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Background information: Field: Neuroscience (neuroimaging); Country: India; currently: grad student

Working in a country that may not always have a lot of financial resources, we usually face problems like not having funding to pay for journal charges or the scarcity of funds that allow students to travel to international workshops or conferences etc. This, in turn, pushes the student down in terms of their networking, the number of papers/citations etc. (a slightly weaker CV as compared to other students who may have had these resources). Consequently, when the student next applies for some award or grant, they may get rejected over another candidate who may have had a stronger CV/more publications/better networking, etc.

Essentially, what I am trying to communicate is that I feel that there is a cyclical situation of starting with scarcer resources which in turns keeps getting scarcer (something like a poverty cycle perhaps).

Question: What would be some concrete ways of breaking this (perhaps perceived) cycle?

PS: I understand that my position, compared to many other people, is one of privilege. I also understand that academics have broken free of far worse situations and have gone on to have outstanding academic careers. Not trying to draw any comparison but rather looking for concrete advice!

An example:

  • Since the field is fairly young and not that many well-established researchers work in the country, it is important for students to attend workshops/training elsewhere
  • Not being able to go to conferences means that the only way to present your results to the community is via publications (and in turn you don't really get any feedback or get to network with the experts who frequent some of these conferences)
  • Not having funds to pay for publication charges can sometimes prevent you from submitting papers to certain important journals which in turn reduces visibility of your work
  • Not being as well trained as your peers, with poorer networking, and with papers not in the most important journals in the field, you end up not building a strong reputation
  • and ad infinitum
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    You just described why poorer countries face a "brain drain" of their best people to richer countries. – Wolfgang Bangerth Feb 5 at 2:51
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    If there was a good answer to this question, then that answer would have been used to eliminate poverty already. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 12 at 3:03
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    Maybe doing some significant research at places with better opportunities, then coming back to India, or any other place which doesn't have a lot of opportunities, and trying to change the outlook people have towards research? It would be a slow and gradual process, and would require a significant number of people. I study at one of the better universities in India, and I've seen that when such people come back and try to change things, the people in power do listen. – Jihadi Apr 12 at 8:30
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    This paradox was explored already in Concorsi a cattedra (1979) by Umberto Eco... In the story, Socrates doesn't get tenure because the committee disqualifies him and picks Antisthenes. – Nemo Apr 17 at 12:12
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    @eykanal "there are successful researchers everywhere" You will inevitably find that the researchers in areas with high poverty were not poor when they became researchers. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 18 at 1:12
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One possibility IMHO is to try to use the Internet to your advantage. In my field (bioinformatics/statistics), there are a few online communities (discussion forums, Twitter) with relatively low barrier of entry. But once in an online community, how do you make useful contact with others - especially those that can "lift you up" (who may easily turn out not to be from the top western universities, but skilled and friendly people from all walks of academia)?

My answer is: be useful. Can you spend some time answering/helping beginners on the forums? Can you proofread and (very politely) suggest improvements to educational materials someone posted? Can you write a tutorial for some tool/technique you've learned? Are there calls for open online collaborations you can join? Can you code and fix bugs/improve documentation in popular open source packages in your field? ... Note that there might be hidden norms on how "good members" of the community should behave and especially if you look foreign it may unfortunately be easy to end up being judged negatively for a good-faith effort - so some social knowledge/skill may be needed.

If the community is healthy (which unfortunately not all communities are), this lets you develop some "currency" in the community and you become more likely to get help yourself when you need it. Once you are not a "nobody", you are more likely to succeed when you ask some members of the community explicitly for mentorship or for consulting and becoming a co-author on your upcoming paper or for joining a multi-lab effort to collect a larger sample of subjects for a study. And if it fails (and it can fail), your effort made the world a better place and that's also not nothing.

My experience with this approach is that being the first person to enter a subfield (Bayesian statistics) at a somewhat lower-prestige Central European institution with basically zero contacts, it was not that hard to get (over a few years) into productive contact with some of the top researchers in the subfield while only attending a single in-person event - you are definitely facing a tougher "prestige gradient" than me and being white and having a western-sounding name surely made my life easier, so my advice may not apply to you or may not apply completely. I still hope it is a useful suggestion and I believe it is actionable even with relatively low resources.

Also my field is less dependent on expensive equipment/reagents/... so keeping up with the top research is easier. And all of this requires quite a lot of time, which you might not have.

You are facing a tough challenge but I hope you succeed!

P.S.: One thing I don't want to suggest is to "compete for attention" of prestigious colleagues. This is IMHO both unhealthy and unlikely to work well. Instead, I think there are many ways in which a good-faith effort to help the scientific community in your subfield can help your career/connections as a side effect. This is a game many can play and all can win without somebody losing.

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I hate to give the "book answer"

However, the biggest limitation of people seeking higher education is if they can't afford to.

Remember, in many countries, including the US, the majority of people only make enough money to make it from one paycheck to the next. They don't have the time or money to seek higher education. It is not their fault. They aren't lazy. They aren't "not saving money". They have no money to save, no more time to spend working.

To make matters worse: things end up costing more for people working paycheck to paycheck because they have to chose the low up-front cost instead of considering long term costs.

The ONLY way to solve this problem is to insure people are paid enough to live. Not just survive, but to live.

Even if college is free, these people CANNOT go to college, because they still won't have money to eat.

We must solve that problem if we are to have a more educated population.

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    In many parts of the world, parents pay their life savings to send their kids to college. Some even sell their houses to pay the their kid's college expense. – scaaahu Apr 30 at 2:54
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    The book answer for why there's a wild imbalance in science between India and western nations is that Indians are just too poor to go to school? You understand that India has more college graduates in total than the US does, right? The automatic assumption that if the US can't pull off educating people, other countries full of filthy poors have no chance is... not exactly cool. – user120011 Apr 30 at 14:13

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