The ISRO-IIT paradox: Why are there so few IIT graduates at India's space agency?
In India's educational landscape, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are revered as hubs of excellence. The achievements of IIT alumni are evident across global corporations and various fields. However, it's puzzling that less than 1% of these brilliant minds choose careers at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). ISRO Chief Dr. S Somanath shared insightful perspectives in an interview with media , shedding light on the factors behind this phenomenon.
Unfulfilled Expectations: Dr. Somanath candidly acknowledged that despite IITs being esteemed as the breeding grounds for top engineers, ISRO struggles to attract talent from these prestigious institutions. He mentioned that while IIT graduates are deemed the best talents, they are not joining ISRO.
Why Aren't IIT Graduates Opting for ISRO? This raises several intriguing questions. If IIT graduates receive an exceptional high-tech education, why are they hesitant to serve a government-run scientific organization like ISRO? What prevents India from channeling its top engineering talent towards space exploration and vital scientific endeavors? What makes careers in government-sector science less appealing to IIT alumni?
Unsung Heroes: Surprisingly, after the Chandrayaan-3 mission, it was evident that many of the scientists and technocrats involved weren't IIT graduates but individuals who had completed their education in lesser-known engineering colleges. Dr. Shashi Tharoor, a Member of Parliament, emphasized the importance of appreciating these unsung heroes in India's scientific pursuits.
Pursuit of Higher Salaries: Dr. Somanath did mention a handful of IIT graduates who join ISRO out of their passion for space exploration. However, he shared an incident where 60% of students at an IIT recruitment drive left upon learning ISRO's pay scale. The culture at IIT often prioritizes securing higher salaries, which prompts many graduates to explore opportunities abroad or in the private sector, given that ISRO scientists earn less than their Western counterparts and some private sector jobs in India.
Additionally, factors like government work culture, bureaucracy, and limited career growth prospects might discourage IITians from government-run science and technology organizations.
Difference in Recruitment Patterns: IIT graduates rarely apply to ISRO's Central Recruitment Board (ICRB) due to the success of campus placements at IITs. The ICRB is ISRO's primary recruitment avenue, involving exams and interviews. IIT campus recruitments typically prioritize top pay packages, and ISRO's comparatively lower salaries pose a challenge in attracting graduates directly from campuses. This disparity in recruitment methods contributes to the low number of IIT graduates at ISRO.
The Opportunity Divide: Dr. Somanath pointed out that only a select few have the opportunity to appear for the IIT entrance exam. The absence of this opportunity does not indicate a lack of knowledge or ability. While most ISRO scientists graduate from lesser-known institutions, they have opportunities for advanced education and PhD programs at premier government institutions like the Indian Institute of Science and IITs.
IIT Contribution to ISRO: It's important to note that IIT alumni actively contribute to ISRO. Several IIT alumni were part of the Chandrayaan-3 mission, and over 140 alumni serve ISRO in various roles. IIT Madras recently honored 12 of its alumni who played a crucial role in the mission.
Earnings at ISRO: Despite the allure of high-paying jobs for IIT graduates, ISRO offers competitive packages. Those joining ISRO as BTech graduates enter at grade Scientist/Engineer-SC, earning approximately Rs 80,000 per month, along with health insurance, performance-related bonuses, subsidized accommodation, and meals.
The challenges ISRO faces in recruiting IIT graduates raise important questions about how to make government-sector science jobs more appealing. Addressing the concerns and aligning incentives could bridge the gap, ensuring that India's top engineering talent actively participates in ISRO's remarkable space exploration endeavors.