Friday, 8 April 2016

A possibility: Periodic extended discourses by academics

So here are two challenges that I think we are facing in academics. The first one might be more prevalent in India than other countries while the second is probably a global phenomenon:
1) There seems to be a disconnect between the research  being carried out within universities and institutes and the society at large outside. A very large number of people probably have very little idea about what this research actually is and its relevance and usefulness in the fundamental as well as applied sense.
2) In terms of scientific advancement (i.e. research) I think two extreme scenarios have emerged: (i) There are those who don't do research at all. I don't think an academic life can be considered complete if the element of "a quest for knowledge" is missing. Hence I don't think this stance can or should be encouraged. We want those people as profs who have the desire and commitment to dig deeper. (ii) On another extremity I think we now have people who are basically "chasing numbers". I don't this paradigm is healthy either as it can discourage a mindset of settling down on more serious / difficult / deeper problems that can take time to solve: and these are the problems which actually should be higher on our priority.
Here's an idea that can potentially address these issues. The logistics may be sticky but I think its worth thinking in this direction.
Every faculty member can perhaps be required to give an extended discourse of his or her work once every three years or so. And the modality could be something as follows:
Part 1: About a two hour seminar to colleagues, peers and experts in the specific field(s) one is working in that displays one's command over the breadth and depth of the field(s) in question and elaborates on the specific problems one is working on and how one is going about trying to solve them / make progress. Such seminars might spark off serious discussions amongst peers on important problems. Plus this kind of a paradigm might guard us against engaging ourselves in non-serious work.
Part 2: About an hour long seminar to the public at large where one's field of work can be explained to a general audience in terminology that is accessible to them. With today's multimedia capability I reckon a fair amount should be possible in terms of connecting members of the society at large to different scientific disciplines and the progress being made in them.

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