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Will Tenure Track System Actually Improve the Quality of Research in India?

Tenure Track System is welcome, provided this is implemented meticulously and thoughtfully. True, that research infrastructure is currently better in India vs how it was 10 years back, when I, myself, was a graduate student. However, as an interdisciplinary biomedical researcher with almost a decade of experience in the field, I think we still lack enough infrastructure, funding, appropriate training resources, critical thinking and most importantly, the right attitude to do ‘high quality’ science at par with the foreign institutes. A major problem is when we talk about ‘high quality science’, we often interchange the term synonymously along with ‘high impact factor’ publications and not a truly ‘high risk-high award’ research line. Most early career scientists/ faculty members are put under the pressure of publishing a certain number of papers above certain impact factor threshold for their promotion to the next level and I am afraid that in a developing country like ours, the same could be the evaluation criteria for determining one's output and deciding if one should be granted a tenure. Whether it be India or US, I have seen that most young faculty members are heavily swamped with writing grants, various administrative duties and networking with senior colleagues, which is crucial for their existence. In IITs, IISC, IISER and many top-notch institutes, there are also teaching responsibilities in addition to research and the teaching burden is relatively higher for younger faculty members. So, it happens in 80% of cases that once a young faculty member manages to publish in a decent, high impact journal, he/she keeps planning more papers in similar directions instead of thinking out-of-the box. The papers are published, often in so-called "high impact factor", because they have quite a bit of data but in many cases, a solid research question is missing. The trend has also become apparent in some recently published Nature and Science papers. It is unfortunate that these days, even Nature or Science Publishing group journals are sometimes accepting papers that are very thorough and contains a lot of data but not ‘novel’ or ‘innovative’ in true sense. While I completely agree that with our current research infrastructure, it is very much feasible to do QUALITY research in our country, I don’t necessarily believe that mere implementation of ‘tenure track system’ will ameliorate the situation. It is not the fact that newly appointed faculty members are not working hard enough but the unpleasant truth is - we do have lots of problems with our existing system, mental set up and research philosophy. I must say that doing good science needs some time and things cannot happen on one fine morning. We all need to understand that a qualitative and useful scientific research may not necessarily get published in a high impact journal. Instead of emphasizing on ‘quantity’ and ‘impact factors’, we must try to identify important research questions in the field and address them with novel experimental and analytical tools. We have to also think about various societal issues and use scientific approaches to solve those problems. Summarily, pressure for more and more publications in high impact journals can not be a solution to improving the quality of research rather we have to welcome more high risk-high reward research problems. The outcomes may be a complete failure with no significant deliverable just as it often happens in industries but we have to accept it sportingly. Who knows that the preliminary findings from such a failed project can lay the foundation stone for another highly rewarding, ground-breaking research.


Green Leaves
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