Crushing Conformities: Mebin Dominic
Clever, scrupulous and an out-of-the-box thinker, Mebin Dominic is undoubtedly one of the well-known names in the metallurgy fraternity at NITR. Being among the very few metallurgists to bag an internship at Tata Steel, he finished among the top 5 students in “Mind Over Matter”, an annual competition organized by Tata Steel, earning himself an internship and consequently a PPI at the reputed MNC. Team MM caught up with this ingenious mind on a lazy Saturday afternoon to gain insight into his internship experience at Tata Steel and learn more about his future endeavors.
MM: How did you come to know about the “Mind over Matter” program?
MD:“Mind over Matter” was recommended to me by a friend of mine, who happened to know about it and was kind enough to refer it to me. Upon googling, I came across this website called valuabled.com, which is an initiative by Tata Steel to make students aware of the various competitions organized by them. This website was where I got all the necessary details about “Mind over Matter”, along with the rules and regulations of the contest. I found a partner in Ankit Panda, and together we decided to apply for one of the projects.
MM: Did you land any other internships too, but decided to stick to this?
MD:Tata Steel is undoubtedly one of the best core companies that one can work for if he belongs to the department of Metallurgical and Material Sciences. Right from the beginning, I was interested in interning at Tata Steel but was in a dilemma since students from Metallurgical and Material Sciences were not deemed eligible to appear for their on-campus internship test last year. So when I did find out that a program like “Mind over Matter” existed, it gave me hope since it meant that I still have a chance at it.
As far as foreign internships were concerned, I had only applied for MITACS but could not get it, partly because I dedicated my entire third year to figuring out where my interests lay and partly because I was confused if I should go for a research-based or an industry-based internship. Thus when I finally bagged the internship at the R & D Department of Tata Steel, I was elated since it was a combination of both and I didn’t have to choose any one.
MM: What were the prerequisites for this internship? How did you prepare for it?
MD: The best thing about “Mind over Matter” is that there are absolutely no prerequisites. You are given 12 problem statements; all you have to do is consider the problem statements and come up with an innovative solution of your own.
Once you come up with a solution, you have to submit a draft of the entire solution online: what you want to do, how you plan to do it and the theoretical base for it. All of the submitted solutions are then read by the particular guides and Persons-In-Charge. Finally, the best and most feasible ones are picked out and awarded. Hence, this is one of those places where your CGPA or branch does not count at all; all that matters is how innovative and realistic your proposed solution is.
Even if you’re an Electronics and Communication Engineering student wanting to do a Metallurgical project, you can go ahead and do it.
MM: Shed some light on the project that you undertook.
MD: My project topic was: Use of iron ore slimes in coke making. The issue with iron ore slimes is that they create a nuisance, since they are very similar to fine dust, they cannot be handled very well or agglomerated, either. Now, a common problem that is faced in the coke-making process is that only a particular variety of coal can be used for the process and non-coking ones are therefore rejected.
We realized that if we could somehow increase the reactivity of coal, we would witness a reduction in coke rate, which is the amount of coke required to produce one ton of hot metal. So if we had a reduction in coke rate, it would consequently mean an increase in the productivity of the company, because we would ultimately need less coke. We decided to use iron ore as a catalyst, which would help reduce the coke rate. The thing about coal is that when you increase the reactivity, the strength goes down, and low strength coal cannot be used in a blast furnace. Thus, we used a binder to give it enough strength, and iron ore to give it enough reactivity. This way, we had a perfect combination of strength and reactivity. After that, all that there was left to do was optimizing various parameters. Our work involved a lot of experimentation, but we managed to complete it within the course of two months.
MM: How will you assess NITR’s contribution in this endeavor?
MD: For this particular project, I did not need to approach any faculty. The best thing about the people at R&D, Tata Steel was that everyone there was highly qualified, as well as helpful. There was this particular person, for instance, who had 50 GB worth of research papers stored on his hard disk, and could answer any of your questions in the blink of an eye!
With people of such calibre around us, calling the institute wasn’t much of a necessity at any point. All the help that you needed could be found there itself, all you had to do was approach the right people and ask the right questions.
MM: How do you think this internship has helped you?
MD: Like I said, it was a research-cum-industry oriented project, so I still have the option to go either way, career-wise. Personally, I have always had a knack for iron-making and wanted to gain in-depth knowledge of the same. At Tata Steel, I got to learn how a coke plant works. It also gave me the much-needed practical knowledge and confidence to go anywhere and present my project, knowing that I have enough knowledge to stand my own grounds. When you actually go out there and do something with your own hands, you gain a lot more knowledge and hands-on experience than you would have sitting here and researching, and that is what truly makes a difference.
MM: Apart from devoting time to the internship, what other activities did you indulge in?
MD: We did not really get a chance to move around a lot. The best places to see around Jamshedpur included Jubilee Park and Dimna Lake, which we did not really visit. The best thing about Jamshedpur is that there’s an amazing restaurant around every corner. Every weekend, you’d find us out there in some new restaurant, relishing some new delicacies and having the time of our lives!
MM: Since this wasn’t your first internship, could you please walk us through your previous internships?
MD: My first internship was at SESA Sterlite, which is basically a pig-iron developing plant based in Goa. It was my first ever industrial visit, which lasted some 10-15 days. This is where I learned about the working of a blast furnace, of which I had some initial idea from our class 12th chemistry. My father was an employee there, so it wasn’t the first time I had been to the plant. But as a Metallurgy student, that was definitely the first time I was visiting that plant or any plant in general.
Since it was before we had been taught the iron making course, I was unable to correlate what I saw with the theoretical concepts. It was only after we took the course in our fourth semester that I could remember the things I had seen there and finally put two and two together. Since I had seen the set-up in real life, I could visualize it better and understand the concepts more easily, than others.
My second internship was at MohitIspat, which is basically a mini mill. It isn’t one of your regular companies and has a very humble set-up consisting of a rolling mill and an induction steel plant. It was during my internship there that I realized the difference between working at an MNC like Tata Steel and a mini mill like MohitIspat. Although I learned a lot during the course of my internship there, especially since induction furnace is something which is not a part of our syllabus here at NITR, I learned that small set-ups lack the rules and regulations that a big company has in place to operate. There, things were a lot less systematic and organized, unlike MNCs wherein, everything works on a fixed set of rules and regulations. We were at liberty to do as we pleased, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing, depending upon how we utilize this freedom.
MM: How do you think that the prospect of Metallurgy and Material Sciences can improve as a department in NITR?
MD: One field that I believe we can definitely improve upon is the way we use our laboratories. In most of our laboratory sessions after a day or two of doing practical work we are mainly taught the theory and the application part takes a back seat and that is a major drawback.
One thing that I noticed during my time at Tata Steel was that the students at IITs have a better sense of practical knowledge as compared to us. Considering the case of metal polishing, we practice the method once in our labs and never to do it again, whereas in case of IITs the students are imparted a very thorough lesson in the procedure and they have a very detailed idea about the same.
So, although our learning of the theory is very good, we lose out when it comes to practical experience. The only way to counter this situation is by the interest and enthusiasm of students who have to come forward and take charge of changing the system.
MM: How did you think internships will help develop a student as an engineer?
MD: Internships help you understand whether you want to remain in a core line of job or you want to go for other career choices like data analytics or information technology. Students who start pursuing internships like an early stage of their career develop a stronger base and their C.V. itself becomes better. If you’re applying for an internship in an institution like BARC or DAAD, there is a possibility that you might not get it in your first attempt. In those cases, if you have a solid standing project or a good previous internship there is a better possibility of your application being accepted.
MM: What your future plans?
MD: If I am selected for Tata Steel after my PPI, I will definitely like to continue in Tata Steel. I will also be appearing for GATE because its results will remain valid for two years, but right now my top priority is Tata Steel only. I would like to get an M. Tech. degree in the future, maybe after spending two years working as an engineer.
MM: Any message to the readers?
If you want something badly enough, work hard towards your goal and things will definitely work in your favour.
For an example, I can say that though I wanted Tata Steel for an internship, Tata Steel did not come to campus for Metallurgical and Materials Science students which disappointed me to a great extent. I applied for Sterlite but I didn’t get the internship there as well. However, “Mind Over Matter” was a pleasant surprise. Although I had applied for it, I kind of forgot about it later. I got an internship in BARC, as well as in IIT Madras and I had decided to go for IIT Madras. Then out of nowhere the results of ‘Mind Over Matter’ came out and it was an unexpected relief for me. Eventually, I got my PPI too and thus basically I got what I wanted – my shot at a job at TataSteel.
The point is, if you do want something in your life, and if it is meant for you, then in some way or the other things will work out for you. Just work hard towards your goal and don’t give up hope.