Dr Manjul Bhargava, the first mathematician of Indian origin to win the Fields Medal, has noted that most Indian talent shies away from research. He says mathematics and science in India, at least in recent times, are being viewed as “tools for engineering or medicine” and “not viewed as subjects and careers” in themselves.
“This is a problem. Basic science and mathematics are very important for the long-term success of the nation,” Bhargava told The Indian Express in an interview, part email and part over the phone.
“It’s definitely not too late to rectify,” he said. “It will require a change in attitude in society. Parents and teachers must encourage young people who are talented in and excited about mathematics and science to pursue their passions; that is where they will do their best work, and that will be best for the nation as a whole in the long run.”
He said that while India makes a very big contribution to mathematics and science every year, “it is still not nearly as big as it should be, because much of the mathematics and science talent in India does not go into basic science research. This must be fixed”.
He added, “With new IITs and IISERs opening all over India, there is more opportunity for scientific research and careers than ever before. So, in that sense, the rectification process has already started. Students wanting to go into basic scientific research will now have many wonderful jobs and research opportunities waiting for them.”
Bhargava is currently R Brandon Fradd Professor of Mathematics at Princeton University, and adjunct professor at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, IIT Bombay, and University of Hyderabad.
He has been involved in starting a new institute in Bangalore, International Centre for Theoretical Sciences, to be inaugurated next year. “I hope to spend even more time in India after the inauguration. A number of things must still be done to really attract scientists abroad back to India… I hope to work on these issues as I spend more time in India,” Bhargava said.
Born in Canada, Bhargava grew up mostly in the US in a “very Indian home”. “We always spoke Hindi at home, ate Indian food, and discussed Indian literature at the dinner table. There are a lot of academics in my family. My grandfather was a scholar of Sanskrit and ancient Indian history, and my mother is a mathematician continued…