Nature India | Indigenus

Science and salsa

Reading about Rik Sengupta, the 18-year old soccer-crazy, piano-playing academic whiz from Kolkata, who was offered full scholarships by seven top U. S. universities as also the Indian Institute of Technology, I wondered why he chose Princeton over the rest. The answer comes from the boy himself: “IITs have very good science and maths courses, but I won’t be able to take a course in creative writing or music alongside these.”

For new age kids with interests ranging from nanotechnology, Julia Roberts, cross-country car racing and Amitabh Ghosh to Salsa and Carnatic music, this is almost like a ‘quality of life’ issue. They are academically brilliant but it isn’t a surprise when they declare with a shrug, “We have a life beyond the lab, don’t we?”

This brought me to think of the science and technology schools back home. How many of our schools actually help nurture the extra-curricular interests of these youngsters? I know for a fact that the University of Hyderabad is thinking of a centralised time table where science students can pursue their love for the arts — music, dance, literature — without missing classes. But that’s still on paper. There’s a similar (though not on a large scale) nurturing of ‘out of the box’ ideas at the National Centre of Biological Sciences, Bangalore, too.

So, apart from foreign tags and Nobel Laureate mentors, the young scientists’ love of the arts looks like another key area that could trigger brain drain in times to come. Do our universities and institutes plan to get equipped to arrest this trend? Or shall we, like many other things, overlook this one too and cry hoarse when it is too late?


  1. Report this comment

    Dr. R. Dayal Yadav said:

    You have touched the correct nerve. I will opt for discussion soon at length for I have a foreign tag, worked under the leadership of a Nobel Laureate (though not directly attached) and above all was associated with University of Hyderabad as Research Associate during 1994 – 1997.

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    Paulino said:

    Life is about balance. Neglecting a half of that balance will always result in overcompensation. Students should be offered a vast realm of possibilities when it comes to their scholastic pursuits. At least, that is the thinking here in the states.

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    Rita said:

    What Rik and many are being attracted to is called as “liberal education” in American parlance. Desire for a liberal education requires a mindset and a particular kind of family environment. Not all, even in America, opt for liberal education and sometimes can’t afford it too. In India, liberal education should be confined to the private sector. But the general point of your post that compared to America less number of people have access to such a liberal education is correct. Moreover the multi-dimensional education that new age kids want will require strengthening the humanities and arts education in colleges and universities. All the money and attention in India is given to science and engineering because it is a matter of job, survival and pay-packet for most.

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    Shoba Anantha said:

    In most universities in the US, including public or state supported universities, it is possible to enroll in a music course regardless of a student’s major. Entertaining interests beyond science makes education wholesome. Science students do have a life. Having said that, enrollment in an Indian University does not preclude one from taking private arts lessons outside. Although I believe our current university system has to be torn down completely for a better one, IITs don’t seem to fit into that mould. They are doing an awesome job at producing very high quality engineers.

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    Rishi Raj Shukla said:

    Let me share with you a perspective of a final year B.Tech Biotechnology student. I belive that the issue that has been giving me a lot of discomfort is addressed here. For long, I have harboured the view that research and extracurriculars are mutually exclusive activities. I have been debating for long whether to do something that I enjoy or do something that is recognised for its social advantages. Many students of biotechnolgy will agree with me that they do have a passion for arts, but still they would want to make a meaningful contribution to the society by means of their research and innovation. Equally important issue is whether research work will be suitably compensated vis a vis other jobs. Currently, I believe many students are embroiled in this dilemma. I do belive that the domains of research,

    extracurriculars and monetary rewards do overlap to some extent. But the question is can’t there be an almost perfect, symmetrical overlap between these three apparantly irreconcileable areas?

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    Royce Mohan said:

    I would like to add my 2 cents on the dilemma that some of my fellow scientists voice about what one should do with their time when they are in training and what one should avoid doing because of real or implied connotation that such “extracurricular” activities go against the grain of being accepted in a formal society that looks at and rewards an engineer, researcher or doctor as the product of a university’s investment. Of course, first of all you need to have the opportunity, the time and the inclination to add arts to your curriculum, and as an ex-IITian, I do agree we were then (1986) strictly into the sciences, even though most of my professors would, as much I knew them, have agreed that an art course would have helped expand and as well relate how the curious mind can link abstract thought with hypothesis testing, and perhaps yet, also be exposed to equally curious minds of those who commit to become professionals through the formal arts.

    But then, look back to my brilliant fellow MSc classmate from IIT Kanpur, Rahul Narasima Ram (1984-86), who strummed his guitar till the wee hours of the morning much to our rapture, went on with full fellowship to do his PhD at Cornell in environmental chemistry but returned home after completion of his studies to become the lead voice and bass guitarist for the very popular Indian band “Indian Ocean”. Was it the music classes he took when he was a youth in New Delhi, his self-driven need to engage his free time to practice his voice and cords, or just his intellect that has made him who he is today? Yes, [some] IIT professors did not like his extracurricular activities, although he aced every exam, but perhaps because his raw talent did not personify the image they had created of what a student should be. It does also take strong character to do what you must and talent to combine such activities. And Rahul was all of that.

    Did we lose a scientist to the arts or did our society gain an educated musician? So while we conjure up what new factor contributes to scientific brain drain from India, maybe Rik Sengupta will also return to India like Rahul Ram to be a highly educated and talented person with a world of experience.

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    savaş oyunu said:

    I have followed your writing for a long time. Really, you have given us a lot of information very successfully. In spite of my trouble with English, I am trying to read and understand your writing. And I am following them frequently.

    I hope that your success will go on.

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    Arijit Das said:

    This blog is so very updated and provides us information which otherwise get drowned by cliched thinking in Indian media.

    Students like Rik Sengupta need to be applauded, because it takes a lot of pluck to go against the tide of IIT-JEE and being an IT or software engineer.

    Bravo Rik. India needs more Rik Senguptas.

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    Anonymous said:

    There are none like Rik Sengupta. I am proud to be an Indian. He just wooed 7 U.S. universities, which offered scholarships, and chose “chai” (tea) over coffee. Even I think I don’t need only science, research, tech. etc. I need something more than them or away from them.

    I enjoyed reading the post! Love