Friday, April 3, 2015

STEM needs more Manjul Bhargavs and Pranav Mistrys

Are our youngsters shying away from a career in STEM? It appears they are. Bill Troy, CEO of ASQ, recently shared some tough to digest facts in his blog. Research shows that while youngsters like what engineers do they also think that engineers don’t easily get a job.  This is very disturbing because much of human advancement is because of engineering and life sciences.

A lot of other professions get disproportionate attention and wean away youngsters. Music, entertainment, investment managers, etc get all the glory. No offence to them but none of these professions take the human race forward. If we live longer we have to thank the advancement in medicines. If we can today seamlessly talk to people across the world we have to thank our engineers.

Like all professions only the ones who reach on top get disproportionate attention. In entertainment, thousands fail before a Justin Beiber succeeds. The success rate in STEM is surely higher. All students who do well get to make a good living. The distribution of wealth among STEM students is not as disproportionate as in entertainment. And this is good thing.

Is the disinterest in STEM is a global issue. I do not have data but I think it is not the case in the developing world. I checked with students I know and notice that the interest in STEM is high in India. The admission test scores for top engineering and science colleges are among top 1% of students. There is intense competition to get in there.

What is of course a bit disturbing that many of these students are only developing mobile apps!

The Indian education system has indirectly placed a premium on STEM education but we have not followed it up with an environment of research post the students graduate. Many of our brightest students leave to study and research overseas. To more developed nations. All Indian science Nobel laureates came from their research overseas. While we lose these scientists at least we know that the basic Indian education system works.

What do we need then to excite youngsters about STEM? Do what the entertainment industry does. Make rock stars out of STEM guys. 

Manjul Bhargava and Pranav Mistry are two such rockstars.  

Manjul has done some amazing maths work at a young age and won several awards including the Infosys Prize 2012, the Fields Medal 2014, and the Padma Bhushan (Govt of India) 2015. What I like about Manjul is that he does not look like a typical mathematician. He is young and looks younger. He could inspire a lot of youngsters to take up maths because he looks like them.

Pranav is most known for his work on sixth sense tech. Again, he is young and looks younger.

Both Manjul and Pranav are doing their bit to get youngsters interested in STEM. We need more of them.