The travels of a black hole hunter with Professor Chandra B. Singh

In today’s blog we talk to Dr. Chandra B. Singh, PhD from the Indian Centre for Space Physics and Professor of astrophysics at the South Western Institute for Astronomy Research in Kunming, China.

David: Hi Chandra. Can you give the readers something about your background?

Chandra: Hello David, thanks for asking. At present, I am an assistant professor at SWIFAR, Yunnan University, Kunming, China. I was born and raised in Nepal. Kunming is my 14th place of residence. During my years in school and university, I lived in 10 different places in Nepal. I completed Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Science from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. Then I moved to Kolkata, India, to complete my Ph.D. on black hole astrophysics. My postdoctoral works were done in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Tel Aviv, Israel, then got the offer of a faculty position from China. It has indeed been a wonderful experience to know people in different places and countries. My heart and mind are divided between two places: Bogota, Colombia where my wife is living, and Kathmandu, Nepal where my mother and brother are living.

David: Where did you learn English? Between Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew, and Chinese, which is easier for you?

Chandra: During my school days in Nepal, I studied in private schools where English was a medium of instruction besides my national language, Nepali. So learning English has been gradual since the time I was around 5 years old. I have been quite a lazy person to learn new languages. In Brazil, I learnt only a few words even though I stayed 4 years there. Hebrew and Chinese are really difficult for me as the script is nowhere close to the Roman script which is used in English. The language where I tried a bit is Spanish to understand my parents in law. So, I think Spanish is easier for me. While doing my Ph.D. work in India, I also came across the regional language, Bengali, from the eastern part of India. I know that language as well. At my home in Kathmandu, I use the language from the northern part of India, Hindi. My mother is originally from India so I learnt that from my childhood days. I also know other regional languages from my native place in Nepal, Bhojpuri, and Maithili.

David: Can you narrow down your research to one big question?

Chandra: How matter falls onto the black holes and produce the most energetic outflows in the known universe?

David: In terms of culture in general, what main differences do you notice between the places you have lived?

Chandra: Moving from the South Asian region to South America was a different experience. I feel I frequently encountered a conservative mindset in Nepal and India regarding some issues while in Brazil and Israel, the way of thinking is more open-minded and ready for changes in opinion. I enjoyed my time in Brazil and wish I could stay there for a longer time.

David: Is there a culture of science and is there a difference in that culture between the places you have lived?

Chandra: I have usually noticed that the works published by Brazilian scientists are more likely to be cited by other Brazilian researchers while those done by Israeli investigators are more likely to be cited by other Israeli scientists. I find a kind of local effect where people from the same country or region notice works of one another from the same country or region more. Another issue is the works published by prestigious places like Harvard, Princeton are taken to be granted of high standards while sometimes it affects the recognition of works done by people in less known places.

David: In your experience, is your field of astrophysics inclusive of people and their ideas? And how does this vary from place to place? Have you felt pressure to fit in?

Chandra: In our field, the human side of doing science does come into play. It varies in intensity but surely is present. Like once my post-doctoral supervisor wanted me to leave one particular direction of work because one Princeton Professor thought it was not worth pursuing however I have spent several years understanding it, unlike others who had superficial comments.

David: Outsiders think that scientists follow some so-called ‘scientific process’ whereby their training allows them to easily put aside bad ideas, identify, and promote good ones. How reasonable is that?

Chandra: It does seem reasonable but quite often biased (not necessarily too bad) ideas and identity do come into play.

David: Are you interested in growing science in your home country? What are the challenges?

Chandra: Of course, it would be interesting to contribute to scientific growth in my own country. But there are several issues related to intentions rather than policies. My country is one of the economically least developed countries. Area of research like black hole astrophysics is considered a luxury science there.

David: Thanks Professor!

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