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A journey through the corridors of one of India's best research centres provided not only interesting insights about the research scenario in the country, but also about what makes MSR India a dream destination for any researcher.
"A scientist in his laboratory is not a mere technician; he is also a child confronting natural phenomena that impress him as though they were fairy tales," said Marie Curie, one of the greatest scientists and researchers of the 20th century.
How well the words reflect what makes a researcher. Some equally enchanting thoughts on the passion that possesses and stimulates a researcher were shared by P. Anandan, MD, Microsoft Research (MSR) India, who, interestingly, describes researchers as "the artists of science." However, there is a lot to a researcher and a research centre, besides this philosophical outlook. There is a method in the way a research centre gathers like-minded researchers to work on and explore unknown and unforeseen vistas.
MSR India is one such research facility, which in a short span of three years, has evolved as an epicentre for ground-breaking research work; where great
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A lot of IT companies are in the service sector, and thrive on the cost advantage - but that's becoming less of a differentiator as India is becoming expensive, and services in other countries are cheaper in comparison. Anandan observes, "Companies are beginning to be aware that in order for them to succeed and grow, they need to move up in the value chain."
"Even if they don't do products (if they do, that's great), they need to add value at the innovation level. This means that they need to find talent capable of doing that. That's an emerging reality in India!"
minds converge and work consistently on projects aimed at advancing the state-of-the-art in different research areas. The lab at Bangalore joined Microsoft's band of research facilities in 2005. Anandan, who, along with a team of researchers, set up the Indian arm of MSR, dreamt of seeing the facility emerge as a world-class global research centre. And to his happiness and pride, in a short span of three years, the lab stands shoulder to shoulder with other MSR facilities the world over. As Anandan reveals, "MSR India has to its credit more than 120 published research papers; we have won Best Papers awards in several major conferences worldwide. This is an important metric for us to evaluate our progress as the papers we publish are reviewed by some of the top researchers in the field before being accepted in conferences."
While at present, MSR worldwide has over a thousand researchers who are working in 60 different research areas, the Indian arm has a team of over 44 researchers working on seven core research areas, with several innovative projects.
It seemed worthwhile to probe into the factors that drove MS Inc to set up a lab in India. Was it talent, the growing economy, or a plan to identify the needs of the huge consumer base in India and devise products to cater to them?
Anandan responds, "A research lab is not like a product group, where you go and hire people to do a certain task. Instead, it is a place where you gather researchers and ask them what they want to do. So people are more important than anything else. A lot of people think that MS sets up a lab in a certain country because there is a certain market that it wants to capture, or a certain problem that it wants to solve. But that is not true. MSR always chooses a location/country on the basis of the most important factor, which is talent."
Indian talent has been acclaimed for years for its brilliance, and this was the key reason for MSR to zero in on India as a location for one of its research units. "In India, we don't have many PhDs, but we have a tremendous [number] of B-Techs and M-Techs who are really fantastic," avers Anandan.
Considering the progressive trend that the economy is following, an emerging reality is that more and more scientists of Indian origin the world over are contemplating a return to their homeland, and not many young engineering graduates are keen to leave for distant lands to pursue careers. Even Anandan, who was the head of the Interactive Visual Media group at the MSR Redmond lab, returned to India to set up this research facility. He observes, "It's no longer a case where we have to moan any more about losing our best talent to the world."