Professor Prem Narain
An initial project working with flies in India sparked Professor Prem Narain’s lifelong passion for genetics and led him to Edinburgh where alongside his PhD and DSc he gained many fond memories of Scotland.
PhD, DSc. Statistical Genetics
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Your time at the University
Ever since I worked in laboratory with the fly species Drosophila, in connection with a project at the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in India, I developed a fascination for research in genetics. This was fulfilled when I was deputed to spend two years (1967-69) in the laboratory of the late Professor Alan Robertson, FRS (fellow of the royal society) at the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh. This deputation was from the Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute (IASRI), New Delhi where I was then working as Assistant Professor of Statistics. It was meant for advanced training in the statistical aspects of animal breeding but Alan allowed me to do PhD under his supervision.
Alan had developed a theory applicable to animal breeding using the formula for probability of fixation of a gene given by Motto Kimura of the National Institute of Genetics, Mishima, Japan, a very well known international figure in population genetics/evolution. In turn this influenced my PhD thesis and, knowing about my work, Kimura applied the new processes in his own research. Apart from getting the PhD degree, it was very gratifying to me to see how these results strengthened Kimura’s neutral theory of molecular evolution.
When one gets a chance to come to this University to study one becomes a part of [the University’s] legacy.
Around the same time when I was busy in my PhD work, Alan discovered the mechanics of the survival of recessive lethal in finite populations and published the results, jointly with me as a part of my PhD thesis, in the newly upcoming journal theoretical population biology.
I immensely cherish fond memories of my stay in Edinburgh during 1967 to 1969. Edinburgh city fascinated me, my spouse Krishna and then five year old son Dhiren in more than one way. We stayed in the apartments at the Mayfield Road, St. Patrick Square and later on at Gladstone Terrace. We enjoyed very much our stay and visits to several tourist places both within and outside the city like Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, Scott’s Monument, Princess Street Gardens and several other places in Scotland like Oban, Loch Ness, Loch Katrine and Edinburgh’s Portobello beach.
Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University
On my return to India in 1969, I continued my research in genetics. Based on my research, the University of Edinburgh awarded me the degree of D.Sc. in 1984. I also published a book on Statistical Genetics (John Wiley & Sons, New York and Wiley Eastern Limited, New Delhi) in 1990. This book is being used as a textbook for graduate courses in several universities in India and USA.
Apart from my research work with Alan, I had also interacted with Professor David J. Finney, FRS of the Statistics Department of Edinburgh University. In due course David became Key Consultant to United Nations Development Program (UNDP) ‘Centre of Advanced Studies in Agricultural Statistics and Computer Applications’ that I had organized as Project Coordinator. It was a very satisfying partnership that shaped the future training and research program at the Institute. David paid several visits to IASRI, New Delhi in connection with the UNDP project and gave constructive suggestions for improvement apart from enjoying his visits immensely.
I owe to Edinburgh a great deal in that it was at this place that I got a basic grounding in my subject that paved the way for my future career enabling me to rise to the position of Director of the Institute. Later on I became the Dean & Joint Director of Indian Agriculture Research Institute, Pusa, New Delhi, an Institute well known for the success of the Green Revolution in India. I retired from this Institute in 1994 but continued my researches thereafter. Subsequently I settled in USA and am, at present, living there with my spouse and son and continue to publish papers as an independent researcher.
The University of Edinburgh is a famous place in the world from time immemorial in arts, science, medicine etc. from a creativity point of view. Several well-known cases are documented and repeatedly quoted in the global literature. When one gets a chance to come to this University to study one becomes a part of this legacy. It is therefore of utmost importance for him/her to strive for originality in the work undertaken. My advice to current students would therefore be to make the best use of their time at the University from this point of view.
In addition, one should make use of this opportunity to enjoy Edinburgh as best as one can and establish friendships with one and all. Edinburgh offers unique things to everyone’s taste and any time spent here makes one cherish fond memories.