Between Scientist and Administrator

I came across today an article by a professor of IIT, Delhi that has raised a very pertinent issue: Why a scientist doesn’t remain content with his work and achievement as scientist and starts looking to get into the chair of the administrator?

It will be very hard to find a well-known scientist in India who did not become an administrator – particularly in the past few decades. However, of the 27 Nobel laureates in physics of the last 10 years, only seven hold any major administrative post. This reflects a basic difference in how science and scientists are viewed in our society and how they view themselves, as compared to the situation in the scientifically advanced countries.

When a scientist does good work and is recognized globally, the best way the government and the civic structures seem to reward the person is by giving an administrative title and role, so he becomes a ‘big administrator’ who will rub shoulders with the ‘powers-that-be’. Not only is the thinking of administrators and government like this, this is the nature of thinking of scientists and academics also – after an individual has achieved some name in science, he starts looking for ‘elevation’ as an administrator.

And in the process, quite often, the country may be loosing great scientists and getting a poor manager or administrator that has its own larger and negative consequences.

I experienced the same even in corporate world. The engineers as supervisors in operation hardly used much of the technical knowledge but got better opportunity for getting promoted as managers at higher levels, ultimately even as CEO or as the second man only to CEO with wider responsibilities and fatter packs of compensation. A person with similar experience who joined, say R&D, production engineering, or industrial engineering required better technical knowledge and knack. But the scope of promotions used to be limited and naturally the perks were not that lucrative.

There are always some staff functions and some managerial ones in every organization. Each function is equally important for the performance of the organization and requires its employee to give their best. However, the aspirations of people are different. Some get job satisfaction in the work responsibility of staff function and some enjoy managerial function better. Unfortunately, US came out with MBA education and made it appear as much superior to engineers and technocrats. Indian business as usual opted for the same practice. MBAs from IIMs are today getting better placements and compensation than the best possible technocrats trained in IITs. Even the society has started giving more honour to MBAs from IIMs. I fail to understand this disparity.

However, human aspirations are different. One can’t judge an individual by a particular type of achievement. A professor may be a very good teacher but not interested in research or publishing books of his subject. Can one be branded better or more successful than other?

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