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What’s with Science in Bengal?

Many Bengali researchers are doing brilliant science in premier labs outside India but Kolkata has failed to hold back its enormous talent pool.

Subhra Priyadarshini
Mon, Jul 15 2013

Shubhra Chaudhuri in her lab in Michigan. (photo courtsey:

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About Subhra

A deadline-chasing journalist for long years, I focus my energies now on anything with a tinge of science. I have pretensions of being an amateur photographer too. I travel on a 'must see before I die' basis -- gleefully striking off lesser known destinations from the world map, soaking up a wealth of sensory experiences and feeling alive.

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Five years back, I set out to investigate the state of affairs in West Bengal’s scientific research. Having worked for long years as a journalist in the state capital Kolkata, with special interest in the science of the eastern region of the country, I had moved on to the country’s capital Delhi to work with a leading science publisher, the Nature Publishing Group. Therefore, my interest in this investigation was by no means just academic. I connected on a more personal level with the science scene in this land that has produced some of the great scientists of India.

Here’s an excerpt of what I found and reported for Nature India soon after:

Will the East bounce back?

Eastern India's romance with basic science research has been historically celebrated. Why's it that Kolkata has not been able to retain the coveted position through the ages? Will the region bounce back with a slew of new measures planned? Nature India investigates.

In the land of Jagadish Chandra Bose, Meghnad Saha and P. C. Mahalonobis, a disturbing trend has left scientific institutions worried — that of young scientists leaving its shores for greener pastures. It isn't surprising then that one finds Bengali surnames galore while scanning for Indian names in international publications. Neither is it just a coincidence that the scientist with the highest number of publications in this country is a Bengali (Ashoke Sen of the Harishchandra Research Institute of Allahabad).

Why hasn't West Bengal, or more precisely its culturally-throbbing capital Kolkata replete with scientific institutes, been able to hold back this enormous talent pool?”

Full report here. (Please register free for full access.)

Five years on, my assessment (and that of experts in the field) remains more or less the same.

However, this year something happened that rekindled my optimism in the scientific merit of the state. I was compiling a series on Indian postdoctoral fellows working in foreign labs as a useful resource for greenhorns looking at postdoctoral stints outside the country. We decided to name the series, very obviously, ‘Away from Home’. Not contrary to my expectations, I came across many Bengali postdocs doing brilliant science in premier labs outside the country. Their stories were awe-inspiring and immensely enriching. And most importantly, they answered the crucial question: why hasn’t Kolkata been able to hold back this enormous talent pool?

Here’s a representative list of some Bengali postdocs from across the world I featured on Nature India’s blog ‘Indigenus’. Though not all of them might have studied or been brought up in Bengal, the one common thread that ties them together is their inherent ‘Bangaliana’ and quest for science. I hope they inspire, educate and breed a new tribe of global Bengali scientists, something that Bengal so truly deserves.

Marital science bliss: Talking about how marriage catapulted her further into her scientific pursuits is Atrayee Banerjee. Atrayee has a Masters in Environmental Management from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management (IISWBM), Calcutta, India and was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Missouri-Rolla. Right now, she works at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Maryland, USA. Read the full blog here.

Research not Nobel-driven: Arghya Basu wears many hats — that of a membrane protein researcher, an amateur photographer and a weekend hiking enthusiast. A doctorate from Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Kolkata, India, Arghya now lives his many passions working at the University of Alberta, Canada and says research might not always fetch you a Nobel but should be able to make life better for some. Read the full blog here

Industrial research: Shubhra Chaudhuri tells us why industry is a great place to do research and some “serious science”. Shubhra, who did a masters from the University of Delhi, India is currently a postdoc in the toxicology division of The Dow Chemical Company, Michigan, USA. Read the full blog here

Work culture matters: Shankar Das is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, USA. Shankar narrates the culture shock he dealt with after he landed in the US from Bose Institute in Kolkata, India. Despite the initial glitch, he suggests that every researcher must get international exposure and come back with some essential take-homes. Read the full blog here.

Of jalapenos & cognition: Young medico Abhijit Das is a postdoctoral fellow at the Kessler Foundation, New Jersey, USA. Abhijit completed his neurology residency at Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST), Trivandrum, Kerala, India. He tells us about his tryst with blizzards, his coming to terms with the silent ‘j’ of jalapenos, and the excellent research environment in cognitive neurorehabilitation. Read the full blog here.

An eye for funds: Moumita Chaki is a PhD from Indian Institute of Chemical Biology (IICB-CSIR), Kolkata, currently working as a Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan Medical School, USA. She talks, among other things, about the problems of funding for independent postdoctoral research that visa-holders like her might face in the US. Read the full blog here.

Proteins in Germany: Kangkan Halder completed his doctoral thesis at the Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (IGIB), New Delhi and is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Applied Synthetic Biology Group at the University of Göttingen, Germany. He shares his excitement of studying structural changes and dynamics in proteins and seasoning his cooking with the Indian ‘tadka. Read the full blog here.

All entries in the ‘Away from Home’ series can be found here:

The writer is the Editor of Nature India (

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