The United States has not remained the place it was in terms of what it has to offer to basic scientists. While Harvard will remain Harvard, today even there people are feeling the pinch, young and senior faculty alike. When I told my colleagues there the kind of startup deal I was getting at NCBS, many felt frustrated at their lot.
It’s not just about the economy; it goes up and down. It’s about not paying enough attention to younger people and this has been apparent in the last four-five years. Now there’s a lot of pressure on central applied science and the politics around it has gone really sour. Policy makers want very narrow focus, but in research, when you are shooting in the dark, narrow focus doesn’t help.
After a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, Austin, and nearly a four-year-post-doctoral stint at Harvard University, I decided to return to India. I work on Indian and Asian butterflies so I needed to be close to the population. Moreover, there is little support for my kind of work in the US, as there is little application to society, at least in the near future.
[Defending this, K. Vijayraghavan, director of the National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, says, biology is connected; knowledge may come from anywhere. Indeed, the entire blood group classification of A, B and O, that has phenomenally benefited the medical field has come from studying the wing patterns of butterflies. So have come new anti-cancer insight from papilistatin, a substance isolated from a Taiwan butterfly.]
I chose to come here because NCBS has an integrated approach to biology, all other places in India have departments and resources there are fragmented. Here, I can sit next to an ecologist, a cell biologist, a development biologist or a geneticist and feel at home. This is particularly important for my kind of work. I think NCBS is the only such place in India today, way ahead of others. What also attracted me was its open, legacy-free, and non-hierarchical environment.
Krushnamegh Kunte is Ramanujan Fellow and Reader. He joined National Center for Biological Sciences in January 2012.
(As told to Seema Singh)