The Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance was set up in 2008-09 as a 10-year programme.
In January 2017 the two funders put together a mechanism to independently collect and analyze data, and conduct an external review. A committee of eminent international science leaders gave high marks to India Alliance and recommended another 5-year phase of funding starting in April 2019. The credit for this goes to our Fellows for their exciting research, our committee members for their wise counsel, and our staff for their hard work and attention to detail.
The lessons learned so far will be applied in the next phase of India Alliance. While continuing with fellowships that work well, some restructuring of the schemes based on past experience is inevitable. We also look forward to new initiatives such as collaborative grants, developing physician scientists and increased emphasis on improving the ecosystems that support our Fellows.
As of May 2017, India Alliance has funded 280 Fellowships at 82 different institutions in India. This includes 81 Early Career, 141 Intermediate, 37 Senior, 5 Margdarshi Fellowships and 16 Research Training Fellowships.
India Alliance receives very competitive applications for the Early Career, Intermediate and Clinical & Public Health Fellowships. But those we receive for our Margdarshi, Senior and Research Training Fellowships are of variable quality. The limited numbers of senior researchers in India doing high quality work remains a challenge for Indian science.
Early career researchers continue to suffer in Indian academia due to poor mentoring and the premium that institutions put on overseas training while hiring them. Stricter visa rules, increasing exclusivity and funding cuts in Europe and US offer India the opportunity to retain our best young scientists and to attract excellent ones from overseas. We will continue to promote this ‘brain gain’ through generous and flexible funding, using competitive and transparent processes that place a premium on good people with interesting ideas.
Our Fellows have continued making impact through their work. Their contributions are increasingly being recognized through invitations to speak at major international conferences, write authoritative reviews and perform editorial duties. They have also received important awards. There are many, but I will make a special mention of Dr. Rishikesh Narayanan (IISc, Bangalore), who was awarded the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize in Biological Sciences for 2016, Dr. Minhajuddin Sirajuddin (InStem, Bangalore), who became the first EMBO Young Investigator from India, and Dr. Thomas Pucadyil (IISER, Pune) for being the only Indian scientist to receive the HHMI International Research Scholar Fellowship in 2017.
India Alliance increased its international engagement over the past year as we worked towards a sustainable India-Africa research partnership. In July 2016, five India Alliance Fellows attended the first annual DELTAS Fellows meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. The DELTAS is a Wellcome Trust funded programme to build scientific excellence and leadership in Africa. In May 2017, eight DELTAS Fellows joined us for the India Alliance Fellows meeting in Hyderabad, and in July 2017, nine India Alliance Fellows attended the second annual DELTAS Fellows meeting in Accra, Ghana. A broader engagement with Africa is taking place through an India-Africa Health Science partnership championed by the Indian Council of Medical Research and the African Union. Both India Alliance and Wellcome are playing an important role in this activity. Wellcome is also considering ways to increase interactions between its Fellows from Africa, India and Southeast Asia. An annual science meeting and academic leadership training programmes are on the drawing board.
During the past year, India Alliance supported over 30 meetings and conferences in India. We also supported and participated in Young Investigator Meetings (YIMs) held in Goa, Boston, Chicago and Cambridge. These meetings support our goal of bringing outstanding young scientists back to India. This year India Alliance entered into a partnership with the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) to jointly fund the India-EMBO Symposia. These meetings are envisioned to provide an opportunity to young Indian researchers to meet and interact with highly acclaimed international scientists, and to discuss important challenges in health, agriculture, energy, climate, etc. in the context of life sciences. We hope these meetings will address discovery and innovation through an interdisciplinary approach.
We reached out to many more institutions and individuals through our Science Communication and Science Careers workshops, and our bimonthly newsletter. In our efforts to connect science and society we organized a 6-week Art-Science Residency (The Undivided Mind), which brought together intellectuals, civil society, artists and scientists, culminating in a series of discussions and an exhibition. Another major effort was the yearlong “Voices for Health” series. It was aimed at engaging people and communities to better understand public health and to educate them about key determinants of emergent heath issues such as antibiotic resistance, cancer, mental health and environmental health.
We remain committed to promoting an ecosystem that produces future leaders. While we continue to assist our Fellows achieve their career goals, we will increasingly engage with others as well to provide an enabling environment. The junior scientists today are our most valuable assets.
If you have a stellar career and good ideas, please look at our Fellowship schemes. If you have an interest in promoting the science ecosystem in India, let us work together.
CEO, The Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance
Shahid Jameel, PhD
Shahid Jameel joined the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance in April 2013 after over 25 years of experience as a Scientist and Group Leader at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi, India. His research at ICGEB dealt with human viruses – the hepatitis E virus (HEV) and HIV, where his group explored the role of viral proteins and host noncoding RNAs in pathogenesis.
Shahid has undergraduate degrees in Chemistry from the Aligarh Muslim University and the Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur), India, and a PhD in Biochemistry from the Washington State University, Pullman, USA. His post-doctoral work in Molecular Virology was carried out at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, USA.
For his research, Shahid has received support from DBT, ICMR, Wellcome Trust (UK) and NIH (USA). His work is recognized through various awards, including the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize in Medical Sciences, and fellowships of all the three science academies in India. He is on the Editorial Boards of various international and Indian journals, and serves as a member or Chair of various key committees at DBT and ICMR.
Shahid loves to travel and enjoys reading history. He is also an avid amateur photographer and a (very) erratic blogger.