The quantity of papers published by Indian scientists has started catching up with that of the developed countries. But this phenomenal growth is yet to translate into development, in terms of the quality of papers published. How can we catalyse this development?
How can an Indian multidisciplinary journal like Current Science catch up with the quality of publications such as Nature, Science and PNAS?
The first few pages of Current Science have been evolving slowly in the last two years. This year the transformation will stabilise and the qualitative difference will be perceptible to the readers of Current Science. The fall out from such workshops will impact the quality of other Indian journals and even the quality of science reporting in Indian media.
And, one day, I hope, the Annual Reports submitted by research organisations to the Parliament may become comprehensible to the members of the Parliament and the Assemblies. The only way India can hope to increase the budget allocation for science…
The scientific output of India has started outnumbering that of the developed countries, as predicted by Thomson and Reuters in 2007. But both the quality and quantity of publications by Indian scientists lag behind those by Chinese scientists.
The sixth workshop on writing science by Current Science is being organised from the 16th to 21st of April in Bangalore. A drop in the ocean, you might say. But it has made a sea change in the lives of the few who have gone through it.
And one day, the trickle of engaging scientific content will become a torrent.
And here is a view of the Guest House of the Indian Academy of Sciences where the participants will be staying:
I am in a quandary. What do I settle for? Quantity or quality?
There was this workshop in the Guru Jambheswar University of Science and Technology, Hisar, where we had 30 participants. That is the UGC rule. Minimum number is 30 if you want funds for upgrading the skills of the faculty. There were further rules that do not allow the kind of workshops that we do. So the Vice-Chancellor had to give special permission to organise the workshop.
Besides science faculty, there were participants from Management, Hindi and English faculty. Getting the required number is not an easy task. Some were there only to get the certificate. But once the workshop started, everybody got involved.
But when it came to work, I realised that Gita and I are not enough to deal with individual attention and feedback. So we had to change the tactics. Focus more on attitude changes and knowledge transmission. Skill building techniques needed to be kept aside.
The workshop was of six days duration to accommodate an elaborate opening ceremony and a closing ceremony. But in spite of getting the full 22 sessions required, the workshop could not cover the content. The content for two more sessions could not even be broached.
One solution came from the participants themselves. They asked for it to be increased to a two-week workshop.
So, one of the equations is clearer now. If there are more participants, increase the duration appropriately. But when I look at the other equation, in terms of the input, output and outcome, I am still not clear. One third of the participants actually wrote. One third of the participants filled up the evaluation form. Ultimately two people joined the national efforts at reporting Indian science to Indian public.
With lesser energy from my side, and lesser time for participants and me, I get better output and better outcome.
For example, immediately after the workshop in Guru Jambheswar University of Science and Technology, I was conducting the fifth workshop for Current Science in Bangalore. Eight participants. Eight stories at the end of five and half days. And I am sure that four of them will engage with the group that is actively writing science.
The impact on the individual participant was much higher when the number was eight. The output and outcome are much higher than when the same time was spent with 30.
However, I dare say that all the 30 in GJUST benefitted from the workshop. Some said that it is the best workshop that they ever attended.
So I am in a quandary. Do I help more academicians in India or do I help the public to understand science.
Do I look for quality of output and outcome or do I look for influencing greater number of academics to do better quality research?
It is one year since this site was launched. It was meant primarily for training and capacity building to improve science coverage in Indian media.
Attempts to train scientists in media skills proved faster than training media professionals in the skills needed to deal with the complexities of science.
A team of more than 30 people has been built up slowly over the last one and half years. A team of Professors, Assistant and Associate Professors, Scientists, Post Docs, Research scholars, Masters in various disciplines of science… Trained to interpret advances in science to non-specialists.
For one and half years now, they are maintaining a news column in Current Science, reporting news of scientific advances made in India.
Quite often, productivity overshot the limitations of space in the most respected scientific journal in India. And the number of people in the team kept growing.
Thus STEAMindiaReports was born. A science news agency that clues the media into happenings in the world of Science, Technology, Environment, Agriculture, Medicine and other applied areas of scientific research in India.
We will start with one news item per day on the homepage.
Visit the page if you are from a media channel.
Visit us if you are from a research institution and want your research to be understood by the public.
The next workshop on Science Writing is to be held in Bangalore from 4th to 9th of December.
Here is the link to the application form: https://goo.gl/forms/tp2sn0aky0JeC9sx2
The fourth workshop on writing science that I organised for Current Science, Bangalore had a different venue. Their guest house facilities in Jalahalli.
Unlike the earlier workshops the participants could not see eye to eye. Literally, not figuratively, as you can see in the photograph above.
But in the end it worked out well. We had one session where we had to sit around: the role play of editorial board meeting. We went to the terrace for that session.
You will see their output in the 10th September issue of Current Science. The column, Science Last Fortnight will be by these people you see in this picture.
After two successful two-week workshops in 2014 and 2015 in IISER Pune, Vigyan Prasar extended the scope of the venue to IISER Thiruvananthapuram in 2016. This year Vigyan Prasar is catalysing two such workshops – one in IISER Pune and the other in IISER TVM. I hope more IISERs will join next year.
Here is the link to the advertisement that came out in Current Science