After entering into the IIT system a couple of years back, some observations led me to write this article. One day a faculty shared a news article (link, pdf) via email to all faculty suggesting that our IIT needs more citations in the race to compete and surge ahead of other IITs. In layman language, citations are nothing but the number of time one’s research publication is ‘talked’ or ‘referenced’ by the other researcher. More the citation, higher is the ‘impact’ and ‘quality’ of one research (it is believed!). As it appears, IITs are on the mission to create ‘high impact research’ to become numero uno in the world. The race has begun!
Do our society benefit from the citations? The impact of a research should not be evaluated by the number of citations alone. Citations may be misleading. Any research should bring tangible benefits to society. Mere churning out data and pushing it though some journals will not alleviate our society problems. Unfortunately, our research problems are driven by “downloaded publications” rather than driven by society needs. Hence, the so called ‘high impact publications’ remains endlessly in paper form, nothing else. Its impact hardly (never may be a better word) reaches to the needy people of our society. Now, let’s analyse how our taxpayer money is used for ‘high impact research’ and how it is benefiting foreign county and NOT India:
IITs get research grant, salary etc. from Indian government (the taxpayers money), but where this money goes?
- Purchasing 'high prevision' research equipment manufactured in foreign country
- IPR holder of these equipments: foreign courntry
- Publications into journals of foreign country
- Readership of our research publications: researchers of foreign country
- Copyright holder of publications are journals of foreign country
- Who is making money from our publication: foreign county
- To attend conferences: travel to foreign county
- Collaborations for research with foreign country
"The pitiest part is that we sometimes collaborate with foreign countries to solve our own local problems. What an idea sir ji ! And finally what happens - photo ops for putting on the website or publish in the name of 'high impact research'. We lack in confidence or self belief that we can do things our self. And this mindset exist across all the levels, be it academic institute or the other. We got political independence in 1947 but intellectual independence is yet to come."
It is easy to download a research paper from the internet and start emulating. For example, nanotechnology has become a craze and many research centers have mushroomed in the country (of course at the cost of taxpayer’s money). But ask them a simple question: How or in which product your research is going to be use by our society? You will see a blank face momentarily but then vague argument will continue thereafter. It is not that we don't need nanotechnolgy but the local context is missing. We are looking at only one side of the story: ‘high impact publication’ by foreign countries but what we overlook is that their research is having impact on their society through technologies/products/services as discussed above. We just keep running behind ‘high impact publications’ without giving back anything to our society. One reason for not having any ‘impact’ of our research on our society is that the problem definition of the research does not originate from the grass-root but it is 'downloaded' from the internet. Of course, it can be argued that research is done for the benefit of human race, not just one society. That’s fine, but are we left with only this argument?
If we estimate the ratio of technology/products developed by IITs to their ‘high impact publication’, it may come out to be Zero or Shunya (in rounded figures). It cannot be said that IIT is a failed system as it has produced many bright graduates. Well, the argument here is not about how many graduates IIT has produced; it is about how many technologies reached to our society. In this front, IITs can be said to have failed in its mission and vision. And the new IITs are following the footprints of older IITs. This rat race will only force the 'competent authority' of the institute to divert the fund for importing costly equipments for easy and quick publications - synthesize, characterize and publish. This may be termed as 'research corruption'. Research is important, in fact very important. But ‘only research’ is questionable. We are off the track in the race to emulate.
The image above sums up the stark reality prevailing in the institutes of national importance. So when there is buzz around on xyz IITs needs for improvement etc as in the news link above, it only means (largely) that the particular is IIT is not doing enough in 'high impact' research or collaboration with foreign institutes. The pitiest part is that we sometimes collaborate with foreign countries to solve our own local problems. What an idea sir ji ! And finally what happens - photo ops for putting on the website or publish in the name of 'high impact research'. We lack in confidence or self belief that we can do things our self. And this mindset exist across all the levels, be it academic institute or the other. We got political independence in 1947 but intellectual independence is yet to come.
Recently Shri Arun Jaitely, our finance minister announced that almost all government organizations (read companies) are running at huge losses. Why? IITs, NITs, IISERs etc are also government organizations. If somebody calculate their input (taxpayer money) to output (technologies reached to society), most of these organizations will top the list in loss making institutes (maybe). It is not that we cannot create technologies, our focus and attitude has changed in the race to emulate. Ask them on PM Modi's call to IITs for creating sustainable and affordable housing technology for all Indians, you will only hear this, "I don't do research in this area". We are surrounded by our own Lakshmana Rekha of research areas. Of course, by doing research only on gears we cannot make engines.
This article has been written through the experience prism of one IIT, which need not be true for other IITs/institutes. Some institutes may be doing well in terms of technology/product development. Anyway, it is easy to criticize the system as it has been done above but what is the solution? Just wait for the another article.