Fostering multidisciplinary research at colleges

Degree Colleges need to augment their infrastructure, human resource, and other facilities, and allow their students to create new knowledge
"Proposed four-year UG programme shall lead to a degree with research if the students complete a rigorous research project in their major area of study." [Representational Image]
"Proposed four-year UG programme shall lead to a degree with research if the students complete a rigorous research project in their major area of study." [Representational Image] courses.lumenlearning [Creative Commons]

As per the New Education Policy (NEP-2020), newly proposed four-year multidisciplinary bachelor’s degree programmes at colleges will provide an opportunity to students to experience the full range of holistic and multidisciplinary education besides allowing them to select major and minor subjects of their choice.

Proposed four-year UG programme shall lead to a degree with research if the students complete a rigorous research project in their major area of study.

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) including colleges and universities will now have the flexibility to offer a two-year Master’s Degree programme with the second year devoted entirely to research for those who have completed 3-year bachelor’s programme, whereas for students completing a 4-year bachelor’s programme with research, there would be a 1-year Master’s programme and an integrated 5-year bachelor’s/master’s degree programme will also be up for the grabs.

Henceforth undertaking a doctorate shall require either a master’s degree or a 4-year bachelor’s degree with research. Accordingly, colleges have to gear up themselves to face these new challenges of starting multidisciplinary research and offering research degrees to their students.

In order to get going with research at undergraduate level, degree colleges need to augment their infrastructure, manpower and other facilities including laboratories equipped with sophisticated equipments and libraries equipped with standard reference books for research.

They need to explore liberal funding opportunities for this purpose at local, regional, national and international levels from government as well as non-government sources. They need to impart specialised training to their technical and teaching staff through continuing education programmes like refresher and orientation courses, with a view to prepare them for in-house research activities.

They need to be trained about the research methodology, study designs, sampling methods, hypothesis testing, ethics, integrity and confidentiality in research besides other socio-cultural and legal aspects and intricacies of research.

Then the colleges need to devise policies for research in which they need to incorporate sufficient provisions for incentivization of good quality and cutting-edge research. They also need to promote and encourage problem-based, practice-based, demand-driven, context-specific, translational, need-based, locally and socially relevant research on their campuses.

Translational research in particular will ensure translation of scientific evidence generated through research into a policy framework that in turn should get translated into practice on ground.

While stepping into the domain of research colleges need to promote and foster collaborative multidisciplinary research, breaking the silos in which academicians have been working so far and dissolving the compartments in which knowledge has been constrained.

Knowledge is an ocean that knows no boundaries and hence cannot be confined into compartments. Rising above their subject specific domains and discipline-specific empires, academicians need to intermingle and come up with integrated, collaborative, trans-disciplinary research problems and collectively devise holistic solutions to those problems with a view to resolve the problems being faced by the human kind and make this world a better place to live.

It is said that narrow disciplinarians often commit errors that can be best detected by people familiar with two or more disciplines. Therefore, “un-disciplining of knowledge” is a need of the hour and churning out “un-disciplinarians”, who don’t follow only one discipline of knowledge throughout their life, is what NEP-2020 intends to achieve. In order to exactly illustrate how this can be accomplished in actual practice at our colleges, I hereby cite an example of undertaking such kind of research on medicinal plants.

Nature has gifted our valley of Kashmir with the precious wealth of medicinal plants that need to be tapped and explored for their immense therapeutic potential. This could serve as a potential area for multidisciplinary research at our colleges.

Botanists at our colleges can undertake research on the cultivation, collection, conservation, bioprospection and biodiversity documentation of medicinal plants whereas our Chemists can undertake research on the isolation, purification, characterisation of natural products from medicinal plants.

Zoologists can perform animal testing of natural products for their medicinal properties using cell cultures, stem cells, cancer cell lines, laboratory animals, including research on their mutagenicity, teratogenicity, carcinogenicity testing and evaluation.

Researchers of Biochemistry can study the effects of natural products derived from medicinal plants on the biochemistry and physiology of human beings and animals whereas our Biotechnologists can study genetic and molecular signatures of the natural products isolated from medicinal plants through studies involving gene mapping, gene expression, recombinant technology, proteomics, transcriptomics, genomics and metabonomics.

Pharmacologists in turn can study the effects of natural products on living systems either in-situ, in-utero, in-vitro, in-vivo or in-silico whereas our industrial pharmacists can lead to the formulation of natural products into dosage forms like tablets, capsules, injections, ointments, syrups, implants, patches etc.

Similarly, many other examples can be cited from other areas of research. This way whole process can be completed in an integrated fashion within the same higher education institution leading to better outcomes of research having sufficient utility and valorisation in day-to-day life.

Many of the social, cultural, economic, demographic, ecological, environmental and geographical problems existing in our society require multi-disciplinary approaches. Majority of the worthwhile topics of research fall at the interstices of the traditional disciplines. Interdisciplinarity entails greater flexibility in research and promotes creativity, critical and analytical mindset.

Therefore, there is a dire need to promote interdisciplinary education and research at our higher education institutions in consonance with NEP-2020. Our colleges can serve as breeding grounds for such kind of research since they have to start from a scratch.

When they embark on their journey towards research with transdisciplinary approaches their research outcomes will witness a paradigm shift from that of the conventional research carried out by our higher education institutions thus far.

Interdisciplinary research will help breach communication gaps and missing linkages in the contemporary academics, thereby helping in mobilising its enormous intellectual resources in the direction of greater social solidarity and justice.

Colleges need to plan their research goals and research designs accordingly and identify research questions after mutual consultations rather than working separately and pursuing their separate agenda for research.

Common aims and objectives in research will yield better research benefits, outputs and outcomes that will have a better societal impact and make the whole research process productive and relevant.

Such type of joint research protocols will also garner greater financial support from national and international funding agencies.

To begin with, our colleges need to inculcate a good research culture at their campuses. In order to produce researchers of national and international repute they need to promote scientific temper and inquisitiveness among their students.

At the very outset they should give simple research problems to their students in order to acclimatise them and stimulate their appetite towards research.

Students need to be told about the difference between peer-reviewed and grey literature and in order to make research ventures interesting they need to be exposed to interesting and exciting case studies in diverse streams and then the importance of transdisciplinary education and research needs to be explained to them in a very lucid and attractive manner.

Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote comes very handy at such occasions that reads, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”. Similarly, the quote of William Arthur Ward that reads, “The mediocre teacher tells; the good teacher explains; the superior teacher demonstrates; the great teacher inspires,” fits into the bill very well.

We need teachers at our colleges who would demonstrate practically and inspire awe among their students towards research, who would hand hold them, mentor them and lead them towards new vistas and horizons of research.

Simultaneously motivational and mentoring sessions need to be conducted on regular basis inviting acclaimed and accomplished researchers for their interactions with the students. This will inspire them to set and achieve their goals and fulfil their dreams in life.

(Based on excerpts from the lecture delivered by the author at Islamia College of Science and Commerce, Srinagar during its first interdisciplinary science colloquium.)

Author teaches at the Dept. of Pharmaceutical Sciences and holds the additional charge of Director, Centre for Career Planning and Counselling, University of Kashmir

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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