Genesis of an Epoch
Nov 14, 2016 | Team MM
With the appointment of Prof. Animesh Biswas as the new Director of NIT Rourkela, a dawn of new era has begun. Dr. Biswas was a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT, Kanpur. After his B.E. from the Calcutta University in 1980, he pursued his M. Tech. in 1982 from IIT, Kharagpur and Ph.D. in 1989 from IIT, Delhi. Then, he went to the Oregon State University, the USA for postdoctoral studies. A man with a profound research background, he has handled numerous national as well as international projects and is the recipient of several prestigious awards like National Merit Certificate from Govt. of India, UKERI Research Award from British Council, UK. With his debut interaction with Monday Morning, Prof. Biswas shares anecdotes from his professional life at IIT Kanpur and his plans and vision for the institute, as a newly appointed Director.
MM: What was your first reaction when you came to know that you have been appointed as the new director of NITR? How do you see NITR as an institute of higher education?
AB: Right from the time, when I was appointed as the director of NITR I had this intuition that I can definitely nurture this institute and take it to new heights. NITR has built repute for itself over time and has exhibited astounding growth in almost all areas. However, there is always scope for improvement. In my first couple of days here, I have already identified some domains which have not been fully explored and I will see to it that they are rightly tapped into, so as to provide more promising opportunities.
MM: Having worked at IIT-Kanpur previously, what are some of the unique things which one could associate only with IIT-K which of these would you like to implement at NIT-R?
AB: Freedom is one attribute of IIT Kanpur which I liked the most. I have always believed and cherished the fact that academic freedom should be provided to both students and the faculties, alike. There are similar plans for NITR in the pipeline, and I certainly wish to give my students here a certain degree of freedom provided they do not misuse it. Another noteworthy characteristic of IIT-Kanpur is its high academic standards and that is something that I will try and escalate, here at NITR, during my tenure as Director. In my point of view, Teachers and Students are the pillars of any institute and investing in their development gives the institute direct returns. My objective is to enhance the productivity of both teachers and those that they teach, so as to yield better results.
MM: You are a pioneer in the field of research, with three coveted international assignments in the UK, USA, and Korea. What is your stand on UG research at NITR?
AB: I have not been involved in UG research to a large extent but in my opinion, UG students should take up some really big projects say for example Nano Satellites. Such massive projects demand time along with the involvement of a large number of students. Such that, every time a batch of students graduate, a new batch of students can be inducted so that the process is one of on-going learning and the seniors can mentor the juniors. I would certainly encourage my students here at NITR to take up challenging projects like this in the future.
MM: Do you intend to implement certain drastic changes in the curriculum? What are some of your plans?
AB: According to the current curriculum the total credits required for an undergraduate to complete their degree is around 230 which is enormously high and I want to minimize it to about a 150-160. In this regard, I am planning to invite a chairman of national repute and two domain experts from each department, who will deliberate on UG curriculum (B.Tech/M.Tech Dual degree) in a three-day long workshop and provide us with a template having the optimum weight of laboratory and core courses, as well as subjects related to humanities and science. After this initial template, the other subjects will be offered as electives so that students from one department can pursue minor degrees from other departments, as well.
My prime target is to bring a balance in the curriculum so that it does not seem burdened with a particular genre of courses. However, this does not mean that the students will have a lot of free time at their disposal; I simply mean that the depth of individual subjects will be accordingly increased.
MM: What is your vision for the co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that prevail at NITR?
AB: IIT Kanpur and many other IITs have the concept of a “Gymkhana”, where a few student representatives, elected by the students play a major role in the proper administration of the students of the institute.
NITR as such has student representatives in several important administrative bodies but I want the students to form a single elected body. I should be in a position to interact with them via a leader and they should be in a position to bring the problems faced by them and have a discussion on a weekly basis through one proper channel. I also want the students to send their representative to the Senate and other councils for fruitful interactions.
Another major thing which troubles me is the absence of a proper counseling service. There is just one professional counselor and not many students are aware of it. Students nowadays undergo a lot of stress, so it is important to have a proper counseling system comprising of few selected students as well as professionals who would help them manage the whole situation, in a better way.
MM: In the last one month you visited various departments, what is the general observation that you found?
AB: There were quite a few things that I discovered, but I will save that discussion for later. For now, I want that the main focus should be on teaching and research. There are so many activities that the campus is abuzz with, all the time that it worries me that students are losing their primary motive of coming to this institute – to receive a premier education. Thus to ensure that we achieve the academic standards that we are aiming for, teaching must improve and nobody should neglect it. Students should not ignore the class interactions and at the same time, it should not be neglected from the part of faculty members also. The quality of accommodation and fooding in the campus is also very important. These are certain things that I want to emphasize on.
MM: The institute has undergone a massive infrastructural transformation in the last few years. You must have also observed that a lot of infrastructure work is still in progress. So what is your take on that?
AB: Yes, there is a lot of infrastructural development in-progress and there has been a huge visible change in the recent years. However, since the last year the generous grants that we received from the Ministry of Higher Education have been cut down drastically, as a result of which all works have slowed down. I do not really know when we can expect to complete all the work that has been undertaken, but we are trying our best to improve the infrastructural facilities in certain necessary areas such as student hostels and faculty apartments. I have also noticed that there is a dearth of faculty in some departments and I am planning to go on a recruitment drive very soon to curtail this problem, efficiently.
MM: What message would you like to give to our readers?
AB: I will give freedom to the students in all forms but I want to see academic excellence. In no way, should they hamper their academics.