For Science and Society: INYAS

For Science and Society: INYAS

Dr. Anindita Bhadra

Founding Chairperson, INYAS

Assistant Professor, IISER Kolkata

The Commencement of a Committment:

In September 2013, I was selected to be the Young Indian Delegate at the BAS-TWAS-ROCASA workshop on “Initiatives in Science Education, Research and Capacity building”, held at Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was a nice experience for many reasons, but I will not talk about the meeting in this essay. The reason I mentioned this meeting is because, it was here that a Young Scientist from Bangladesh approached me and said, “Have you heard about the Global Young Academy?” I confessed that I hadn’t, and he handed me a call for membership of the GYA, and suggested that I should apply. This was Abdullah Shams Bin Tariq, a Physicist and an active member of the Global Young Academy. I returned home, looked up the GYA on the internet, and realized that there were Young Academies in many countries across the world, and they were active in science promotion and diplomacy. And this started a buzz in my head, which refused to be silenced – why do we not have a Young Academy in India?

There was only one person I could ask this question to, someone who is always open to questions, and had been a firm support and wonderful source of advice for me for over a decade, my PhD supervisor Prof. Raghavendra Gadagkar. So, I called him and asked if it was possible to have a Young Academy in India. I was not surprised to know, that he has been thinking about this for some time, as he is a strong proponent of promoting Young People and giving them a platform to express themselves. In addition, to this he is also an active Science Diplomat. He knew about the GYA, and thought that they were doing good work.

But unfortunately, Senior Scientists like him are hard to find everywhere, especially so in India, where we seem to have our feet firmly placed in the muck of the feudal system. Who would want to promote a voice of Young Scientists in a country where the culture demands obedience, and the young are expected to follow the old humbly. There are of course many who would disagree, and would emphasize that young people should be enough leverage, but then, young scientists should invest in building their careers, publishing papers, mentoring students, getting awards, and climbing up the academic ladder. If they start doing science diplomacy and science promotion, they will ruin their careers. The bottom line was that the idea had been discussed in some meetings at high levels, but there had not been many supporters for Prof. Gadagkar’s “radical” idea for Young Scientists in India, and the matter had rested there.

The Journey and the mandate:

I applied for the membership of GYA, but was not selected. But that didn’t stop the buzz in my head. Then, in 2014, Prof. Gadagkar was elected the President of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA). I called him to congratulate him, and then asked if he could now do something about a Young Academy in India. He said, “If you are ready to work for it, then I am game.” And that’s how we started seeding the Indian National Young Academy of Science (INYAS). I wrote to the recipients of the INSA medal for Young Scientists for the past 10 years, asking them about their idea about forming a Young Academy in India. Several emails bounced back, but I was happy to receive 32 positive and very enthusiastic responses. I wrote up a short proposal, appended this list to it and sent it to Prof. Gadagkar. He discussed the idea in his first council meeting at INSA, and called me to say that one of his council members happened to be a GYA alumnus, and he had offered to help in setting up the National Young Academy in India.

Synergy and Synthesis:

In May 2014, the President of INSA formed a committee with Rajesh Gopakumar as the Chair, and Ranjini Bandyopadhyay and myself as the members, to draft a formal proposal to form the Academy. Rajesh was already a member of the INSA Council and a GYA alumnus, Ranjini was a current and active member of GYA, and I had the buzz in my head. We made an odd trio, but we got along well together, and over several online meetings and a series of e-mails, we had a draft ready, which Rajesh Gopakumar was to present at the upcoming INSA executive committee meeting.

I received a call from Prof. Gadagkar in December 2014, around Christmas Holidays. He was calling from Goa, where the INSA GBM was being held that year. I picked up the phone and he said, “Congratulations!” He sounded very excited, and the happy news was that the INSA governing board had sanctioned the proposal for the establishment of INYAS, as a project of INSA. I was too happy to speak, and I didn’t know how to thank him. I knew this had been possible because of his support, though he was too modest to accept this. So now, INYAS existed on the paper, and its formation was happily announced by GYA on their website. We were happy to see India marked on the map of National Young Academies.

But an academy can actually exist only when it has a membership; so where were the members of INYAS? We had thought about this while developing the proposal, and INSA acted swiftly by inviting applications for membership from INSA Young Scientists. In May 2015, 20 of the applicants received an e-mail telling them that they had been selected by INSA to be the founding members of INYAS. That was a happy day indeed, as INYAS finally came into existence. I breathed a sigh of relief to know that I was one of the 20 founding members, which meant that I would be able to work for INYAS now.

We had our first meeting at INSA, New Delhi on 20th June, which was attended by most of the founding members. The core committee of INYAS was elected in this meeting. Thus the journey started, and we had the responsibility of developing a vision for this fledgling body. We decided to make science popularization among children our thrust area of work, and planned our activities for the coming months. We began with a handful of enthusiastic people, and soon added some strength to our academy by inviting new members.

Upward and Forward:

INYAS is now 33 members strong, and will soon induct a fresh batch of new members in 2017. We needed to add fresh thinking into our Academy, and the existing members had a daunting task – a huge responsibility of selecting the new batch of recruits who could carry the torch forward and make the flame burn even more brighter, every year.

Membership of INYAS lasts for a period of five years, and only those people who are really motivated to work for the society and for science, can really contribute to this body. While we can offer a platform for Young Scientists to become visible to the world and connect internationally through the GYA, we expect our members to contribute positively to our mission of taking science to the masses.

Future mandates:

INYAS hopes to work towards helping to develop “A Future Generation of Indians” interested in science, not for a career alone, but as a part of their existence. We would like to take science to children in schools and to people on the streets – help people see how science plays a role in our daily lives. India is on its way to becoming the “Youngest Nation” of the world, which gives us an immense potential, if we choose to accept it. With the power of the Youth, we hope to bring in a generation of people who practice science, as a way of life.

Profile:

Dr. Bhadra is a behavioural biologist, working with free-ranging (stray) dogs in India. While pet dogs are studied extensively and compared with wolves in order to understand the evolution of the dog-human relationship, free-ranging dogs in India provide the perfect model system for studying them in nature, and building an understanding of the intrinsic nature of dogs. As they have hardly been studied so far, Dr. Bhadra chose the dogs as a model system, shifting completely from her zone of training and comfort, social insects. This gave her the freedom to set up a research group from scratch, doing things that she had never done before, and exploring new vistas of research.

Dr. Bhadra was involved in the founding of INYAS, and was elected as the first Chairperson by the founding members in June 2015.