Thursday, October 23, 2008

Space science as a career

The successful lift-off of Chandrayaan lifted spirits all over India yesterday. But will it also help lift the status of science as a career?

Well, the various talking heads on TV made their points:
* NASA invites schoolchildren to participate in special programs and visit its centres. ISRO is zero in that department.
* Students are enthusiastic about science at school level but not in college, where science education is stuck in the Stone Age.
* Science is compartmentalised and treated as a 'subject'. Instead of being an important part of every aspect of life.

All true, but the plain and simple truth is this: Scientists work for the government. Working for the government is no longer cool.

It means being stuck to a single employer for life.
It means a job with steady but not spectacular pay.
In short, it means 'losing' out.

Taking up science means preparing for various engineering entrance exams. And this is the norm among children of scientists as well. I should know, having grown up on the TIFR campus!

Of the couple of hundred kids who were brought up in that 'scientific environment' I can think of only 2-3 who have chosen the sciences as a career. Everyone else went into the application side (engineering/ IT) and from there, onto the world of business.

Actually when I was 8 years old I honestly, truly and deeply wanted to be an astronaut. Or something to do with space. I spent hours poring over books like Charlie Brown's Super Book of Questions and Answers.

My lack of aptitude for mathematics killed that dream. Maths nahin to science kuch nahin. But even for those who are great at maths, 'pure science' is hardly an option.

I think the government and allied organisations do a fair bit on the scholarship front. Take this initiative by Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to support toppers who pursue Biological Science at 10 + 2 level.

What is missing however is a sense of the career path you would have as a scientist. The fact that you may not make that much money but you will enjoy a fine quality of life and also make a difference.

A career in science really has to be sold on the element of 'passion'. And that's what events like the Chandrayaan might help ignite... It will be interesting to see if the newly established IIST (Indian Institute of Science and Technology) gets more applications next year!

IIST, was set up in 2007 under Department of Space, Goverment of India, and offers undergraduates B Tech programmes, a five year integrated masters in Applied Sciences as well as PG and doctoral programmes. The basic aim is to build a talent pool for

Entry to IIST is through JEE and so far it hasn't been a hot choice for anyone with a 'decent' rank. Although there is the odd report of a student who could have made it to an IIT opting for IIST (rank 2000 and above).

The real boost would come when one of the JEE toppers decides to take up an IIST offer over computer engineering at IIT B... And I tell you, something like that will happen soon!

Meanwhile there are amazing young women like 23 year old Khushboo Mirza who are already showing the way. Born into a tiny, traditional Muslim neighbourhood in UP’s Amroha Khushboo is one of the 12 engineers of the Check-Out Division of Chandrayaan I.

Her inspiring story, in today's Indian Express:

When her father died when she was seven, her mother, Farhat, broke norms to run the family’s petrol pump to keep her children in school. Her brother, Khushtar, a 2005 BTech from Jamia Millia Islamia, shelved his career ambitions to take charge later.

To get out of the claustrophobic bylanes of Amroha, Khushboo applied for B Tech at Aligarh Muslim University. A volleyball player, she qualified through the sports quota. When she graduated, she landed a lucrative job with Adobe but gave it up to join ISRO two years ago.

More power to Khushboo, and to science as career. Space... the final frontier, here we come!


  1. Anonymous3:09 PM

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I really like the fact that you discussed science as a career option.... "Career talk" is not just about MBA & B.Tech...

    & I dont think that the "number of applicants" determines whats cool! But maybe it does measures whats easy... The herd prepares for engg & MBA, b'coz they know that IIT/IIM main na bhi ho to bhi 1 lakh college aur hain...

    And for those JEE toppers who chose computers, by default... good for them! Bcoz Obviously a BTech Computers from IITB can get a guy a quick, cool job. And its good in a way that such intelligent but dispassionate guys stay away from IIST type of service oriented places.

    And for services like space science and defense forces, applicants kam ho chalega, but the applicants should be really passionate about the subject and the service motive. Thinking beyond money is a a great quality, rarer than 99 percentile wali intelligence... not every1 has that...

    Meanwhile kudos to Khushboo Mirza!

  3. may u think right from your point of view, but its not true at all.

  4. Anonymous5:39 PM

    Nice one Rashmi.This would certainly pave the way for many a confused students who want to pursue their careers in Space Science.Hats off to you

    Sorry for the previous one. I deleted it by mistake.


  6. Rashmi, A very timely post. How about one post on how to build curiosity among Science at the middle and high school levels as well as some good books and magazines in this direction. This can really help children "dream" about a career in science.


  7. I dislike the fact that all over the blogosphere, one can find articles disparaging JEE toppers who choose CS over other branches. It would be incorrect to tar all of them with the same brush. Perhaps some of them are genuinely interested in the subject. A love for programming perhaps ? One doesn't require an advanced degree to enjoy programming (although the complexity of the programs might be simple). Basic algorithms like sorting are used in our day to day life. There are many IIT CS grads who don't go after those big (not any more) i-bank packages and prefer to do a phd/job in their areas of interest in CS. The bulk of JEE rankers do get whats best in their rank, but lets not ignore those who chose something out of their interest.

  8. I dont understand why young Indian writers have to resort to plagiarism right from their debut publication and that too in the title.

  9. People of independent thinking are few in world.A true Guide shows us the ways of success and then ask us to choose one with our own interest.But condition in India are worst,parents and seniors push you to achieve in the field like IITs or IIMs for safe future without assessing potential of student.its more about big bucks and reputation in society than any other words like,interest or inheritance potential.People need role models like Khusboo for achieving their dreams.It was a nice post and inspirational too..keep the masses pushing for attaining goals...

  10. Why do students in India prefer to go for jobs in IT only?
    -Jobs are easier to get. To get into ISRO u need to compete with 1 lakh other applicants for maybe 10 jobs
    -How many institutes in India offer quality programs in Astronautics. How easy is it for someone to get in?
    -Is work in ISRO "cool" for the present generation. If not why?

    I left a IT-Investment banking kinda job at Infosys after 4 yrs to be in Aerospace program. Why? Coz I loved it, coz I am mad (to all my peers still at Infosys), coz I got an admit into a top 10 school in US but did not hav to prepare an year to get into IITs thru GATE (by scoring 99.99999...)
    I see work in JPL, Northrop as cool. I see co-students who feel jobs there are cool, that's aspiration for me.

  11. good one frnd

    a post that will make the reader think abt the importance of science in everyday life and the way we think abt it

  12. Anonymous2:15 PM

    I think it is not right at all time. Many engineers of ISRO are giving -ve responce to their job.

  13. So many times in our country do we see one career option being churned out as the savior - before it was B.E[Civil/textiles] and now it is IT. Parents and even kids want to be part of same circle who fit the same mold.. following one's passion is still rare in India! :(

  14. there is a national level competition called balshri which is run across balbhavans in the country and students ae selected in different which is creativ science...i had participated in it and its quite a good one..and the winner gets their education [if it is in the field of science] sponsored by govt of india and several other perks as well
    Also, there is National childrens scince congresses which happensevery year..Sadly,like you rightly ponted out these programs hapen in the school level and there is hardly any in the college level where important career decisions are made

  15. I think if people start focusing on the quality of work in whichever field they are in, it would do tons of good for our economy. IT Outsourcing as a career, which every other pass out of engineering colleges wants to pursue these days, might just be better than not having any job at all. But that's just about it.

    Destination Infinity

  16. Just as a tree has a natural habitat, people also have natural talent for a certain work. The journey is to discover your talent and your mission in life. I had missed the Indian Express story, thanks for writing about it.
    Enjoyed reading your blog.

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  18. It's one of my childhood dreams to do something in the field of Astronomy.I used to wake up at midnight and go upstairs to watch the open sky,whenever i hear some interesting facts about planets,comets,UFOs and stars...Even made an attempt in ISRO but in vain..

  19. e1 i wud like to end up doin smthn in space science...i m currently doin ma msc in chemistry..and a BE in chemical..can ny1 help me wat shud b ma plan ahead?i wish iist had opened up wen i gave ma xams in 2006!

  20. nice Post...really inspiring..
    please visit read,discuss,ask & suggest on health.. A small try from non tech group of doctors.. to make health open.

  21. Pardon me for digressing, but you mentioned the lack of mathematical aptitude as your reason to not being able to pursue your dream.

    And your CV reads IIMA.
    If i am not mistaken, CAT is an aptitude exam which has at least a third (disputable) of Mathematics.

    Then how come?

    I am just a little curious. HELP

    ps- I take the CAT less than 2 weeks from now and my quant is NOT TOO GREAT...

  22. great work and research on the career choice of Indian youth....I do think that when I was a kid I was more interested in science than what am I now being an IIT kgp student.

  23. I hav seen ppl option specifically for IT in btech, i hav also seen these ppl goin 4 mba, bt i rarely c ppl who r into other streams than IT amd ofcourse who dont want 2 take mba.
    I know many who thinks getting an IT job is easy and getting to others takes more time and competency. Naturally ppl goes for the easy option. These days i rarely see ppl who opt for something that they want to do with passion. Infact they r do just for the sake of money and i am happy that i do something i really want, not just for money.

  24. yea most of the people opt for IT,CE and these days EE as their stream in engg field.. only a few opt for other streams.. leading to more competition for a less no. of seats..

    for more on india please see:

  25. cheers. This can be used as a ready reckoner anytime.

    I also follow a blog on Importance of Human Resources:


  26. Does the link you gave for IIST work? I could not find anything about that on the internet either...

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  28. Anonymous10:46 AM

    ^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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