#lka Make the right kind of Scientists Happy, they will make the whole Sri Lanka happy

I finished a Chemistry special degree with first class honors at the University of Peradeniya and I found a placement for a PhD at the University of Arizona. After finishing a PhD in Analytical Chemistry from the ranked 5 university for Analytical Chemistry in USA, I went to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) for my postdoctoral training. Some of my colleagues and my bosses of the PhD are on Facebook too. After joining my PhD research group I was given a grant code. Anything I want for research I could fill a form get my boss’s signature and order. If I want them quickly like overnight, I could get them quickly too. Additionally the chemistry department of University of Arizona had a chemical store room. Many of the heavily used chemicals and supplies were available there. You can walk in, find it on which shelf from the catalogue, walk upto the shelf, pick up however many you want, write on the logbook on your way out with that same grant code. That was the process. No one to monitor me.

After moving to CMU, my situation was upgraded. There I was given  Credit Card with the limit of $5000. I was allowed to order anything I needed for my research up to $1000 without even consulting my boss. I was not allowed to order instruments. There were days I used to read papers in the morning & by about 2 pm I order new chemicals. Next day morning it was next to my office door. So for the next few days/weeks I get lost in experiments. Once a month I had to do reconciliation with the departmental secretary of the things I ordered. It was so easy to be a scientist when people around you trusted you. So I quit my job at CMU and decide to move to Sri Lanka to be that happy scientist.

I joined a scientific institution of Sri Lanka. There were very new instruments. Some of them I have used, some were new to me, some of which I used to build from scratch for the CHEM 528 class at Arizona. I was not allowed to use any of them until I get the training from the very talented electrical engineer with a BSc. I had a condition, I will get trained by anyone who could answer my questions about why I should press which ever the button he/she wanted me to press. Only because I did not want to be trained monkey pressing buttons. So my training never happened. I was not allowed to order any chemicals. It was also taken cared of by the same electrical engineer. He was cheek and tongue friends with the chemical supplier companies. Even when a new instrument was ordered same company used to get the order most of the times. Even if there was a better quotation that was matched by that company by next day. When overseas equipment training came they came with names attached. Those names belonged to the ones who were good friends with that same talented young engineer. I asked around why I had to get trained from him. Some people told me that he was one of the few who got training for those equipment. Some people also told me when the training was in Japan he disappeared for 2 days. I don’t know how true those are. One thing I can tell is that happy scientist who thought of doing some innovations for the country died because now he doesn’t have any freedom to order any chemical or any supplies unless that young multi-talented electrical engineer and his friends at certain companies say yes. They also say minimum delivery time is 6 weeks. That actually happens only if you are lucky.

Sometimes after 6 weeks you have a different idea. That’s how scientist minds work. Ideas come sometimes non-stop but sometimes like writers block, it takes a break. It is not something to controlled by an external person and his friends. I know how to find my happiness. So I did but I can guarantee there are many unhappy scientists in Sri Lanka. If as a country we could find a way to make the right kind of scientists happy, they will make the whole country happy. Be aware every scientist is also not created equally. You need to be able to find the right kind of scientist.

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ප්‍රතිචාර 2

Filed under My experiences, Office politics, Science in Sri Lanka

2 responses to “#lka Make the right kind of Scientists Happy, they will make the whole Sri Lanka happy

  1. පින්ග්කිරීම: #lka Make the right kind of Scientists Happy, they will make the whole Sri Lanka happy | සතුටු වැස්ස බ්ලොග් කියවනය

  2. I believe this is your experience at the Sri Lanka Institute of Nano Technology (SLINTEC, http://slintec.lk/), a much touted public-private partnership. SLINTEC was meant to ‘liberate’ our best scientific minds to carry out frontier research without being constrained by bureaucratic procedures that are rampant at entirely state owned research institutes. I guess even with the best of intentions it is very hard for Sri Lankans – including some of our scientists — to break free from the bureaucratic mentality. I call this Babu-Science: babu being a derogatory South Asian term for administrators.

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