An Epitome of Excellence: Bansidhar Majhi
Bansidhar Majhi, an alumnus of NITR is a pioneer in the field of research. In a detailed chat with Team MM, he shares his journey so far from being a student to a teacher in this illustrious institution. Here are a few excerpts:
MM: Tell us about your childhood days, and your time at school.
BM: I have spent my childhood days in a rural school named Mathura Prasad high school situated in Dhama, a remote village in Sambalpur district. Despite lacking awareness, the teaching-learning process was very efficient, which has accounted for my strong foundation right from the beginning. Our teachers were very strict and kept us on our toes. I can still recollect the beatings I got for my wrong pronunciations from my Hindi teacher. I was very poor in drawing and fetched low marks in the subject named “Construction and Direction” which was always a problem, but one of my teachers namely Mr. Lingaraj Das assisted me in rectifying my mistakes.
MM: How did Computer Science and Engineering happen to you? Tell us about your college memories.What difference do you observe on comparing engineering students of those days with that of present times?
BM: I had a difficult time getting into college because of of several other family issues and a local strike that had propagated to the college level. After completing my Phy (Hons.) BSc. from GM College, Sambalpur, I applied for M.Sc. Physics in Burla. I was not aware of the constraints required for MCA because of my lack of exposure, I ended up missing an additional year. During my visit to a professor’s house with a friend, I stumbled across a book named ‘Computer and Common Sense’ and seeing my interest in computers, Prof. Swadin Pattnaik advised me to take up MCA. Next year I appeared for the entrance examination and secured a seat out of the 12 unreserved seats of REC Rourkela, which was one of the few colleges that had started the MCA program. I met a lot of different people there, and during my interactions with a particular Tamil friend, I was able to improve my spoken English skills, considerably. Though a minority as compared to engineering, it was a congregation of enlightened students and I acquired a lot of knowledge during my stay as a student here.
MM: You secured distinction and were consequently the first ranker of your M. Tech program. Could you guide us through your days as an M. Tech Scholar?
BM: Before I start telling about my M.Tech days, I would like to draw your attention to a background story. I always had a keen interest in teaching, however, due to lack of opportunities, I decided to take up the offer to enrol as a trainee in Hindustan Motors, Calcutta and subsequently, I became a programmer after 15 months. Being a creature of habit, my interest in teaching forced me to appear for an interview at IGIT, Sarang, which had just started off. There, I was enrolled as a faculty for the MCA program, which was a part of their Department of Electrical Engineering, Department at that time. I had a very good experience as after just having come down from the industry, I was able to teach the practicality of the subject to the students. Meanwhile, I always had a dream of doing my masters and a PhD.
“During my stay at IGIT, I was interviewed for TCS and I got selected but I paid little attention to it because I was content with my job, but later things took a turn and I decided to revive my TCS offer.”
After much retrospection and dilemma, I resigned from IGIT and joined there. I had put in my resignation from the institute(IGIT, Sarang) and then withdrew it again. After much thought and consulting with my peers and colleagues, I applied for TCS again and they asked me to join Delhi instead of Calcutta, where I was supposed to go earlier. While I was in TCS, I applied as a faculty in REC, was interviewed and after one year my dream of teaching came true again. I joined REC as a teacher. After some initial struggle, I adapted myself to the environment in REC. During my time here I was guided by Prof S.K. Jena who has played a pivotal role in changing my outlook towards life altogether. However, I had the urge of pursuing higher studies, and so I appeared for the interview for a Masters programme in IIT Bombay. I was not allowed to join IIT Bombay, despite having cleared the entrance test on the pretext of continuing my teaching career at REC. the first time and I was given the reason that I should continue my teaching here. However, the next time I applied, I was finally able to join as an M.Tech student in IIT Bombay. I stayed there from 1996-1998 and my research career took off from there.
MM: You’ve shown a keen interest in the field of Data Compression, Cryptography and Security. You’ve also published an appreciable number of research papers. Tell us more about your research life.
BM: Assisted by Prof. Jena I applied to IIT Kanpur for my PhD program, although being completely aware of the fact that I would not be able to produce the results of my thesis paper on time. Still, the people there gave me almost a year’s extension even before I had joined. Later, after conversing with fellow research scholars I figured out that joining there would leave me in a fix as I would not be able to complete the rigorous coursework within the 3 years of relief time I had been provided by REC. So I came back from IIT Kanpur with a heavy heart after a mere 15 days of my joining. Back at REC, I got the opportunity to do research under Prof. Ganapati Panda and in the year 2000, I registered for the PhD program. I didn’t realize then, but it has truly been a blessing in disguise and since then I have never looked back. My PhD was in Image Processing (Image Restoration) but subsequently, I tried to diversify into image processing applications like Biometrics and then moved to cryptographic protocols. I have also guided a student in ad hoc network who is presently working as a faculty in Rajasthan.
MM: You were awarded a gold medal for the best engineering paper from IETE in 2001. Can you tell us more about the experience?
BM: “This paper was about adaptive noise cancellation from the image, it was published in the IETE journal of research by Taylor Francis.” It received many citations and was appreciated by most people. At the end of the year after going through all the research papers, they awarded the J.C. Bose gold medal to me. That experience greatly inspired me and gave me the much-needed boost to continue my research.
MM: You presently work as a professor in the department of CSE. How are the prospectuses of the department of CSE at NITR? How good (or) bad is it compared to other institutes?
BM: When we started MCA programs in 1983 and subsequently the B.Tech programs in 1986, we passed through a lot of hurdles as it was an upcoming branch. Initially there were fewer opportunities, but subsequently, the branch has come up and a lot of new faculty members have joined. During REC days we had only 5 faculties, but after becoming an NIT we have prospered a lot. I joined in 1991 from a premier industry, TCS which was a dream during that time. TCS was one of the first companies to work in the area of computer application in India and the selection procedure was very rigorous. However, despite a favourable tryst with the industry, I rekindled my passion for teaching and that has motivated me to continue my career as a professor at NITR. My keenness for teaching has motivated me to stay at NIT Rourkela.
MM: You worked as the Dean (Academic) of the institute and initiated some crucial changes. Tell us about your experience and what changes do you want to see in the near future.
BM: My journey as a part of the administration during the REC days when I was given the responsibility of Assistant Controller of Examination in 1994. But when Prof. Sarangi decided to have our own Automation cell, he assigned me to develop it. With the help of my colleagues, the software was made operational. I became the HOD from 2007-2010 and one significant achievement during that time was a project on Information Security that was awarded by the MHRD to us. I was again made in charge of Examinations from 2011-14 and by that time we had automated the Examination system. Earlier, everything was done manually from seating arrangements to assigning invigilators, etc. Now the whole process is completed within 7 days before the examination due to Automation. Subsequently, I got an opportunity to be the Dean Academics in 2014 during Prof. Sarangi’s tenure. Despite having installed ACs in a few of the classrooms, the ambience for teaching is still not good. I was trying to install something like an Air Pushing system because the rooms often become too stuffy. I have tried, but during that time it was delayed. but off late things have changed. Rulebooks need to be updated again but it requires some time. I have put my best efforts, but the revamping is still underway.
MM: As the Dean (Academic) of the institute, tell us what do you feel about the approach of students and professors towards academics and research?
BM: I feel most of the students are not inclined towards academics. Maybe one of the factors is the classroom environment i.e. the huge class size. So, in my perception, the students might be getting distracted. That’s why I suggested that at least in the first year, the class size should be limited to 60; so, that students can adapt to the changes. But because of the constraints, the administration could not take up this initiative. Mostly the students are exam oriented and some of them are even misusing the Leave system which is a demotivating factor.
Earlier teaching was considered secondary with reference to research. But, according to me teaching should be given equal importance. We have revamped the Student Feedback system and instead of 50-70 questions, we will keep 20-25 relevant questions. We have even instituted the Best Teacher Award, starting from this year.
MM: The Student Mentorship Program was your brain child which was started last year. What prompted you to initiate such a program?
BM: It was in my mind from the very beginning and I was trying to put it into action. Even though I left IIT Kanpur, I had learnt a lesson. As soon as I entered the campus, my Mentor (a Masters student) came up with all sorts of forms and asked me to fill them up. I did not have to move anywhere as he informed me about everything. So this was a wonderful thing, which I learnt from IITK.
I tried to take an initiative for SMP from the students and Anurag (Saha Roy) happened to have arrived at the right moment. I knew the Student Mentorship Program would work because if a student has got any problem, he/she can better communicate with a student than a teacher. SMP has impacted students in a positive way by boosting their confidence and I have selected very good students as Mentors to carry it forward. I have received a few positive feedbacks from the first year students, but it was not that successful because of lack of time. Now the Student Counselling System will have a direct impact and I think it will help a lot of students to cope with their stress in a better way.
MM: You joined the institute in 1991 and served for 26 years. How was the experience of working at NITR? And how tough it is to leave the institute after being associated for such a long time?
BM: I had joined the institute as a lecturer and became an Assistant Professor, I also completed my masters and PhD while simultaneously teaching at this institute. I certainly could not have reached here without the support provided by my colleagues, my friends and most importantly, my students from the various B.Tech, Masters and the PhD programs. The experience of working here will help me contribute as the Director of IIIT, Kancheepuram. But again I feel pretty nostalgic having to leave this place after working as the dean for 5 years. I would like to take my department to a prestigious level across the country. If given an opportunity, I would certainly like to return here after my tenure as director is completed, there.
MM: What changes do you notice on comparing REC, Rourkela of 1991 with NITR of 2017?
BM: There have been quite a few changes as we have transformed from REC to NIT because of several contributing factors. Earlier REC was only known as a teaching institute and the funding was also less, in comparison. But after becoming an NIT, the whole funding structure has changed and with the help of the Ex-Director, and we have progressed a lot. The main cause behind NIT Rourkela developing more than other NITs might be that we always managed to get extra funds. Also, we came up with new courses such as Food Processing, School of Management etc. Our Ex-Director had even dreamt to make the institute more dynamic by including medical schools with the collaborative efforts of the Departments of Biotechnology and Life Science.
MM: You’ve been recently appointed as the director of IIIT, Kancheepuram. Guide us through the procedure of selection of Director of IIITs.
BM: I have been selected as the Director of IIIT Design and Manufacturing (IIIT DnM). Most of the IIITs work in the Public Private Partnership mode, but IIIT Kancheepuram is purely a state funded one. The director candidates are chosen on the basis of search cum selection committees or by individual participation. Initially, I had skipped the advertisement for the Director post because of being busy with my assignment as a Dean here but the committee had asked our Director for recommendations from the institute and he had forwarded my bio-data to the committee. Based on that, I was interviewed along with 8 other candidates by a panel consisting of 5 people which included a representative from the The Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD), Government of India, andthey forwarded their decision to the MHRD . The questions in the interview round were regarding what I have done for this institute and what I am planning to do for the future of that Institute if given an opportunity to work there. The post was given to me after a final approval by the MHRD President.
MM: What are your interests other than research and academics? Tell us about your hobbies?
BM: My hobby is listening to music and I am interested in sports too. I love playing Table tennis, Volleyball and Football. But in the year 1978, during my school days, while playing Kabaddi I had fallen and broken my hand. It took almost two and half years to recover and on the recommendation of the doctor I stopped playing physically demainding sports which had a high risk of injury. Even during my hostel (DBA) days, we used to play Table Tennis and Badminton until late in the night. I was also a keen radio listener back then and I remember sleeping with a radio on my bedside always.
MM: Before signing off, any message that you would like to leave for our readers:
BM: I would simply like to say hard work and discipline are the call of the day. The students should put all their efforts into learning as they will not get this kind of opportunity again. Once they join the industry and start working on a routine job, they will hardly have any time to learn and explore new things but at the same time, they should enjoy their stay here. CGPA can never be compensated in the future, but other things can . For the faculties, I would like to say they are constantly developing and becoming better day by day.
Finally, I would like to wish you all good luck! And take the institute’s name forward.