Science Makes Our Life Possible: Mahesh Kumar, Scientist

Is your child interested in pursuing a career in science? Read on to know why scientist and academician Prof Mahesh Kumar thinks there are options galore for your budding Einstein.

By Leena Ghosh

Science Makes Our Life Possible: Mahesh Kumar, Scientist
Assistant Prof Mahesh Kumar at an awards function. PC: Facebook

“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge” — Carl Sagan

Indeed! Science is more than a field of study or a career choice. We depend on it not only to fulfil most of our daily needs but also to make our lives better. However, more often than not, science is considered a ‘difficult subject’ to study. According to the 2013 All India Survey on Higher Education published by the Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development, at the ‘undergraduate level, the highest number (34 per cent) of students enrolled for arts followed by Engineering and Technology (19 per cent), Commerce (14.5 per cent) and Science (12 per cent).

On the occasion of the National Science Day, we talk to accomplished scientist Prof Mahesh Kumar (Indian Institute of Technology, Jodhpur), Chairman of Indian National Young Academy of Science (INYAS), on the role of science in our day-to-day lives and how our attitude toward the subject has changed today.

1. Many students score 90 per cent and above in science today. Has studying the subject become easier or has our approach towards studying science changed?

The increase in the average percentage score can be due to multiple reasons. However, the major reason for increase is the change in teaching strategies and the school syllabus. Today, teachers help students understand science in interesting and enjoyable ways. When we were in school, we had limited resources to explore. Thanks to the Internet and the present-day technologies, science can now be studied in many ways. Also, today, understanding concepts is the prime focus from an early stage. For instance, my son was asked to prepare a model to demonstrate force and energy. This practical approach helps children understand concepts and makes the subject easy to understand.

2. What got you interested in science as a child?

I was always a curious child. I always wanted to find out why and how things happened in my surroundings. Because my father was a farmer, I grew up staying very close to nature. As a young boy, I was fascinated by famous scientists such as Marie Curie, Faraday, Einstein, and CV Raman. It was this fascination that led me to choose a career in science. A human being cannot imagine his life today without many innovations made possible by science and technology. In short, science makes life possible. I started with physics as my major subject and the shift to engineering was because of my interest in devices and how they work. My teachers also motivated and inspired me to pursue a career in this stream.

3. How did your parents support you in pursuing your career?

My parents are not highly educated. In fact, my mother never went to school, she is illiterate; and my father didn’t complete his schooling. But they believed in the importance of education and always encouraged and supported me. They still don’t know exactly what my research is and about the work I do, but they are proud parents and I thank them for believing in me and always supporting me.

4. Apart from being a scientist, you are also a teacher. Has the approach toward teaching science changed? How?

Yes, definitely. Earlier, books were the only source of information. Today with the help of electronic media and the Internet, a concept can be explained through multiple means, such as PDFs, diagrams and even videos. And, as a teacher, we now have loads of data for reference as well. Even the labs today are equipped with the latest facilities to aid teaching.

5. What do you think are the major hurdles when it comes to teaching science?

Science is continuously evolving. For a science teacher, it can be particularly hard to be abreast of all the developments. Textbooks can’t provide updated information and access to research journals is expensive. Another challenge is to teach science in an engaging and interesting way to make it memorable.

6. What do you like about teaching science to young minds?

It’s actually very fascinating. Young minds have the ability to observe, explore and question. Their minds are open to experimenting. Sometimes, the questions they ask make you look at the problem differently. You can also learn from these young minds.

7. Today, many children take up alternative careers instead of opting for science and commerce. Would you say there is less interest in the field now?

No, I will not say that interest is less, but that the competition is high in this field. Parents also play an important role in choosing the discipline.

8. What are the lesser known careers in science children can look into?

There are many integrated programmes such as Bachelor of Science (Research)offered by premier institutes like the Indian Institute of Science (Bengaluru) and The Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram, where students can pursue degrees apart from engineering and medical. I also believe that, in science, research opportunities are more than in engineering.

9. Tell us about some highly rewarding careers in science…

Many believe that only medicine and engineering are highly rewarding careers. But, in my opinion, being a scientist is very respectable and they are our modern-day heroes.

10. What advice would you give to a budding scientist?

It’s important to focus on concept building and to be passionate about the work you do. Most inventions are inspired by nature; so, observation is the key. I also recommend that young scientists follow the ethics related to this field.

11. What are some things parents should do to raise scientists?

I think communication is the most important part of parenting. Also, as a parent, you should encourage your child to read biographies of great scientists and, if possible, arrange interactions for your child with scientists. In fact, the vision of INYAS is to promote science across the country and our members are available for interactions and guidance.

12. Many students still opt to go abroad to pursue higher degrees in science. Do you think India does not provide the quality of education required in this field?

In my belief, it is more of a perception. In fact, I can affirm that India has the best graduation curriculum in engineering as well as in science. Premier institutes such as the IISc, IISER, and IITs have state-of-the-art facilities for research, though I would say that we have to improve research facilities in the state universities.

13. How has technology helped people in the field of science?

Technology develops because of science. And now, technology is helping students understand scientific concepts by watching videos and animations, reading articles and so on. With the help of the Internet, we get all the updates in our field in real time. Today, science has become globalised.

14. Your message to parents who are keen on their children building a career in science…

Parents should encourage their children to follow their passions and not force them to choose any field. Parents can motivate their children and cultivate in them an interest in science by telling them stories, visiting science museums, doing basic science experiments at home and so on. I would also like to add that parents should gift more books and control screen time for their children.

Keeping these important suggestions in mind, help your child choose a suitable career for himself, whether it's in science or arts. If he has a scientific temperament, develop his interest in the subject by doing fun science activities at home. 

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