COVID-19 – Unravelling a new digital paradigm of R&D at CSIR

COVID-19, or Coronavirus as it is commonly known, has completely changed the way humans engage with each other in the society. While businesses and establishments have been on a standstill, researchers have been working round-the-clock on various theories and clues on containing or mitigating this virus. The internet has become the saviour for researchers, who have been working in isolation and still getting connected with their peers.

CSIR-India is one such example of researchers getting virtually together for achieving the common goal of defeating the virus. CSIR with a work force of thousands of S&T workers is working at par with international peers on five well-defined verticals in the fight against COVID-19. The 38 laboratories of CSIR spread across India have virtually integrated into a single platform while at the same time partnering with other government departments, ministries, MNCs, and academics to work on specific modules of research for scale-up, delivery and implementation.

This has been possible with the CSIR leadership understanding the challenges and taking a quick decision to go digital. Adopting this new digital work culture across its 38 laboratories has helped CSIR in collaborating as well as exchanging ideas with others. This newly evolved model has helped CSIR to showcase the best outputs and outcomes from its researchers.

However, every opportunity and facility comes with its own challenges and hurdles. As with many institutions in India, the IT infrastructure of CSIR too needs to upgrade itself in line with the current IT trends and at the same time be ready to face the challenges thrown by the digital approach in securing its cyber space. Under the current prevailing pandemic, when CSIR labs have gone digital, cyber security concerns for a research organisation of its calibre are high. There is hence a need to alleviate these cyber security concerns.

For most researchers, the digital mode has enabled them to be virtually connected with their peers in and outside their laboratories for better outputs. There exists a sense of excitement in the fight against the pandemic and most researchers are comfortable with the current digital mode of working along with working in the labs. The unlock scenario is hence likely to throw a challenge to the researchers of CSIR as they become accustomed to the present style of working. The unlock culture may require a balancing view of working where processes are fast, responses quicker and flexi hours of working along with 24X7 availability on the digital mode.

The present scenario due to COVID-19 has enabled CSIR researchers to open up and interact with all stakeholders within and outside CSIR in the fight against the pandemic. Although in CSIR inter-lab research has been carried out in the past too, research with such level of integration amongst CSIR researchers and policy makers and aggression in combating the pandemic has never been witnessed before.

The interactions and exchange of ideas amongst the team CSIR has gone a step ahead with not only communication via emails but also regular/daily online meetings, Video conferencing, WhatsApp communication as well as informal chats and groups. Regular interactions and informal chats not only helped researchers to speak freely amongst themselves, but also encouraged an exchange of ideas and concerns openly.

The leadership’s decision to go digital during the pandemic has rejuvenated the “why not me” and “try me” attitude across CSIR that will go a long way in paving the pathway on how CSIR research would be conducted in the future and how inter and intra alliances would be forged while at the same time tackling the challenges of the digital world for research programmes. The research horizon of the new “CSIR” in the digital age has just begun!

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Shabib-Ahmed Shaikh is Sr. Technical Officer (IT), CSIR-URDIP, Pune.
Email: shabib@urdip.res.in