Thursday, June 26, 2008

Recognition of work

Over at Tantu-jaal my friend Sunil Mukhi asks the question as to what is to be done if a person in highly privileged Institutes does not get much done. Strongly recommend this post.

Let me ask a different question: what does one do when a person at a Research Institute does a lot of work, or a person at a University does a lot of work. How does such a person gain recognition for his or her work? Now don't tell me, as many of my friends do, that satisfaction that you derive is what you are here for. Partly true. If this was the end of the story, why should there be so many little pieces of recognition? Is there any way in which objectively a person's work is recognized in India? What if he or she is not working some very hot area, at least not so hot at the time the work is being done? Don't tell me that history will judge, and all that sort of stuff. What happens to a person who is working in a subfield on which there is probably not much expertise in the country? How does one judge?

In a scenario where virtually all recognition is through a process of nomination by those who are already in this or that club, and not a process of open application, how does one recognize work? X or Y may be a good scientist and may be thoroughly obnoxious and offensive, and such a person in our set up will not receive recognition for the work he or she has done. Z may have crossed the path of this or that bigshot and is finished off for life. Sometime ago, I had the privilege of nominating a fellow physicist for an international award. Why me? The only eligibility criterion for the nominator was that he or she should be an active scientist. Even though I have never had any recognition myself, it did not disqualify me from making that nomination. For that matter, the Dirac Medal of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste also has an open nomination procedure.

What I would rather suggest is that there should be a recognized or prestigious forum, where every scientist is welcome to say exactly what he or she has done, and draw the attention of the community. Let the work speak for itself, in terms of published work, the actual publication, what it has sought to show, etc.. Such a forum would immediately destroy the old boys network and scratching backs and bending over backwards for recognition and the quid pro quo..

I am not turning off comments and invite all three of you who read this blog to post your opinions.

10 comments:

gaddeswarup said...

Since I may be one of the targets, I feel obliged to say some thing but I do not have much to say. As Frank Sinatra said 'I did it my way' and really have not studied how institutions developed in different countries and cultures. Moreover, I have been abroad half my life and do not have any real knowledge of how things work in India except for what I read in the newspapers and blogs.
My overall impression is that in India academics like any other group are trying to advance their own interests (there are always some exceptions)and very little of what I have read is enlightening.
I do not believe in prizes except for specific problem solving ones e.g. for malaria or T.B.
I feel that the blog discussions are useful in the sense that one gets to know others' opinions and some references but probably they are like any other gossip. We finally pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that there is much wrong with the world but we are doing our best and we are ok.

Anant said...

Dear Swarup,

Thank you for the comment. The post was inspired by the general trend of what is to be done when people are not getting work done. My post was about what is to be done when people do get work done!

Best regards, Anant

Rahul Siddharthan said...

anant - Well, I would say that if you do outstanding work you will be recognised: not necessarily in terms of awards, but in terms of knowing people in your field, whom you respect, respect you in turn.

If your work is not quite that outstanding, but you are "sincere and hardworking" (to quote the standard line from many well-meaning Indian recommenders), what recognition can you expect? Not much: but then what recognition do you deserve? Plenty of other government employees or private sector employees are sincere and hardworking, and do not expect or receive any recognition for it.

I maintain that we in Indian science have an inflated estimation of our self-worth. I know scientists in the west who have written highly influential papers that have been cited hundreds of times, but not been particularly rewarded in terms of honours or awards (and are not even fellows of their national academies). But they have the respect of their peers and I think that's more important.

As for "obnoxious and offensive" scientists: since when has that been an impediment to career advancement in India? But I suspect the examples I am thinking of (and there are many) are people who are obnoxious to their juniors, but obsequious to their superiors.

Anant said...

Rahul: thank you for your comments. I can hardly disagree with anything you have said, but there are still some unresolved matters in my mind. These may have to wait for a later post. Anant

Anant said...

Just one more thing Rahul: I did not wish to talk about personal recognition so much as recognition for identifiable pieces of work. Perhaps I did not express myself very well, but that is implicit towards the end of the post.

James said...
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Anant said...
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James said...
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James said...
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Rahul Siddharthan said...

James -- your perspective sounds interesting, and if you would like to talk about things off-blog, contact me...