Several senior scientists, mostly involved in recruiting doctoral and postdoctoral students for fellowships sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), have expressed serious concern over the quality of project proposals in recent years. They say a sizeable number of proposals lack “originality and novelty”, making it a daunting task for the panelists to pick the best.
A senior city-based scientist and a panel member spoke about one such recruitment under DST’s INSPIRE scheme.
“We screened about 150 proposals for the INSPIRE programme in Bengaluru. But we observed that many of the proposals from students, mainly applying for doctoral fellowships, were not satisfactory. Some were repetitive, others had limited applications in an Indian scenario. We cannot compromise on quality at the doctoral level,” he said, requesting anonymity.
INSPIRE or Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research is one of the flagship programmes run by DST, which aims at identifying talented students right from the high school level. There are three schemes under INSPIRE — Science for Early Attraction of Talents for Science (SEATS) for school students aged between 10 and 15; Scholarship for Higher Education (SHE) meant for college students aged between 17 and 22; graduates and others up to age 32 can apply for Assured Opportunity for Research Careers (AORC). Unlike other fellowships, no entrance tests or exams are held and the projects under INSPIRE are only screened and candidates selected after an interview.
“The interview lasts about 20 minutes, but a lot of us on the panel found it difficult to gauge the calibre of the candidate on the basis of the conversation and presentation. The proposals also lacked originality and, in some cases, there was nothing new,” the panelist said.
On proposals received from woman scientists for special programmes meant for women seeking a break from their careers, Vandana Singh, head (woman scientists programme), said, “In case of woman scientists, we encourage them to generate new ideas and help them improve their proposals by offering expert suggestions even from panel members. As these programmes are specially designed to inspire women to continue a career in science, we do accommodate maximum proposals.”