Young scientists from India share their weeklong experiences at the Nobel Laureate Meeting held in Lindau, Germany from 28th June to 3rd July, 2015.
32 young Indian researchers — students and postdoctoral fellows — spent a week in the company of 65 Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Germany. Organised annually, the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings foster scientific dialogue across disciplines, generations and nations by bringing together Laureates and young scientists from all over the world. This year, 650 young participants represented 88 countries.
Out of the 32, 17 researchers are currently based in India, most of whom are graduate students and postdocs from different Institutes. All but one were sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India. The DST is among the first academic partners of the Lindau Meeting worldwide, since 2001. Every year, the DST calls for applications from researchers based in India, and pre-screens and shortlists applications that are then forwarded to the Lindau Council. Travel costs for selected participants are covered by the DST. They also organize a briefing meeting in Delhi for all participants prior to the trip.
“The Lindau meetings are one among 7 – 8 other cooperative activities with Germany. Right after the Lindau Meeting, the Indian group takes a tour to various research institutes in Germany,” said Dr. Raj Kumar Sharma, Director (Scientist- E) of the International Bilateral Coop. Division, DST. Dr. Sharma has been involved in the selection process and in coordinating activities with the Lindau Council since the partnership began. “These Meetings have evolved since 2001 from the Indian as well as the Lindau Council sides. Every year is an enriching experience,” he added. The organizational efforts of the DST garnered much praise from the participants. The young researchers were even treated to a quick impromptu trip to Austria the day before the meeting commenced.
In addition to the DST sponsored candidates, there was one candidate sponsored by Siemens — Upasana Das, a senior graduate student from the Department of Physics, Indian Institute of Science. Siemens nominates 10 candidates from all over the world to the Lindau Council for final selections. Selected participants also get a tour of the company’s R&D unit in Munich before the Meeting. “It is a great opportunity to meet people. I even got a chance to have a discussion with Prof. Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, whose textbooks I have read,” Das enthused.
Hemant Pandit Borase, a student at the School of Life Sciences, North Maharashtra University in Jalgaon, made a short presentation about research in India at one of the master classes: A 21st Century Career in Research: A Discussion about Thriving in the Face of Career Uncertainty. The presentation was intended to give the global audience a flavor of the academic scene in a developing country.
“I’ve come to the meeting to learn. Besides academic knowledge I’m trying to learn about a career in research. There are lots of subtle things that you only learn by interacting with people in the field, and here you have the masters,” said Upamanyu Moitra, one of the youngest participants at the Meeting. A Masters’ student in Physics at Jadavpur University, he said the Meeting had exceeded his expectations. Everyone is so easy and approachable, was a popular opinion. The intimate interaction sessions with the Laureates were the most cherished sessions.
The Meeting was a valuable and motivating experience for the young scientists. “I have learned from this meeting, by talking to other young scientists, as well as Nobel Laureates, that although research is a tough path to tread on, we are all somehow not too different from each other. We suffer from similar insecurities and fears about our futures and also, share a common passion for understanding the unknown,” said Upasana Das. The other important message that she took away is that scientists do have a moral responsibility towards society. “We all need not turn into vocal activists, but indeed we all can, in our own little capacity, try to make the world a better place,” she opined.
The participants agreed that meetings like these are very important for students and early career scientists. While the speakers don’t always have to be Nobel Laureates, mingling with experienced scientists who are experts in their fields provides motivation and introduces young people to role models, some of whom may even become their personal mentors, they said. One of them pointed out that India has hosted several scientific conferences and meetings of this scale and even larger. She had attended the international COSPAR meeting — a gathering of astronomers, astrophysicists and space scientists from all around the world. We have the means and the experience in organizing international conferences. What may help make them more effective, the participants felt, is to take a page out of the Lindau conference and maximize personal interactions, especially in more informal settings.