M. Santosh on Geosciences Without Boundaries

July 2012
M. Santosh

In February of 2012, Dr. M. Santosh was among the honorees at the Thomson Reuters Japan Research Day and Research Front Awards ceremony in Tokyo. Dr. Santosh received a Research Front Award in the field of Geosciences for his foundational contributions to a specific area of research devoted to “the Supercontinent Columbia, which was reconstructed at 1.9.Ga on Earth in relation to the North China Craton.” [View press release.]

A native of India, Dr. Santosh earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Kerala University in 1978, his master’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, in 1981, and his doctoral degree from Cochin University of Science and Technology in 1986, later earning an additional Doctor of Science degree from Osaka City University, Japan.

Dr. Santosh’s professional odyssey in Asia has included professorships at Kochi University, Japan, and China University of Geosciences, Beijing. He is also the founding editor and Editor-in-Chief for Gondwana Research, as well as the Executive Vice Editor-in-Chief for Geoscience Frontiers.

In the interview below, Santosh discusses the challenges he has faced while doing research outside his native country, and offers his advice for young researchers.


SW: How do you feel about receiving the Research Front Award?

I feel honored to be chosen for this award while working in a “foreign” country, which proves that science has no boundaries. I am told that very few scientists attain such an exalted status. I consider this as a major achievement and recognition, as well as the reward for a lifetime of my hard work. Awards and recognitions are usually given based on individual applications or nominations; in this context I particularly value the Thomson Reuters Research Front Award because there were no applications or nominations; the selection was purely based on merit evaluated through impact and citations. This Award inspires me to work further towards contributing to the scientific advancement for the benefit of the human society.

SW: What were the challenges in pursuing your research in a foreign country?

As an outsider, both in the research community and in a foreign society, I faced many challenges, including language issues, unfamiliarity with systems and practices, and most importantly, domestic funding agencies turning down my funding applications, despite my high productivity and research impact. My topics of research, which addressed global issues outside the regional frame (in which most research funding was focused) were also another major challenge.

“The message I’ve wanted to convey through my research over the last three decades is that motivation, vision, and dedication will yield valuable results.”

Slowly and steadily, however, I convinced the research community that pursuing global themes in research fronts would substantially broaden the horizons of science and that international participation and collaboration lead to higher visibility and impact, raising the status of the host institutions as well as the nation as a whole.

Although I do not claim ultimate success in a country that is still in the process of improving its systems to adapt foreign researchers into their mainstreams, I can say with confidence that the projects and programs I initiated have motivated some of the leading domestic researchers to join hands, as clearly reflected in the Thomson Reuters Research Front Awards, which incidentally is the result of collaborative work carried out in a foreign country.

SW: How did you overcome these challenges?

Being a foreign researcher, I found that the evaluation system of domestic funding agencies, which did not place much emphasis on publications and citations, was a major challenge, because my research work demanded both field and laboratory investigations needing funding support. I often had to settle for being a co-investigator or as a participating member of projects awarded to, and managed by, other native colleagues.

There were also instances when I had to pay for research travel and field-work expenses from my own pocket, out of my salary. However, none of these hurdles dampened my enthusiasm to pursue high-quality research and maintain high productivity in terms of publications.

The message I’ve wanted to convey through my research over the last three decades is that motivation, vision, and dedication will yield valuable results, regardless of funding, positions, and other recognitions, and that an open mind to cooperate and collaborate will broaden the horizons of excellence in research.

SW: Do you have any words of advice for young researchers in India?

I have traveled far and wide and worked for a long time in foreign countries, facing and overcoming various challenges and hurdles, and have collaborated with scientists from different parts of the world. My experience in India is that funding and facilities in various branches of science are not inferior to those in some of the other countries. Nevertheless, we often hear of concerns that the productivity of Indian science is not up to the expected mark. Although people sometimes put the blame on infrastructural facilities and red tape, the major issues as I see them are a lack of adequate motivation and accountability.

Science is booming in Asia, and, in contrast to the hardships in language faced by researchers in some of the non-English-speaking countries like Japan, China, South Korea and elsewhere, most young Indian researchers have excellent basic education and powerful English-language skills, both in comprehension and expression. These advantages, however, are not fully utilized in breakthrough areas, such as those reflected in Thomson Reuters Research Fronts, except in a few arenas.

I am confident that young researchers in India can do better if they are motivated—and the best way is self-motivation and self-accountability to ensure maximum productivity in forefront areas of global research. Instead of pursuing domestic awards and positions, young researchers in India should focus on making innovative contributions to global science. This would bring not only longstanding recognition and worldwide reputation, but would also contribute to enhancing the knowledge base of human society.

M. Santosh
Professor Emeritus, Kochi University, Japan
Professor, China University of Geosciences, Beijing

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