The Bangalore Life Sciences Cluster (BLiSC), comprising of NCBS Bangalore, inStem and C-CAMP, has recently inducted an Early Career Researchers Council (ECRC), in a bid to involve its student, JRF and postdoc communities more actively in the day-to-day functioning of the campus.
Formally announced in December 2021, the BLiSC ECRC came into being after a sustained period of planning and discussions amongst the larger campus community due to several catalysing factors. Shedding light on the motivations behind setting up the ECRC, Prof. Satyajit Mayor, the Director of NCBS, explained that the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic had led to a “breakdown of several threads of engagement across the campus, especially among students”, and many of the students acutely felt the lack of a community, active mentorship and a deeper connection with the functioning of the campus.
Prof. Raj Ladher, the Academic Head at NCBS, also explained that although the campus had functioned well by relying on a culture of openness and collegiality so far, many recent events on campus highlighted a need for more rigorous outlets for voicing concerns and enacting change through the growing early career researcher (ECR) community on campus.
Elaborating on the journey leading up to the launch of the Council, Simran Virdi, co-chair of the BLiSC ECRC explained that “there were two groups who were doing this independently, who later joined forces”. The first group of people helped chalk up a preliminary constitution of the roles, responsibilities and scope of the Council, while a second group focussed on identifying larger issues on campus that the ECR Council could help address in the near future. Once both these groups started brainstorming together, the ambit of what the Council could achieve expanded ever further.
One such theme that emerged out of such discussions, was the need for systematically creating “more opportunities for career guidance and job opportunities after PhD, JRF or postdocs on campus”, explains Gaurav Kansagara, a member of the current ECRC.
Another focus area for the ECRC is “to coordinate between different actors which are on campus”, promote more collaborations and minimize duplications of effort, explains Abrar Rizvi, co-chair of the BLiSC ECRC. Such actors can range from different kinds of people on campus, departments such as the Archives at NCBS, Communications Office, and the Research & Development Office, as well as external organisations based on campus such as India Bioscience, Science Gallery Bengaluru, and the Post-Doctoral Fellows Association.
In addition, the ECRC wants to focus on several other areas of concern such as the campus community’s mental health and well-being, and hopes to be able to “propel a way forward for people to either seek help or find a way for channelizing their issues and make changes on a bigger scale on campus”, explains Meha Jadhav, a member of the BLiSC ECRC.
The Council is also keen on promoting a greater sense of community, camaraderie and communal agency on campus. A potential way through which the ECRC plans to achieve this is by developing a robust feedback mechanism on campus, by acting as anonymised aggregators and de facto representatives of the early career researcher (ECR) community at various administrative committees, explains Simran. Such a feedback mechanism can potentially be availed by anyone ranging from graduate students, postdocs, junior research fellows and research interns, and can provide them with a sense of agency and empowerment for making their voices heard. This feedback mechanism also has the potential for identifying specific areas in which the faculty can benefit from mentorship, guidance or training sessions too.
The ECRC plans to organise various events and activities in the future, such as an annual convocation ceremony for commemorating all ECRs graduating from our campus every year. It also aims to collaborate more actively with the Academic Office for hosting career counselling events, and with the Campus Wellness Program for organizing interactive social events such as “nature walks, bird watching tours, competitions and other networking events”, explains Abrar.
When enquired about the kinds of challenges anticipated in terms of implementation and functioning of the ECRC, Prof. Ladher agreed that “having young researchers trying to change the minds of older people is going to be tough. But I'll be there to back them up. And all the other Deans are also fully on board with the idea of ECRC”.
The interviewed ECRC members also agreed that time was going to be a major limiting factor for the Council’s functioning. Further, they explained that despite trying to ensure adequate diversity and representation within the Council in terms of institutional affiliations, career phases, research roles, and year of joining, the composition of the current Council was mostly a reflection of interested people who volunteered to be a part of the Council.
Abrar specifically highlighted that bringing members of C-CAMP into the ECRC’s fold required a slightly different approach than for NCBS and inStem. Simran further explained that “another big challenge for the first council as a group is to get to know each other better” as well as ensure that the current Council develops a more formalised election process for making the Council more representative in the subsequent years.
Speaking further on the functioning of the Council, Prof. Ladher revealed that they had consciously “let the ECRC kind of take control of the Council, and shape it however they want” without any kind of interference on their part and provided them with complete agency and power to raise their voices and concerns whenever needed.
Sharing about his expectations from the new ECRC, Prof. Mayor particularly hopes that the Council “will actually set in place traditions of social engagement on the campus and create structures that will be embedded here for perpetuity”. Prof. Ladher hopes that the Council enables students to proactively become “part of the solutions, rather than simply pointing out the problems”.
Abrar too hopes that the Council enables voices of the larger student community to be represented adequately within major decision-making processes on campus. Simran concurs and wishes that the Council helps “bridge that gap between admin, especially the higher level administration, and the rest of the campus”, such as the student, JRF and postdoc communities, as that’s the only way “the Council would have really served its purpose”.
Find out more about the ECRC at intranet.ncbs.res.in/ecr-council