a bad fate has fallen on the family. Of course, not all families are like that but majority of them," he said. "I think it is a general problem even in the US where there is no pressure from parents. Not that many people go for basic science. Ultimately, people want to make money as it is a big thing in life," he said.

Ramakrishnan said, "There is not much money in science, there is decent money if you are good but risky if one is notgood." "Often very bright students give up their attraction to money and they become interested in basic science. So, it is a worldwide problem how to get young people interested inscience," he said. The Nobel Laureate is of the opinion that funding for basic science should never go down. "I do not think the funding for basic science should ever go down because basic science underpins all the otherknowledge. "So, without that underlying knowledge other thingswill suffer," he said.

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