Download this article as a PDF
This is the first of a two-part article on academic opportunities in India, prepared by Neelanjana Sengupta, a member of the Early Careers Committee. View Academic Jobs in India, Part II
India’s contribution to modern science can be said to have begun in the nineteenth century when Jagadish C. Bose published his scientific papers on radio waves. Th is was followed by significant contributions by stalwarts such as the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, the physicists C. V. Raman, Satyendranath Bose and Meghnad Saha, and the biophysicist G. N. Ramachandran. India has since continued its pursuit of scientific and technical excellence, establishing a number of universities, laboratories and research institutions across the country. The recent economic growth has opened up greater avenues for funding scientific research, which has prompted an expansion in the breadth of research and also the opening of a number of new institutes. As a result, India is fast becoming a very attractive destination for pursuing a career in science. This article, provides an overview of the research enterprise in India aimed primarily towards those pursuing a PhD degree and those involved in postdoctoral research, with intentions of pursuing a scientifi c career in India, and provides general guidelines for job applications to academic and research institutions within that country. Potential candidates should keep in mind that specifi c institutions and departments vary in their requirements, and therefore it is advisable to try and determine a match with the candidate’s own profile.
Scientific Institutions in India: A Broad Classification
Scientific research in India is mainly carried out in government-owned universities, institutes and national laboratories. While most of these places run independent programs, there may be a diff erence in the scope and focus of research activities. For example, while research does form a part of the core activities in universities, they tend to lay greater emphasis on teaching. On the other hand, certain laboratories, such as those under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), may focus on very specifi c areas of research. The following is an overview of major scientific institutions in the country. Th is is by no means a complete list, but rather a broad categorization meant to highlight the scope of a career for potential candidates.
Th e Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs), and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc)
Th ese special institutes are entitled to grant degrees under acts of the Indian parliament. They have stringent selection procedures and attract the best students from all over India, and even some from abroad. There were five IITs (Kharagpur, Chennai, Mumbai, Kanpur and Delhi), until the establishment of two more in 1994 and 2001 (Guwahati and Roorkee); seven more (Bhubaneswar, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, Patna, Punjab and Rajasthan) have been added in 2008. Th e fi ve IISERs (Kolkata, Pune, Mohali, Bhopal and Trivandrum) were established in 2008 with the aim of imparting
the best education in basic sciences to Indians starting from their undergraduate years. More IISERs are expected to come up in the future. The IISc (Bangalore) ranks among the best institutions in the world for carrying out cutting edge scientifi c and technical research. Th e IITs and the IISc have departments in almost every area of basic, applied and engineering sciences, while the IISER faculty (primarily from the basic sciences) is not sub-divided between
individual departments. Teaching, both at the undergraduate and the graduate level, is one of the key responsibilities of the academic faculty within these institutes.
Major universities in India are owned by the union or the state governments, the former usually referred to as central universities. Universities focus mostly on undergraduate education, and hence teaching is the core responsibility in these institutions. Fundamental research activity, however, is often pursued. In general, central universities (about 20 in number
currently; about 15 more to be added soon) tend to be better funded and lay greater emphasis on research. However, there are a number of state universities that carry out excellent research in various disciplines. Some of the well
known universities in India are the Jawaharlal Nehru University (central), the University of Hyderabad (central), Delhi University (central), the Banaras Hindu University (central), the University of Pune (state), the University of Madras (state), and the University of Kolkata (state).
Research institutions under other government bodies
There are a number of bodies of the union government which govern the functioning of various research institutions. Examples are the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). Each laboratory under these bodies conducts independent research programs. However, with the exception of laboratories under the DAE (which now grant degrees through the Homi Bhaba National Institute, or the HBNI), PhD students studying at these institutions receive their degrees from the associated university.
Following a brief overview of the laboratories run by these organizations.
Laboratories under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)
The CSIR, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Science and Technology, is aimed at providing a strong science and technology base for strategic and social sectors, as well as for the industry. The council has 38 laboratories under its wing, each with specialized focus on a specific area. Th e research carried out amongst the laboratories is diverse, ranging from the physical, chemical and biological sciences, to mechanical and aerospace engineering, to geophysical
and oceanographic research. Some of the well known laboratories under the council are the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB), the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), the National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).
Laboratories under the Department of Biotechnology (DBT)
There are eight autonomous laboratories under the DBT involved in basic and applied biological research. Some laboratories under this family are the National Institute of Immunology (NII), the National Centre for Cell Sciences (NCCS) and the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC).
Laboratories under the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)
Th ere are about 10 laboratories under the DAE umbrella, including the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), the Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC), the Institute of Physics (IOP), the Institute of Mathematical Science (IMSc), the Harish-Chandra Research Institute (HRI) and the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP). Many of the DAE institutes
(such as TIFR, BARC and SINP) conduct research in multidisciplinary areas. For example, the three schools under the world-renowned TIFR (School of Natural Sciences, School of Mathematical Sciences, and School of Technology and Computer Science) carry out cutting edge research in frontier areas of physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and computer science. While the main campus is in Mumbai, TIFR has specialized wings in Bangalore (National Centre for Biological Sciences, or NCBS) and Pune (National Centre for Radio Astrophysics, or NCRA), which operate as independent research units.