K joined our lab after getting his Ph.D in India He walked up to my bench the other day and pointed out to the amount of plastic waste i generate in a day- this is what i'd put out in a week, he said. He has re-started two-sided printing in the lab, even if it means walking up the printer and turning the paper around and putting it back in, mid-printing. I used to do that for my first few months here and gave up. Now I am happy to do it again. I have always been a huge advocate of conserving, but over the years, lapsed into some amount of laziness and "going with the flow". K has come and re-instilled some of those practices.
I have never seen how a research institute might be run in India, but I had no illusions. Still, K has taken it upon himself to dispel any wrong notions I may have about the conditions there, given how I blow my "I-want-to-go-back-to-india" trumpet. In some ways, I am glad he's telling me all that, prepares me for my future. Although sometimes it does get annoying. It's amazing the things we take for granted here, how much labs have to struggle to get the same things back home. Financial constraints are one thing, the research atmosphere is another. Over here, for most part, the collaborative spirit is very dominant. People are only to happy to help, to lend reagents, exchange protocols, if it is going to further your science in any way. So I never hesitate to go across the hall and ask people, or share my thoughts with them. K would always hesitate- because he is more used to a highly competitive atmosphere- where people don't dole out help that easily and where everything is tinged with a hint of suspicion. I have seen a bit of that during my bachelors and masters days in india- where friends hid notes from you and other such sneaky doings. Of course, these are not always the rule. You have crazy paranoid unhealthy competition here, and I am sure the converse is true for labs in India.
Partly, one cannot blame people for being so close-minded or paranoid in India. Where opportunities are far and few in between, and everything is a struggle. I remember the time I was investigating options of doing a Ph.D in India- right then it was clear to me that it'd be a lot easier for me to land a position abroad! For those that made it through the system and got those prized research fellowship positions, they are then faced with 5 - 6 years of only more struggle. It's not the easiest for them to be all noble and selfless when they are constantly trying to maintain their spot and survive. Here, there's ample space for everyone to grow, and excellence is encouraged. People do well , and want you , encourage you to also do well. Because there's enough to go around.
K probably comes from one of those places which is a hotbed of red-tape and bureaucracy, he has so many horror stories to relate about curbed freedom in science, difficulties in getting money that was rightfully his, etc. etc. Makes some sense why Indian scientists come abroad and never want to go back. I have seen my share of dirty wars in science over here - I don't think any society is bereft of politics, egos, and the like. How much they hamper science, is of course, all relative. Inspite of politics and dirty games, conveniences available to people in their daily work-life, and the absolute freedom makes for a much smoother sailing. It's funny to see K's eyes popping every time he sees how easy I have some things, and then he has his own little anecdote to relate. (Yeah, that's when it gets a bit annoying . ;) )
India is growing in science and technology like never before. My father is always sending me newspaper clippings of how R&D is making huge strides and it's heartening to know that. I personally know at least a couple people who finished their Ph.D here and went back home. Money is becoming more fluid and available, at least in big institutes. People are taking processes, technologies AND attitudes from abroad and implementing them back home. Yes, it's a long journey ahead, but some right steps are being taken.
At the end of the day, I am not going back to India for better career prospects. I am going back because I want to go home. And I am willing to make accommodations in my professional lifestyle for that. I hope I stand by this five years from now.