First NF-POGO Visiting Professorship of Prof Trevor Platt, FRS, at Kochi and thereupon
Having a mentor is key to building a successful career in science. The quality of the labs and of the scientists associated with them determines the extent to which young researchers working on their doctoral thesis gain expertise in specific scientific fields. Some young researchers are fortunate to become part of a network where senior scientists, in addition to their PhD supervisors, play a crucial role in their scientific nurturing.
I was fortunate to be a part of the network of a great scientist and committed humanitarian, Prof. Trevor Charles Platt, FRS, whose students are now renowned researchers globally and whose many initiatives are providing capacity building to researchers worldwide. His mentoring was way different from the usual role of a research supervisor, in that he not only taught specific scientific subjects, but he also worked hand in hand with the trainees, fueling their research interests and provided several platforms for the youngsters to grow in science. I was introduced to him when the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO) and the Nippon Foundation initiated their Visiting Professorship Programme, and awarded the first professorship to Prof. Platt. As a part of the NF-POGO capacity building initiatives in developing countries, he conducted a four-month training course on ‘Regional-Scale Primary Production for Indian Waters and Application to Ecosystem Dynamics’ at the Kochi Regional Centre of CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography, from December 2004 to March 2005. The 24 trainees who attended the program were mostly from India, with the exception one each from Vietnam, Thailand and Tanzania. We now know that not only did Prof. Platt become the first NF-POGO Visiting Professor, but he and his wife Dr. Shubha Sathyendranath took a leading role in designing and implementing many capacity building initiatives launched by POGO and the Nippon Foundation, including the Visiting Professorship.
Two-third of the trainees were youngsters in different stages of their doctoral research and the rest were scientists working in prestigious government Institutes. Working closely with Dr. K.K.C. Nair, the then Scientist in Charge of NIO regional centre in Kochi, Prof. Platt ensured that the entire infrastructure required for the training, including the desktop computers, an HPLC instrument for measuring phytoplankton pigments, an incubator for phytoplankton culture and other pieces of minor lab equipment, was created at the training venue. This infrastructure was very important to the training course itself, but was also beneficial to those of the trainees who later joined the same laboratory as scientists and continued working in the same field. In addition to Prof Platt and Dr Shubha Sathyendranath, both of whom are globally-renowned researchers, their colleagues and students were also part of the team, and were invited to teach specialized sessions, thereby broadening the network of experts whom we could consult.
Apart from the technical and scientific skills acquired during this visiting professorship itself, the trainees and a much broader scientific community benefited from many other subsequent initiatives that were the also brainchildren of Prof Platt and Dr. Sathyendranath. For example, the Societal Applications in Fisheries and Aquaculture using Remotely-Sensed Imagery (SAFARI) held its first international symposium in Kochi, with Drs Platt and Sathyendranath working closely with Dr. B. Meena Kumari, one of the trainees at the Kochi professorship, who subsequently became Director of the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology. I myself and Dr Nandini Menon of NERCI, Kochi worked closely with them to organise the second SAFARI Symposium, which was hosted by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (ICAR-CMFRI) in Kochi, where I work now.
It is noteworthy that many of his former trainees worked together to bring the two SAFARI international symposia to the same city where Prof Platt’s visiting professorship was held. The symposia and associated training courses witnessed wonderful science communications from NF-POGO trainees and our own students, who are the next generation of torch bearers of what we acquired from the training fifteen years ago. Prof Platt helped us to form the ‘Network on Ocean Primary Productivity’ in India, in which his former trainees play a central role. The ‘GEO Blue Planet initiative’, another long-lasting international initiative that Dr. Platt and Dr. Sathyendranath worked hard to establish, is another network have all benefited from. These networks provide opportunities for many among us to continue our research pursuits in the form of advanced trainings abroad, participation in international professional gatherings and meetings, and procuring research funds.
The continued patronage of Prof. Platt helped many of the fellow trainees, including myself, to take research leadership roles in India and abroad, in the field of satellite remote sensing and ocean-colour as a tool for the analysis of the marine ecosystem. An important lesson that Prof. Platt taught all his students was the need to share and discuss scientific thoughts and develop inter-disciplinary collaborations, which he firmly believed to be the key for successfully tackling scientific issues. I can proudly say that being associated with NANO (NF-POGO Alumni Network for Oceans) which is a global network of past and present NF-POGO scholars, of which we formed the very first batch, helps us to build on the legacy of Prof. Platt’s Visiting Professorship to India.
The government of India recognized the relevance of Prof. Platt’s commitment to capacity building in ocean sciences in India, by awarding the prestigious DST-Jawaharlal Nehru Science Fellowship (JNSF) during 2014-17. I consider it a great honour that I was the coordinator of Prof. Platt’s JNSF at ICAR-CMFRI. This in fact revived the scientific spirits in us, the NANO members, now dispersed all over India and abroad in various positions. His keen academic and societal interests on the northern Indian Ocean and the various inland waterbodies that surrounding it, were taken up by us and now we are part of international networks working on the various scientific ideas given by Prof. Platt. The legacy of Prof. Platt lives on in us, his students, who now conduct capacity building activities in our own scientific realms.
Prof. Platt had big visions for science in the service of society, and he inspired us in more ways than I can tell, to follow his vision. Though Prof. Platt moved away from us physically, the seeds of science he sowed in us during the first ever NF-POGO Visiting Professorship and the follow-ups he made are bearing fruit in the form of scientific projects, and their outcomes including operationalized advisories, which are benefiting the society as a whole.