KTJ Talks: Abhas Mitra

We had the unique opportunity of catching up with Dr. Abhas Mitra, an Indian astrophysicist who is on campus to deliver a lecture during the ongoing edition of Kshitij. Recipient of the ‘Best Young Physicist’ prize from the Indian Physical Society in 1989, he currently heads the theoretical astrophysics section of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai. He is also an adjunct professor in Homi Bhabha National Science Institute since 2010. Google cites him as India’s most frequently mentioned physicist as of 24th November 2014. He happens to be the first India based astrophysicist to work on various aspects of modern research on Cosmic Gamma Ray Bursts. Here’s a glimpse of our long & highly insightful conversation with him.
A general observation points out that India hasn’t been producing successful scientists in proportionate numbers like it used to. In your opinion, what changed over the years or what is inhibiting research?

Since independence there has been a distinct shift in mentality from proving yourself to the British to aping the west and generic approval-seeking. The system puts a lot of pressure on good students in terms of what output to produce, say getting into IIT, getting placed and excelling in everything. We need leisure to think creatively. Lack of confidence in academicians about their country reflects an inferiority complex which affects their research.

Talking about research, there’s a huge inertia students face in actively taking it up due to there being weaker economic prospects. What do you have to say about that?

True, but things are changing with the government opening up new institutes and putting in more money in research and basic sciences. Establishment of new IISERs and new IITs as well as an increased stipend for junior research scholars aims to promote careers in research. The bigger problem with research is that not a lot of people are willing to research beyond the implicit restrictions imposed by popular science which gets them money from politicians, senators and sponsors.

Are you saying that there is proper corporatization in science which suppresses scientific growth?

Pretty much, you won’t see many publications/journals willing to publish papers that contest fundamentals these days. Consumerism and Capitalisation has infested scientific culture and affected the quality of work.  

Dr. Mitra is one of the many eminent personalities invited to the institute for Kshitij 2016, one of India’s largest techno-management festivals.

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