The latest issue of Nature magazine examines the potential and challenges for scientific research in India, and presents some interesting facts.
The analysis of papers published in peer-reviewed journals in the Scopus database reveals that Panjab University, Chandigarh, has the highest citation impact for any institution in India. Another trend the magazine has captured is the increase in the number of women principal investigators in scientific projects over the last decade. More than 30% of projects are now being led by women scientists, even though their numerical strength in the overall scientific community has remained well below 20%.
There are interesting reasons for both.
Panjab University has in fact been consistently ranked high in many international ratings of educational institutions. For the ranking in Nature, it has to thank its over 130-year history, and Professor Bal Mokand Anand, who set up its Physics department in 1949. Anand was responsible for its entry into high energy physics research, and had established a Nuclear Emulsion Laboratory.
High energy particle physics was still evolving at that time, and Panjab University was the only Indian institution with latest research facilities, apart from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, which was set up in the mid-1940s. Anand and other scientists at Panjab University, and TIFR, collaborated closely and produced a number of pathbreaking papers. Those papers, including Anand’s own 1953 doctoral work on cosmic ray data, continue to be cited today, helping the university’s citation impact. The university has also benefitted from its very close association with TIFR, which is focused solely on basic research. Still, it has outscored TIFR with a citation impact of 1.4 (if global average is taken as 1), compared to 1.39 of TIFR.
The rise in the number of women principal investigators is the result of proactive gender policies of the Department of Science and Technology to facilitate the re-entry of women scientists into research after taking a break for family reasons. In 2001, women scientists were principal investigators in 13% of projects. That number rose to 31% in 2011, while the number of women in the scientific workforce has moved only from 14 to 18%.
The DST has a programme wherein it gives special facilities and fellowships to women returning to research after a break. Another programme, DISHA, is broader, recognising that some women might not be able to continue with advanced research after a few years’ break. These women were given the option to choose projects in science communication or entrepreneurship. The government changed this programme slightly last year, and called it KIRAN.
The DST now ensures that if a woman scientist has to move locations, and is unable to continue her original research, she would be entitled to an attachment in an institution at the new location with perks and salary of the old job. This arrangement is initially for five years, and can continue up to the age of 60.