Dr Niyaz Ahmed, head of the department of biotechnology and bio-informatics at the University of Hyderabad, who has recently been admitted as fellow of Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), United Kingdom, says the amount of fellowships and scholarships that our research students earn is only about 40 per cent of the global standards and it is bare minimum to support a decent living, novel thinking and productive efforts. Here are excerpts of an interview Express held with him:
Which part of your research fetched you the fellowship of Royal Society of Chemistry?
The RSC admits a small number of scientists each year as fellows who work at the interface of chemistry and biology. The fellowship is conferred in recognition of overall contribution and thought leadership extended to shape a new research field. My nomination to the RSC fellowship was based on our works related to the dynamics of evolution and adaptation of pathogenic bacteria inside different human hosts (this work falls under a very new discipline called ‘functional molecular epidemiology’). This work has major practical implications in understanding emergence and spread of infections and disease related traits such as multiple drug resistance (MDR).
Where does India stand when it comes to research in chemistry?
Chemistry and biology flourish in India though not on the scale in developed countries. It is often difficult for Indian academics and students to showcase their works due to non-availability of platforms and resources such as access to international journals, conferences, flexible research funds, fellowships and encouragement.
Do you think the current financial support for research in India is enough?
I am aware of the hardships faced by PhD students and young scientists due to delay in fellowship hike. This is due to delay of receivable funds from certain funding bodies. The amount of fellowships and scholarships that our research students earn is bare minimum to support a decent living, novel thinking and productive efforts. The present scale of financial support given for living of research students is only about 40 pc of the global standards. Funds for research needs of these scholars are almost non-existent. The present outlay of research funding, especially in the universities, is insufficient to foster ground-breaking and translational research, and can only produce mediocrity not excellence.
You are from a middle-class family. How did you reach the heights in education and research?
My background is very humble as I come from a family of farmers not so educated. However, my parents had enough vision to ensure all four of their sons could complete a Ph.D each and become professionals and scientists. My education was supported through scholarships and loans. However, the support and guidance of my mentors and teachers has been immeasurable. India is a country of opportunities for hardworking individuals and I firmly believe that the only short- cut to success is hard work.
Can you tell us something about your current research?
My group comprises 23 young researchers and PhD students and we are all busy understanding the molecular basis of some of the major human diseases such as gastritis, TB, diabetes and cancer. Our work is largely fundamental and relates to the role of bacterial systems in these diseases. We extensively collaborate and network with different research groups working in Germany, Australia, UK and Malaysia, and my students enjoy opportunity to herald themselves internationally through these networks.