The Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance has moved beyond its half way mark. In its present format, India Alliance will fund fellowships till 2018-19 and will thereafter be gradually scaled down over the next 5-6 years.
The past two years have been an interesting learning experience for me. While dealing with the Alliance’s mid-life crisis, I have tried to build on the solid foundation that I inherited. India Alliance is well placed to achieve full potential and fulfill the goals set for it. But we must watch out for stagnation of funds and ideas, both of which can be detrimental. We will look forward to continued support from our funders and thought leaders
What has India Alliance achieved? The total number of Fellows increased from 126 to 177 in the past two years – a healthy 20% annual growth rate. During this time, our Fellows registered ~70% increase in the scholarly work they published. The work of our Fellows has also made more impact as evidenced by increased peer recognition through invitations to speak at major international conferences, write authoritative reviews, perform editorial duties, etc. India Alliance Fellows have also been awarded the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize, which is the highest mid-career award for scientific research in India, every year for the last three years.
Biomedical research cannot thrive in an environment in which clinicians have neither the time to ask important questions nor the skills and tools to address these. Since 2013, India Alliance has paid special attention to this by creating special mechanisms for clinicians and public health researchers to compete for the awards and enhance their research skills. The result is that 16.4% of India Alliance Fellows are engaged in clinical and public health research, up from 9.5% two years earlier.
We can all be proud of these achievements.
But there are challenges as well – both cerebral and structural. While the biomedical research enterprise in India is growing, we lack the confidence to consider ourselves as globally competitive. There is increasing reliance on “safe science” and quality is often compromised for quantity. Mentorship of young scientists is woefully inadequate, institutions (especially universities) do not encourage challenging the status quo and despite suffering from a shortage of quality faculty, do not effectively use fellowship programmes such as ours. And despite annual promises, funding for research in India continues to stagnate at around 0.9% of GDP. Compare this to 2.76% in USA and 4.04% in South Korea.
What must India Alliance do? We will continue doing what we do best – focus on good practices, select the best among those who apply for our fellowships and empower the next generation of researchers. We will continue to help raise the scientific temper and discourse through our public engagement activities and guide young researchers through workshops that emphasize ethics, career options and communication skills. The India Alliance Science Communication workshops have registered a phenomenal 450% growth, with about 900 PhD students, postdocs and young scientists having attended these in the last two years. In the past year alone, India Alliance conducted 14 such workshops at 11 different institutions across the country.
We also increased our engagement at other levels. With a new website and bimonthly newsletters we can better showcase our Fellows and the work we support. These also enable us to make important resources freely available to everyone. India Alliance is being seen as a good model for the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) and for a new partnership between India and the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). These experiences will also increase the international exposure of Indian science.
I believe that India Alliance will never be large enough to make a quantitative impact. And that is why we must always promote quality. My personal ambition is to see India Alliance Fellows become the next generation of leaders for Indian science. For this to happen they should follow their intellectual curiosity, pay attention to good writing, learn to work in teams and cultivate unfamiliar ideas (@Fareed Zakaria; In Defense of a Liberal Education; WW Norton & Co., 2015).
Leaders of the future must have five qualities. These include global thinking, cross-cultural appreciation, technological savvy, building alliances and partnerships, and shared leadership.
At India Alliance we remain committed to promoting an ecosystem that produces future leaders. We will do everything possible to assist our Fellows in achieving their dreams. They remain our most valuable asset.
If you have a stellar career and good ideas, please look at our Fellowship schemes. If you have an interest in promoting the science ecosystem in India, let us work together.
Shahid Jameel, PhD
CEO, The Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance
Shahid Jameel joined the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance in April 2013 after over 25 years of experience as a Scientist and Group Leader at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, India. His research at ICGEB dealt with human viruses – the hepatitis E virus (HEV) and HIV, where his group explored the role of viral proteins and host noncoding RNAs in pathogenesis.
Shahid has undergraduate degrees in Chemistry from the Aligarh Muslim University and the Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur), India, and a PhD in Biochemistry from the Washington State University, Pullman, USA. His post-doctoral work in Molecular Virology was carried out at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, USA.
For his research, Shahid has received support from DBT, ICMR, Wellcome Trust (UK) and NIH (USA). His work is recognized through various awards, including the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize in Medical Sciences, and fellowships of all the three science academies in India. He is on the Editorial Boards of various international and Indian journals, and serves as a member or Chair of various key committees at DBT and ICMR.
Shahid loves to travel and enjoys reading history. He is also an avid amateur photographer and a (very) erratic blogger.