Published: 27th February 2019
India needs more fellowships: JNU prof who donated Rs 2.5 lakhs of his award money to Bengal's Kalyani University
Dhar comes from a semi-urban setup of Bardhaman town in West Bengal and has seen his share of hurdles and complications throughout his journey
There are numerous scholars in our country who have fought against all odds and had the confidence to go on even when things were not so bright. They went on to do ground-breaking work — Dr Suman Kumar Dhar is one of them. This professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University's Special Centre for Molecular Medicine is a recipient of Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in 2012. He donated more than 50 per cent of his prize money to Kalyani University, his alma mater, to help students who are interested in further education find their way.
Every year, the student who gets the first rank in MSc in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics will be awarded approximately Rs 17,000 from the interest of the donated fund. "After their MSc, it might take some time for the students to find the right place for their PhD. This fund will help him or her survive until everything settles down," said Dhar. "I have had this plan for a long time now. Even though I received the award in 2012 the amount was handed over only in 2016. I approached the head of my department at Kalyani University and also spoke to the VC about my intention to set up this fund. They agreed and then it was just a matter of time and paperwork."
Dhar comes from a semi-urban setup of Bardhaman town in West Bengal and has seen his share of hurdles and complications throughout his journey. "My father had died at a very young age. But elder brother supported me. Once I was done with my bachelor's (degree) I started looking for a job. But my brother gave me the confidence and support to carry on studying," said Dhar. "I moved to Kalyani University from my hometown. People there were not just supportive they inspired me to do more. I wanted to help my family financially after my masters and I spiralled back to try and look for a job. My professors asked me to apply for fellowships instead. I came to JNU for my PhD and then did my post-doc from Harvard Medical School," recounts Dhar. He was one of the few who set up the Special Centre for Molecular Medicine when he came back to India.
The professor wants to stay involved with his programme to help the children. "I also want to provide mentorship to the student. Doesn't matter where they plan to study they will have my contact details and I will help them with anything they need to shape a better career," he said. "It's not just academics. Teachers need to help students stay focused. We tend to think about the future too much. When you are in your undergrads you wonder what will happen after that — job or Masters? During your Masters you worry about PhD. During your research, you worry about jobs after PhD. This is normal. All of us went through it. But focusing on your present will help shape your future. Not the other way round. Teachers should be there to mentor them for these things as well."
Dhar has been a researcher in India for the past 20 years and he thinks, all things considered, the number of fellowships that this country has to offer are not enough. But he also added that once you get into a PhD programme you will, in all probability come out with a paycheck in hand. "Almost everyone who pursues PhD ends up with a job. The problem might be surviving the four to five years of research that is needed to get there," said Dhar. "Most of the central universities have subsidised food and lodging and with the amount that a research fellow gets it should not be a problem. But we don't consider auxiliary expenses. When I was a research fellow I did not have a phone. I did not have malls. I needed just Rs 5 to watch a film. Now, it costs an insane amount to just go for a movie and a meal. But entertainment is important too. We obviously do not have enough scholarships in our country. More scholarships mean more research and development."