Four young scientists win DST’s science writing award

Paulomi Sanghavi from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai won the Rs.1,00,000 prize in the Post-doc category.

Ashish Srivastava (University of Mumbai), Ajay Kumar (IIT Madras) and Nabanita Chakraborty (Vidyasagar University) among PhD students and Dr. Paulomi Sanghavi from TIFR in the Post-doc category won DST’s maiden AWSAR national science story writing competition. Also, 100 PhD students and 20 Post-doc fellows who have written the best stories will be awarded a cash prize of Rs.10,000 each.

On the eve of National Science Day, a certificate of appreciation and cash prize were given to three PhD students and one Post-doc fellow for winning the Department of Science and Technology’s (DST) science writing competition — Augmenting Writing Skills for Articulating Research (AWSAR).

The AWSAR initiative is to encourage and equip PhD scholars and post-doctoral fellows with writing skills to communicate science with lay people. Students are required to submit a popular science article about their research.

Cash prize of Rs.1,00,000, Rs.50,000 and Rs.25,000 were given to the first three winners among PhD students and Rs.1,00,000 to one Post-doc fellow. Also, 100 best stories by PhD students and top 20 stories by Post-doc fellows will get a cash prize of Rs.10,000 each.

Ashish Srivastava from the School of Engineering and Technology, University of Mumbai won the first prize (Rs.1,00,000) in the PhD category, while Ajay Kumar and Nabanita Chakraborty from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras and Vidyasagar University, Medinipur, West Bengal won the second (Rs.50,000) and third (Rs.25,000) prize respectively. Dr. Paulomi Sanghavi from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai won the Rs.1,00,000 prize in the Post-doc category.

“We received 2,600 stories from PhD students and 500 from Post-doc fellows,” says Dr. Rashmi Sharma, scientist at DST and in-charge of the AWSAR programme. Apparently, there were over 4,000 registrations but not every one who registered was able to submit stories on time. DST was expecting at least 5,000 articles from PhD students and about 1,000 articles from post-doctoral fellows.

“The stories by the top three PhD students are very good. Over all, there is scope for improvement among PhD students,” Dr. Sharma says. “The stories by Post-doc fellows are definitely better than PhD students. The experience of writing PhD thesis seems to have helped them.”

DST had conducted four workshops to teach students how to write popular science articles. The agency intends to conduct 8-10 such workshops this year. “The workshops will help in capacity building and further help in improving the writing skills of students,” she says.

On why fewer than expected entries were received from PhD students, DST Secretary Prof. Ashutosh Sharma says: “Students have submitted their stories based on our advertisement. We have so far not made it mandatory for all PhD students to write a popular science article [based on their research]. We will take a final decision after consulting with other stakeholders. I feel it is desirable that PhD students write a popular science article during their PhD programme. It would improve their writing skills…they would gain a lot from it.”

Among the three winners and top 10 best stories in the PhD category, four are from Mumbai. Besides Ajay Kumar (who won the second prize), there are five more students from IIT Madras alone in the PhD category but none in the Post-doc category. While there are only four PhD students from Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, there are three students in the Post-doc category. Altogether, there are 26 PhD students from IITs in the PhD category and two in the Post-doc category. Eight PhD students from CSIR labs are in the top 100 list.

“Science communication is an important activity for scientists and is a part of doing science. Yet, the importance of communicating with lay audience is not emphasised early on and those who do it are not rewarded,” DST Secretary Prof. Sharma told me last year. “We want to change this by producing a group of people who can translate their research work into popular science articles. The intent of the programme is to inculcate popular science writing skills and bring science closer to the society.”

Published in the Hindu on February 28, 2019

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