Dublin Core




<p>When TIFR started in 1945, it was to set up a place to do fundamental research in physics, not so much to teach physics. However, over the years, it did take in students. The early ones did research at the Institute while getting their PhDs from other universities. The Education theme looks at the post-graduate life in biology across the decades.</p>
<p><br />Why do a PhD and why teach? What is the purpose of a place like NCBS, as it keeps evolving? And what after the PhD? The Building Knowledge chapter peeks into the structure and history of certain courses, what senior faculty thought of the life after their PhDs to be, and what students think of today. It also picks apart the perceived disconnect between college and post-graduate life in India.</p>
<p><br />Any interaction is an education, more so within a research institution. The Mentorship chapter is about that transmission of knowledge. It collects views on four faculty members: Veronica Rodrigues, PK Maitra, Obaid Siddiqi and KS Krishnan. In some form or the other, the four have been repeatedly viewed as mentors by students, faculty and staff at TIFR and NCBS.<br /><br /></p>
<p><br />In the mid 1970s, P Balaram didn’t land in India with huge research aspirations. He had just finished his PhD and post doctoral work in the United States. What he needed above anything else was a job, a teaching job. In that, he wasn’t unique. That was the climate. P Balaram, a retired professor and former director at IISc, finds it hard to explain that to people today. For instance, when he had to jot down his profession on an application, he wrote ‘teacher’. “We were lecturers who lectured, and presumably professors who professed,” he said. In the featured interview clip, P Balaram narrates his views on teaching and its effects on his own research. <span>5-Knowledge-A1</span></p>
<p><br />The 1990-92 NCBS proposal make the Centre’s purpose fairly clear: “The principle aim of the Centre is basic research in biology. The research programmes of the Centre encompass modern biology and biotechnology. Special stress is being laid on molecular biology, genetics and cell biology and on the application of biotechnological methods to fundamental research on higher animals and plants.” NCBS was to be a research centre, first and foremost. And while the next paragraph does say that the “Centre will conduct an active teaching and training programme”, it is mentioned as a corollary to research.</p>
<p><br />There might be a slight reversal of roles today. In June 2016, a faculty member at NCBS was asked by a visitor to campus about her profession and what NCBS did. Teaching, said the faculty member. They taught graduate students. Research was not the first thing she said. That broader view of NCBS’ purpose today is one that is partly echoed by Mukund Thattai, a faculty member at NCBS. Hear his interview clip where he shares his thoughts on how NCBS should be measured. <span>5-Knowledge-A5</span></p>
<p><br />It’s worth looking at this education paradigm from the other side, too. Why do a PhD? Saurabh Mahajan, a current PhD student, shares his reasons in his interview. Again, one sees the teaching sentiment echoed. <span>5-Knowledge-A2</span> Setting up a graduate programme was one of the biggest changes at TIFR, stressed Sudhanshu Jha, former director of TIFR, in an interview earlier this year. It ensured a system that is dependent not on a particular specialized discipline that may fade away over time, but on the broader understanding of a science fed by younger students who can challenge the dogma. It ensured the longevity of the institute. “I was quite convinced right from the beginning, that an institute structure doesn’t last for a long time anywhere in the world,” he said. “But the university structure has lasted for centuries.”</p>
<p><br />NCBS has had a pretty rigorous course structure since it began. In November 1995, MK Mathew, a faculty member at NCBS, shared the guidelines to graduate work at NCBS at a steering committee meeting. It included plans for coursework, and check systems for students on their path to getting a PhD, including comprehensive exams and thesis defence. These are shown in the audio slideshow below. Along with Jayant Udgaonkar, another NCBS faculty member, Mathew has been teaching a biochemistry course since 1992. It has gained quite a bit of notoriety in the student population over the years. In the audio excerpt, he shares some stories from the course, and why he thinks students might be scared of the course.</p>
<span>5-Knowledge-A0</span> <span>5-Knowledge-PS4</span>
<p><br />Another aspect to probe is the connection between a graduate research institute like NCBS and the research-world experience of incoming students. NCBS does not exist in isolation. Students coming into the Centre come from colleges across the country, and with, few exceptions, minimal exposure to a research environment. There is a disconnect between an NCBS and the system where it recruits students from. This is a broader failure of the Indian scientific community in the natural sciences, says Satyajit Rath, a faculty member at the National Institute of Immunology (NII). Listen to his interview clip where he assesses the connections between places like NCBS and NII to undergraduate teaching centres. <span>5-Knowledge-A4</span> Also see the documentary excerpt below on what Vidita Vaidya, a TIFR faculty member, thinks could be a good way to go beyond TIFR and extend Homi Bhabha’s legacy.</p>
<p><br />Which leaves us with the question, what after the PhD. The question is vast, but it is a pressing one for many students entering the system. The unsaid assumption has always been the academic career path. But that’s not always possible. There just aren’t enough such positions. It’s not a question that NCBS focused its attention on in the first two decades, says L Shashidhara, an early post doctoral researcher at NCBS and current IISER faculty member. He adds that the what-after-PhD quandary is a failure of all institutions. In his interview, Shashidhara shares some of the ways in which his institute, IISER, is trying to address this issue. <span>5-Knowledge-A3</span></p>
<p><br />For more, check out the Gallery where students and faculty share views on plagiarism in Indian science, on the history of coursework at NCBS, on childhood inflection points toward science, on student selection processes, and on finding the right match of student and area of research.<br /><br /></p>
<p><br />The lab notebook from 2008 that KS Madhumala is flipping through looks more like a printed book that just happens to be in a cursive font on ruled pages. Blemishes are really hard to come by. The first note from November 8, 2008: “CS and rut2080 exposed to 20 % EB and paraffin oil”. A control, wild type Drosophila, and rut2080, a Drosophila mutant, are exposed to (E)thyl (B)utyrate. “Volume measurement is in progress,” it says, in the present tense. One gets the sense that the notebook is a transcript of her lab work. KS Madhumala, an NCBS post doctoral researcher, keeps flipping past the pages. It occurs to her, then, that one of the reasons Veronica Rodrigues, an NCBS faculty member at the time, took her on as a student was because of her lab notes. Rodrigues was obsessed about note taking, she says. <span>5-Mentors-A1</span></p>
<p><br />Mitradas Panicker, an NCBS faculty member, remembers the time he spent as a summer student at TIFR in PK Maitra’s lab as a transformative one. <span>5-Mentors-A4</span> Jayant Udgaonkar, another NCBS faculty member, also regards Maitra as an early inspiration. “Professor Maitra had a deep impact on me in terms of his intellect, his enthusiasm for science,” he says in an interview earlier this year.</p>
<p><br />Taslimarif Saiyed laughs when he remembers Obaid Siddiqi’s dislike for Excel. Graphs were to be plotted by hand in the early 2000s, when he was a student in Siddiqi’s lab. This was graduate research. But Siddiqi would teach him how to hold a pencil, Saiyed says. Just so Saiyed could draw curves better. That Siddiqi was fastidious was fairly legendary. But there was some method in this particular madness. This was about getting a feel of a trend, about getting the most meaningful understanding of, in this case, behaviour of Drosophila. <span>5-Mentors-A2</span></p>
<p><br />Vidita Vaidya, a TIFR faculty member, is just grateful there was someone like KS Krishnan when she joined TIFR. It was like being “taken under his wing”, she says. In a separate conversation, Maithreyi Narasimha, another TIFR faculty member, utters exactly the same words. “Krishnan just gave me half his equipment,” says Vaidya. “A large part of (my) first year was just walking into his office and being given stuff.” She remarks in her interview that what sticks in her mind is the “utter generosity of spirit” displayed by Krishnan and Rodrigues.</p>
<span>5-Mentors-A0</span> <span>5-Mentor-PS4</span>
<p><br />People shape people. This chapter looks at the small and big influences of PK Maitra, KS Krishnan, Veronica Rodrigues and Obaid Siddiqi on members of the TIFR/NCBS biology community. Also check out the video clip narrated by Mani Ramaswami, a faculty member at Trinity College. He shares a story that PK Maitra liked to tell people, of a debate between Maitra and Siddiqi, and indicative of Siddiqi’s positive outlook.</p>
<p><br />The slideshows contain selected photos and documents connected to the four scientists, including an interesting recollection regarding Siddiqi from John Carlson, who came to the TIFR Molecular Biology Unit (MBU) in the 1980s to learn about olfaction in Drosophila.</p>
<p><br />Conversations about mentors tend toward adulation, as time and distance softens and smoothens memories. But not always. Vaidya concedes that perhaps a quarter of what Krishnan donated her was not really useful. But that was okay – the rest made up for it. And listen to the interview excerpt of Kaleem Siddiqi, a professor in the School of Computer Science at McGill University. He shares a more practical difficulty from years ago when he was in middle school in Bombay and needed the help of his father, Obaid Siddiqi, in some school assignments. Obaid Siddiqi was just not deep into mathematics. “He really couldn’t answer any of those questions,” says Siddiqi of his father. “He had no concept.” It was just not his thing. <span>5-Mentors-A5</span></p>
<p><br />Siddiqi was also notorious for not publishing much. A paper worth publishing was one that really probed the thinking of a field, he would tell one of his last PhD students, Mohammed bin Abu Baker. On the other hand, Rodrigues was known for striking fear into the hearts of her younger colleagues, exhorting them to publish and apply for grants. Champakali Ayyub, a scientific officer at TIFR, discusses her views on her “elder sister”. <span>5-Mentors-A3</span></p>
<p><br />For more, see the Gallery. There’s a copy of a 1993 letter from Rodrigues to Ayyub that elaborates on her publishing philosophy. And Siddiqi reflects on one of his teachers, Riayat Khan.<br /><br /></p>

Table Of Contents

Building Knowledge, On Mentorship

Items in the Education Collection

MK Mathew, faculty member at NCBS: Thoughts on the biochemistry course that he and Jayant Udgaonkar have taught at NCBS almost since the beginning of the Centre.

P Balaram, professor and ex-director, IISc: On joining as a teacher at IISc in the 1970s and views on the practice of teaching.

Saurabh Mahajan, current PhD student at NCBS: Thoughts on why he is doing a PhD and the need for a more rigorous education in teaching.

L Shashidhara, early post-doctoral researcher at NCBS, faculty at IISER: On future trajectories for students after they do their PhD and the need to wrestle with this problem in a more cohesive manner.

Satyajit Rath, faculty member at NII: On a nationwide decoupling between college and post-graduate education/research.

Mukund Thattai, a 'Young Investigator' NCBS hire and current faculty member: His perspective on what could or should be the broader purpose of NCBS and its research.

Aditi Bhattacharya, research scientist and former student: On her experiences with coursework as a graduate student in the early 2000s

Deepti Trivedi, technology scientist at NCBS and former student: On the move from Delhi University to NCBS for graduate work and a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Gaiti Hasan, faculty member at NCBS: On a summer spent at TIFR in the 1970s, and the process of being initiated into research.

Jayant Udgaonkar, faculty member at NCBS: On the need for coursework and his push to build an academic programme (with MK Mathew) at NCBS

H Krishnamurthy, scientific officer and head of imaging/cytometry, NCBS: On pushing his technical staff to enter into degree programs while working.

MK Mathew, faculty member at NCBS: On selection of students, and, for instance, finding people suitable for particulars of working with an electrophysiology rig.

Sudhir Krishna, faculty member at NCBS: The education model in India and the cracks between research and medicine.

Govind Swarup, former faculty member at TIFR: On the need to integrate engineering and science education for students, and the potential of the IISER model.

Govind Swarup, former faculty member at TIFR: The thought process behind selecting students in TIFR interviews.

Taslimarif Saiyed, former NCBS student and current director, C-CAMP: On the benefits of C-CAMP in the learning trajectory of a student at NCBS.

Upinder Bhalla, faculty member at NCBS: A childhood encounter with Obaid Siddiqi, and an early dislike for biology.

Mukund Thattai, a 'Young Investigator' NCBS hire and current faculty member: On teaching an ethics course at NCBS, and on one of the biggest issues facing Indian science

Vidita Vaidya, faculty member at TIFR: The influence of KS Krishnan and Veronica Rodrigues when she joined as a young faculty member at TIFR

KS Madhumala, post doctoral researcher at NCBS: Reflections on maintaining lab notes and why she felt she got hired as a student.

Taslimarif Saiyed, former NCBS student and current director, C-CAMP: Memories of being a student in Obaid Siddiqi's lab and the art of holding a pencil.

Champakali Ayyub, scientific officer at TIFR: On the role of Veronica Rodrigues in Ayyub's career.

Mitradas Panicker, faculty member at NCBS: An early introduction to TIFR as a summer student in PK Maitra's lab

Kaleem Siddiqi, computer sciences faculty member at McGill University: Reflecting on a childhood in the TIFR campus, and reaching out to his father, Obaid Siddiqi, with problems in mathematics.

Deepti Trivedi, technology scientist at NCBS: On Obaid Siddiqi's hesitation in publishing a lot of material and his focus, instead, on the quality of the research shared with the world.

Maithreyi Narasimha, faculty member at TIFR: On the influence of Veronica Rodrigues when she joined as a young faculty at TIFR.

Obaid Siddiqi, founding member of NCBS & TIFR's molecular biology unit: Being mentored by Riayat Khan while at Aligarh Muslim University in the 1950s, and being firmly situated in a research career.

Sanjay Sane, faculty member and former student at NCBS: Entering TIFR as a student and early interactions with Veronica Rodrigues.

Shobha Jagtap, administrative assistant in TIFR: Memories of working with Veronica Rodrigues

Madhu lab notebook.JPG
The lab notebook of KS Madhumala, a post doctoral researcher at NCBS. Madhumala was a student of Veronica Rodrigues and in her audio excerpt, she discusses how she may have been taken on as a research fellow at NCBS partly because of her lab notes.

KSK Cabin Equipment.JPG
KS Krishnan's office at NCBS. On the left is a modified inebriometer, which he made to study anesthetics in Drosophila.

Profile - KSK and VR.png
KS Krishnan and Veronica Rodrigues. Unknown date.

Profile - KSK Brenner OS.png
Sydney Brenner (left), KS Krishnan (middle) and Obaid Siddiqi, on the NCBS campus. Unknown date.

KSK Cabin Snapshot.JPG
A portion of KS Krishnan's bookshelf in his office at NCBS, giving a sample of his diverse interests.

Profile - KSK 1.png
KS Krishnan as a young researcher at TIFR

Profile - KSK and Beehive.png
KS Krishnan was known for his ability to make friends with most people across the TIFR campus. Here, he convinced some people to bring down a hive off a tree, and then also put it into a case. When he moved to NCBS, he donated the case to Vidita…

1963 PK Maitra TIFR Joining Application - Pic.jpg
The registration sheet for PK Maitra at TIFR, filled at the time he joined as a young faculty member in the molecular biology unity at TIFR. 1963.

1988-10-27 Fr.PK Maitra To Jayant (By air Mail Letter).tif
An October 1988 letter from PK Maitra to Jayant Udgaonkar, then a post-doctoral research at Stanford University. Maitra highlights that the new Bangalore Centre is likely to a "good place in the coming years", and an option Udgaonkar should seriously…

1975 VR to OS PhD request letter.jpg
After reading a paper by Vijay Sarathy and Obaid Siddiqi on bacterial recombination, Veronica Rodrigues, who was studying in Dublin, Ireland, sends a letter to Obaid Siddiqi expressing her interest in joining for a PhD. She would later build simple…

1976 TIFR application VR.jpg
The registration sheet for Veronica Rodrigues at TIFR, filled at the time she was a research scholar at the institute.

1988 VR to OS - citizenship appeal.jpg
Veronica Rodrigues' appeal to Obaid Siddiqi in 1988 regarding her difficulty in obtaining Indian citizenship. Rodrigues was of Indian origin, grew up in Kenya and studied in Ireland before moving to India. The process was, she said, "proving to be a…

Profile - Veronica - Graduation Dublin.tif
Veronica Rodrigues at her graduation in Dublin, 1976.

Profile - Veronica 2.png
Veronica Rodrigues at a tug-of-war event in TIFR, date unknown

Veronica Rodrigues joined TIFR for her PhD in the late 1970s. Here, she summarizes her student experience in response to a questionnaire submitted by Indira Chowdhury.

1957 IARI to OS - Reference.tif
Reference letter for Obaid Siddiqi from his supervisor at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, where Siddiqi was doing research prior to his PhD in Glasgow. 1957.

1957 Reayat Khan To OS - Reference.tif
Reference letter for Obaid Siddiqi from Riayat Khan, who was his teacher at the Aligarh Muslim University. Siddiqi would then move to IARI, and then for a PhD in Glasgow. 1957.

1970s OS with Brenner - Fr Babu.tif
Obaid Siddiqi with one of his mentors, Sydney Brenner, during one of Brenner's visits to TIFR (top photo).

Carlson_A Welcome to Drosophila Olfaction_1.pdf
By the early 1980s, the molecular biology unit led by Obaid Siddiqi had gained worldwide reputation for their work on olfaction in Drosophila. The unit became a space for young scientists from around the world to come and learn. One of them, John…

1989 OS Birla Award Speech - 1.tif
Obaid Siddiqi's speech after receiving the Birla Award in 1989. Siddiqi looks back at his career and acknowledges the variety of people who pushed him along in his career

1989 OS Birla Award Speech - 2.tif
Obaid Siddiqi's speech after receiving the Birla Award in 1989. Siddiqi looks back at his career and acknowledges the variety of people who pushed him along in his career