India and China’s chalk and cheese approach to science
Like any young scientist, Prasad Hegde had to look hard for research positions around the world after a PhD. But unlike many Indian students in the US, Hegde looked eastward to do postdoctoral research. India was not an option as there were few positions available. He chose Taiwan over the US and EU, but it did not work out. Then he moved to China, which like India did not have a tradition of post-doctoral research, but was creating such jobs in large numbers.
Hegde spent two years in Wuhan, studying exotic states of matter created by collisions of atomic nuclei, before returning to India and a job at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru. Hegde’s stint in China gave him insights into Chinese science and state of mind, the Chinese work culture and attitudes towards research. At least in his field of heavy ion physics, India had more scientists than China. “This kind of science was new to them,” he says. But China was creating new fields of science and large research teams. The labs had plenty of money and were more flexible in hiring. “They like to do things in large scale and they do things fast,” says Hedge, who is now an assistant professor at the Centre for High Energy Physics at IISc.
Over the last four decades, China has been developing the country at a frenetic pace. As it built its bridges and dams, its coal plants and rockets, the country also invested heavily in science and engineering research. Senior Chinese political leaders, most of whom had their basic education in science or engineering, trusted the power of science to transform the country’s economy and society.
Unlike in India, it is easy for a foreigner to move and establish a lab in China. Ralf Jauch, a structural biologist from the Max Plank Institute in Germany, found this when he moved to the Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health in 2013. Jauch now has academic freedom, not to speak of good funding and a generous supply of foreign students. But what surprised him was the attitude of the provincial government.
Despite his institute being part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the provincial government and the city of Guangzhou have invested in it. “I think this model of investment is unique to China,” says Jauch.