Museum Voices from India

I’m in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, teaching a course on Science Learning in Non Formal Settings with my colleague Karen Lee. This course is part of the MS in Science Communication program created by the National Council of Science Museums, a consortium of over 20 science museums throughout India.  About half the class consists of current staff members of NCSM museums who are taking this course as professional development.  The other half are Fellows who are receiving a stipend from NCSM to follow the program, and who hope to make the museum profession a career.  .

One of my goals for the course is to encourage my students to become more familiar with social media formats and to appreciate their potential for connection with what’s happening in museums throughout the world.  I’ve asked my students to join Twitter, to follow a couple of blogs, and to answer one of the following questions, which I told them I would post on this blog:

1.       Why did you want to become a science museum professional?

2.      What do you think are the biggest challenges facing science museums in India today?

Conveniently, five answered each question. So herewith are the responses to question 1 and the first blog posts of these museum professionals. It would be wonderful if those of you reading this blog could respond with some words of encouragement for these folks. Responses to question 2 will be coming soon.

From left to right: Swati, Ruchir, Niranjan, Manoj, and Arvind

Why did you become a science museum professional?

Ms. Swati Soor is a chemical engineer and currently serving as an NCSM Fellow at Raman Science Centre, Nagpur:

My journey with science museums started when I was in middle school since at that time there was less impact of museum activities on school. My first visit to a local science museum was at the age of 13 when there was a science exhibition at my school and we students were sent to visit the science museum to have an idea about how to make science exhibits and models on small scale. That visit was very impressive for me since the staff were very helpful and knowledgeable. And at the same time I also had good experience of how these people work for the society.

During the period of my posting at Raman Science Centre I came across many new and interesting facts: the science centre provides to society with great effort and willingness, serving not only for the sake of doing it but with a high level of intension to give what they have (knowledge and experience). One of the facilities that this centre and all other science centres in India provide is “MSE” (Mobile Science Exhibition) which I feel is very thoughtful. There are one or two vans in every science centre which are equipped with about 25 exhibits based on basic science themes, and these vans are sent to the remote villages and schools  where students or people can’t come to visit the museum/centre.
From my childhood I like to involve myself with social activities like helping ill people, to support poor students with study requirements, etc.  The museum profession is a kind of social service to the nation which needs dedication and desire to do it.  Now I am a Fellow, and when it becomes my profession it gives me immense self satisfaction which is the greatest achievement to live life happily.

Arvind Patel is an electrical engineer serving as an NCSM Fellow at the National Science Centre, New Delhi

I passed bachelor of engineering in electronics and communication, and then I became lecturer in an engineering college and at the same time most of my friends joined private and government sectors as engineers. But I didn’t do this because of the following reasons:

Ø  I don’t want to stay away from the general public and society because when I talk to my friends they say that they don’t have any public interaction, and I believe that they are just doing hard work for an organization, not contributing anything to the society and poor people.

Ø  In a country like India more than 70% populations are residing in the villages and small towns, and their literacy rate is so poor: about 50-60%. If we talk about their science literacy I think it may be much less than that. Because they feel that science is not for them, it is for the rich and city people.

Ø  Since I am from a small village I also feel several difficulties in science learning so I want to do something for my society and village people. I also feel that the development of farmers and villager leads to the development of any country.

Ø  I want to make aware the farmer about his farming, harvesting, storage and marketing in a very scientific manner. I want that if a child of laborer or farmer comes to the science centre then he or she can tak something along with him/her which may help his parent’s occupation in order to make their life more easy and comfortable.  

Ø  I want to educate people about the myths involved in religious beliefs and simultaneously want to make them aware of the scientific facts in our cultural and historical books.

Ø  In one sentence I want to say that “my motive is to help people of the world (specially my country) to live their life comfortably.” Because some great philosophers said that you need to start cleaning from your own house.

Niranjan Gupta is a Curator at Bardhaman Science Center

When I started my studies my dream was to become an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer, but it could not happen. After finishing my Masters Degree in Environmental Science, I joined the Botanical Survey of India at Coimbatore. In Coimbatore Branch of BSI there is a Botany Museum popularly known as Madras Herbarium Museum. In that museum I had to give demonstrations regarding history of BSI, Herbarium, and Taxonomy to groups of students. After some time I discovered that most of the people do not know much about the history of taxonomy in India and abroad. While working there my interest in museums grew.  In 2009 I saw the advertisement of curator at NCSM. I applied for the post and fortunately I got selected. Initially I was posted at Science City Kolkata but very soon I was transferred to Bardhaman Science Centre at Bardhaman district of West Bengal, India.

Bardhaman Science Centre is a District Level science Centre. After joining there I became fully involved in their educational activities. I started workshops on the environment, water conservation, drinking water quality, Popular Science lecture, visitor studies etc. This has given me an opportunity to work with students, specially challenged people, farmers, house wives etc. This activity gives me a lot of happiness. From the last 2 year I am enjoying this profession.

I feel that a lot of problems of our country can be solved with the help of science communication activity and science centers, like eradication of superstition, awareness regarding green fuels, global environmental problems, conservation of water and energy etc.

At last, want to say that this profession always keeps you learning new things regularly and keeps you busy; working in a Science Centre is not like other jobs but it’s just like service for the society & nation.

Manoj Panda is a Curator of mechanical engineering at Nehru Science Centre in Mumbai

Actually from my school days I was very much interested to know how things work and to try to understand the world around. Gradually this interest in knowing things by observation built up my interest towards science, i.e knowledge and technology. That is the reason to take mechanical engineering as my branch of study. But my interest in science made me build my career in science museums. The science museum is the best place to demonstrate and share our knowledge in non formal way to the general public. I think gaining and sharing of knowledge is an unending process and so is the scope for science museum professionals.

Ruchir Gupta is an electronics engineer and an NCSM Fellow at the National Science Museum in New Delhi

As every individual wants to do something different in his/her life, I also had a dream of doing something new, adventurous, and something beneficial to society. I always thought what profession I can choose that stands upon all my terms and condition. Then I somehow got involved with National Council of Science Museums, India. I came to know about the role of science centres in Upliftment of the society. I am very much inspired by the curators, the role they play in museums. In the past, the responsibility of the museum officials was limited to acquisition, conservation, research, and display of different art, archaeological, ethnographical, scientific and technological objects. But in the modern world responsibility of the museums includes a much wider role for the visitors. The visitors not only look at the objects and admire and enjoy them, but also learn from them and pass them to the succeeding generation. In a museum, art objects which are most rare, most beautiful and most antique can be seen and studied freely.

From the childhood time, I always want to be a person having a relative knowledge of all subjects. The type of person that a curator is? The greatest thing I would like to mention about the role of museums in society is spreading awareness, knowledge to the common people. Being associated with such a profession, one has potential to draw a change in the society with knowledge. This inspired me to be involved in this profession. I m still a fellow student but will definitely try to be a part of such a community.

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