| The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research: Quality poser
New Delhi, May 4: At the nation’s top institution for cutting-edge basic research, scholars are being hurried up to finish their theses and leave for a most mundane reason: lack of hostel space.
Some faculty members at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research fear the sudden stress on speed could hurt the quality and depth of research.
The institute recently sent its senior scholars what many of them describe as a “humiliating” letter.
It said scholars who will have spent six years at the institute by July without having completed their PhDs would be allowed extensions only if they vacate the hostel.
The hostels on the campus at the southernmost tip of Mumbai ' sandwiched between the Arabian Sea and some of India’s most expensive real estate ' have 144 rooms. But the institute has at least 172 research scholars and another 50 are expected to join in August.
In the letter, institute director S. Bhattacharya and director of graduate studies G. Krishnamoorthy have said: “The seriousness of the situation' has forced us to undertake such an unpleasant measure.”
The scholars who have to leave the hostel have been asked to shift to shared rooms in Anushaktinagar near the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, more than 20 km away.
Some 29 scholars will complete six years this year.
“They are among the best young researchers in the country. The letter is a disgusting way to treat them,” a faculty member said.
“It’s been a tradition here to take up highly challenging research and allow students to work on projects that would not be attempted in other institutions in India. Such activity can take extra time.”
“The quality of research is likely to be affected if students are pressured to finish their research in haste,” said a senior scholar who had earlier studied in Calcutta.
“With a six-year deadline for a PhD, scholars would be tempted to pick relatively easy projects ' they’ll look for things they are sure they will finish on time rather than take up harder problems that might take longer,” a faculty member said.
In recent years, first-year scholars have been sharing space although the hostel rooms were not designed for sharing, a faculty member said. Most rooms are 10.5 ft by 10.5 ft, and there is little space left after two standard single beds have been squeezed in.
“There is poor ventilation, and the lack of space in the hostel sometimes compels students to hang their clothes to dry in their rooms,” a research scholar said.
“High-end research requires privacy, adequate mental space and little pleasures such as music,” a faculty member added.
Over the past three years, the institute has increased the intake of scholars from about 30 a year to 50, compounding the problem. Some faculty members said they had cautioned the institute against this.
A new hostel could be squeezed into the limited campus space, but it’s not expected to be ready till 2009, institute officials have told scholars.
The scholars say they have to take courses for 18 months to two years before they can begin working on their theses. “Someone in the fifth year is thus actually in the third year of his thesis work,” a scholar said.
Contacted by The Telegraph, the director of graduate studies said, “There is no hostel crisis. This is an internal matter.”
Several senior faculty members, however, believe the faster scholars complete their PhDs, the better it is for their careers.
Scholars take up two or three years of post-doctoral research in India or abroad after a PhD. “Anyone who completes a PhD at 29 or after would probably be able to settle down in a career only at 33 or 34,” a biology faculty member said.