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Crafting Your Career (CYC) | 10 Informational Interview with Chagun and Aditya — Science Policy

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In this sixth episode of the series on “informational interviews”, IndiaBioscience chats with Aditya Kaushik and Chagun Basha,two engineers-turned science policy professionals. Listen to learn more about their career paths and also about our new collaborative venture, the science policy forum here.

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Transcript with Timestamp

Lakshmi Ganesan 0:01

You're listening to IndiaBiospeaks, your one stop resource for science news and careers.

Welcome everybody to our next episode on crafting your career in science. This episode, we continue with our informational interview series. But for a change we have with us not one but two guests join this conversation about how they got into science policy and science diplomacy. We will also touch a bit about our recent collaborative initiative together, which is the science policy forum.

Joining us today is Chagun Basha, who is a space electronics engineer by training. He is currently a science technology and innovation policy research fellow at the DST Center for Policy Research at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. We also have with us Aditya Kaushik, who is also an engineer turned into a science policy professional. Aditya currently serves as the Deputy Director of Sustainable Water Future, India and is also a project scientist at the Divecha Center for Climate Change, also located at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. Welcome, Chagun, Welcome, Aditya.

Chagun Basha 1:17

Hi, Lakshmi.

Aditya Kaushik 1:18

Thanks Lakshmi for inviting me to be part of this podcast.

Lakshmi Ganesan 1:32

So Aditya and Chagun, it's quite an unconventional turn for both of you from being engineers to science policy professionals. So how did that transition happen? Share your stories both of you. Aditya?

Aditya Kaushik 1:43

Yeah, so I'm an engineer by training. I got my bachelor's and master's degree in electrical engineering and took a traditional path and worked for a mathematical computing firm, called MathWorks at Natick, Massachusetts for about four years where I had an opportunity to work in a traditional engineering discipline in development and quality management, but also had an opportunity to work in the area of technical marketing and partner management.

I realized that my interest was more in communicating the use of technology to an uninitiated audience and to use technology to create applications, rather than developing the technology itself. While I was working at the company I also had an opportunity to work with the local government in Massachusetts, to use science and technology to create jobs. This gives me an opportunity to explore the science policy space and I was I was hooked on ever since then. I realized that just as to develop some expertise in science and technology, I pursued a master's degree in electrical engineering, I thought I should do the same to get a better understanding of policy and diplomacy. So that led me to pursue a Masters of Arts degree in Law and Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy that's based out of Boston, Massachusetts. Here, I met like minded people to explore the role of science in international relations. So this is my story.

Lakshmi Ganesan 3:26

Chagun, let's hear yours.

Chagun Basha 3:27

Yes, Lakshmi. This is pretty much going to be a similar story, but I didn't take a formal education in policy. Let me just share before this policy fellowship that I'm in currently what I was doing, I was a hard core bench researcher in electronics. I was working in France for a space electronics related project, and that was part of my PhD. Before that, I completely had an engineering academic training through a bachelor of engineering degree and work experience as an R&D engineer. But then during my PhD time, I realized that I did not want to do bench research for the whole of my life. So I decided to look for non-lab based career options. I stumbled upon this site called versatile PhD. This was during my third year of PhD. It gave me enough time to explore various options. That site actually gave me a lot of career paths that I could explore. One of the paths that interested me a lot was science policy. So I studied a little bit on my own. At the same time in Paris, the climate change convention was happening. I volunteered for an Open Innovation Challenge, and that was annext to the COP (Conference of parties) 21 event so I could actually see how science policy works on a larger scale. Although was not participating in those discussions, I could actually witness it first hand. This drove me towards this field and now I am completely in it.

Lakshmi Ganesan 5:13

So Chagun and Aditya, now that you found your niche, what are your current roles and responsibilities or deliverables in the positions where you're in right now?

Chagun Basha 5:24

The Policy Center is just four years old. It started around 2013-14. I belong to the first batch of fellows. The fellowship program started in 2016. I don't really have a written document which says these are my day in and day out roles. When I joined IISc's DST Center for Policy Research, there were a lot more to be done than being a policy fellow. Even today, I do all those activities. The primary activity by the nature of this fellowship is policy research or creating evidence for Science Technology Innovation policy. That is the primary role that I do. In addition to that, I also work on capacity building activities like you know, Lakshmi, we had few capacity building workshops and we organize it and I play a major role in pulling in resources and organizing those activities, and then project development, creating partnerships, engagement with other entities: academic, government and non-academic entities. So I do policy research, capacity building, project development, all as part of this fellowship.

Lakshmi Ganesan 6:44

So Aditya, is your territory similar or is it vastly different from Chagun's?

Aditya Kaushik 6:51

It is similar in a lot of ways. So the question about core deliverables and responsibilities is a very difficult one to answer because the entire realm of science policy is very unstructured. My experience of working in my current position, with this initiative called the water solutions lab, which is an international scientific collaboration between sustainable water future program that's based out of Australia, and Divecha centre for climate change that's based out of Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. I was the first employee hired to work at the water solutions lab and my job was to get the lab up and running. This means to do whatever it takes to get the lab off the ground. The aim of the water solutions lab is to address urban water challenges in the city of Bangalore, with an aim to bridge the gap between science and policy and knowledge and practice. In the initial stages, the plan of action was to identify stakeholders who will be part of this initiative. The water solution lab is a multi stakeholder collaborative program. So it was imperative to get hold of people from the government agencies, private sector, other academic institutions. The second step was to develop a detailed concept note that would explain what this what this solution lab would do, how the solution lab is different from other programs in the same space, and then finally identify what sort of projects we would want to get involved in. And the third step was to flush out in more detail what these projects would do, and finally hire the right kind of people to take these initiatives forward. Well, I'm happy to say that we are a team of fifteen now. Just recently, we organised a massive international conference called the water future conference, where national and international experts from all over the world gathered to deliberate on the global water crisis that plagues the 21st century.

Lakshmi Ganesan 8:58

So as I can see Chagun and Aditya in your current roles of having these atypical job descriptions, many times you had to both navigate unstructured or even uncharted territories. So I would imagine your work day is also correspondingly atypical. So I'm sure it's not a nine to five. So what is it like?

Chagun Basha 9:20

Yeah, Lakshmi, like you said, it's, it's not conventional. And maybe it would become a conventional nine to five kind of a job in future. But currently, what I personally see is a lot of traveling, meeting with stakeholders, arranging meetings with different kinds of people to bring them together, build projects together, and sharing our policy research outcomes, let's say policy recommendations or briefs to policymakers or those who are in a position to influence policy. So it's a mixture and this is the best part about this career because this is quite exciting and it's not boring.

Aditya Kaushik 10:07

Again, very similar to what Chagun said, I can divide my experience in this space into two halves. At the beginning, it was all about creating some sort of institutional structure for the water solution lab. So now that the water solution lab has been set up, a typical day involves working on specific projects, meeting with various stakeholders who can be part of the lab as well as part of specific projects that we've undertaken, doing a lot of outreach and capacity building activities.

Lakshmi Ganesan 10:55

The involvement of science professionals and science graduates in influencing policy change is becoming more and more critical these days. So what do you see as the prevalent gaps and emerging opportunities here?

Aditya Kaushik 11:09

Science and Technology is or has been inextricably linked to part of development and the role of science and tech is very crucial not just in public policy but also in an international relations setting. If you go around the world and look at the educational curriculum of different universities who teach these fields, apart from focus on security studies, students study impact of digital tech and role of science, especially in international relations. However, such structured opportunities are very few and far between. In most cases science policy field is unclear, unstructured, lacks institutional capacity, and structure and institution capacity is very important for creating pathways and incentives for future science policy professionals.

Lakshmi Ganesan 12:00

Speaking of building capacity, Chagun and Aditya, can you talk a bit about how does one prepare to embark on a career in science policy? What are the training opportunities that are available? and how does one gain relevant experience?

Chagun Basha 12:19

Yeah, currently we do have a lot of opportunities to get into this field, although it's not completely visible to the community. I can just mention a few and maybe in the description we could provide more details.

The Ministry of Science and Technology Department of Science and Technology in India has this DST STI policy fellowship program, which is running at the postdoctoral level from past three years and this year we are planning to expand it to even at the young professionals' level like non-PhDs also can get into this. This is at the fellowship level and similar to that there is also an MHRD-sponsored fellowship on science policy. Apart from these fellowships, which are generally year long or two, three years long programs, we do have as part of the DST centers and other collaborative initiatives, week long workshops, or induction and orientation programs, which introduce literally anybody to science policy by giving foundational courses or expert talks, panel discussions etc. We'd be happy to provide more details if required. About the graduate programs, I think Aditya is the best person to probably elaborate on that.

Aditya Kaushik 13:41

One example of gaining expertise is to do what I did, which was to get a degree in this space in either public policy or international relations. But getting a degree comes with a few caveats, it requires commitment, time and also money. If you're able to and privileged to pursue one, I highly recommend this to budding science policy professionals because when you go to university to get a degree in policy, you are encouraged and incentivised to approach this area through different vantage points. This might not be available if you pursue select fellowships. So if you are able to pursue a degree in this space, I highly encourage you to do so.

Lakshmi Ganesan 14:34

So finally, are there any words of career wisdom that you would like to leave our listeners with today from your journey so far?

Aditya Kaushik 14:41

With the right mentors, with the right attitude and with some amount of passion you can actually help create structural mechanisms and institutional capacity from scratch which can be a very rewarding and an impactful experience.

I don't know about career wisdom, but I can set expectations for budding science professionals. Science policy, especially in a country like ours, the pathway is unclear. It's unstructured and in most cases, it's not even lucrative, but with the right mentors, with the right attitude and with some amount of passion you can actually help create structural mechanisms and institutional capacity from scratch which can be a very rewarding and an impactful experience.

Lakshmi Ganesan 15:10

Thank you Aditya.

Speaking of creating something from scratch, I would like to take this opportunity to share that the three of us are excited to have launched the science policy forum that we invite all of you to be a part of. This forum is currently hosted on the IndiaBioscience website at www.indiabioscience.org/sciencepolicyforum. It will feature articles, resources, opportunities, and most importantly a space to discuss various topics of relevance.

Thank you, Chagun. Thank you Aditya for joining and sharing your career stories, and most importantly, for collaborating on building a community of science policy enthusiasts.

Aditya Kaushik 15:56

Thanks Lakshmi for having me and giving me an opportunity to talk about my career path and the science policy space. I would like to wish all the potential science policy professionals out there a very good luck.

Chagun Basha 16:12

Absolutely, Lakshmi. This is this is really fun. I just want to add a statement about our science policy forum. I'm really excited about it. We want this forum to be a one stop platform for all the science policy professionals in India to join, discuss and deliberate on various aspects of science policy - scholarly work and practices.

We want this forum to be a one stop platform for all the science policy professionals in India to join, discuss and deliberate on various aspects of science policy - scholarly work and practices...

Lakshmi Ganesan 16:37

And to all our listeners. Thank you for listening. As always, join us again to hear another unique and interesting career story only here on crafting your career in science.

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