All that “Matters”: Prabeer Barpanda

Few follow the call of the subtle study of Material Sciences. One of them remains to be Prabeer Barpanda, an alumnus of the Department of Ceramic Engineering, currently serving as Assistant Professor at Materials Research Centre at IISc Bangalore. Team MM caught up with Prof. Barpanda along a saunter down memory’s by-lanes.

MM: Tell us about your life before NITR. Was engineering by choice or by compulsion?

PB: Originally from Sambalpur, I was brought up in Nalco Nagar, Angul in central Odisha. After matriculation, I moved to Bhubaneswar for 2 years. During this tenure, I put a steady effort on science subjects with special interest in Chemistry. As I was afraid of cutting frogs and not fond of drawing their naked (inner and outer) body parts, I did not take Biology papers. So Engineering was my choice from the beginning. (I must admit I was interested in pursuing study in Economics, which never happened.)    

MM: Students would love to know about how college life was in those days. Share with us some interesting experiences about your life at NITR.

PB: The world has changed a lot in last 10-15 years. We had very little number of computers, no laptops, no cell phone and few (2nd hand...or I should say 2nth hand) bikes in hostels. We were the last batch of students who got B. Engg. Degree from REC-Rourkela. Now NITR has improved a lot in terms of infrastructure, new departments, more activities and more research facilities.

In our first semester itself, there was a sine die. It was a sad but new experience for us. The delay owing to sine die led to a delay in our semesters. I was not so social and had few friends. But it was a great experience to see myriad facets of transient personalities of various people. Life was simple and wonderful.

MM: How has life at NITR influenced you in your future endeavours?

PB: I must say NITR provides a great platform to enrich, educate and excel in our career. Many seniors showed us the way to excel in different career paths. It was inspiring for us and gave us confidence that we too can do great work in our respective career goals. I was lucky to have wonderful encouraging faculties in Department of Ceramic Engineering. I pursued a research project in my final year, which led to two research articles in international journals! This was my first tryst with materials research, which encouraged me to proceed in research career in materials science. 

     Its materials! Everything else is immaterial!

MM: Were you involved in student activities or was it just studies for you? How much was CGPA important for you?

PB: I was not involved in student activities. I was mostly into my studies, read some philosophical books and playing Table Tennis. I often regret not being active in student activities and being so unsocial. (I miss my student days and miss my friends.) Though I was the topper of my batch (Ceramic-2002), I did not consider CGPA as an important thing. I have seen many great students with bad CGPA. It’s just a number, which has little significance. Nevertheless I tried to maintain a good CGPA for my future quest in higher studies.

MM: What was it that attracted you towards research? Was it the placement scenario in those days or was it your innate admiration towards higher studies?

PB: Our the then Department Chairman, Prof. Rakesh Kumar Sinha, has influenced me a lot. He was a scholar in Ceramics, who inspired me to pursue higher studies in Materials science. During my third and final year, I was offered the ‘Young Engineering Fellowship’ summer internship in Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore. There, I met many great Professors and visiting international scientists. My project was in IISc led to two more international publications. Though our placement scenario was great (most software), I was always inspired to pursue higher studies in Materials Science.

MM: You have been at universities across the globe. How do you think NIT fares when compared to these places? Where do you think we lack?

PB: It’s a tough question. Yes, I have been at Universities across the globe. Most of them are research oriented institutes, where as Indian institutes like IITs and NITs are mostly into undergraduate studies. So, it is not a fair comparison. I must say we lack in research. Also unfortunately most of the students do not really study their subjects. Copying assignments, cheating in the exams and bunking classes, these are unfortunately common practice. Students are smart and they should use their time in a productive manner.   

MM: What do you make of the research scenario in India? Why do you believe there is a rush amongst students to go for jobs rather than higher studies? Do you believe this scenario is going to change in the near future?

PB: Another tough question. Every country has its own financial, cultural, geopolitical and geographical strength/ weakness. So, I would not like to compare different countries. Since independence, India has made phenomenal progress in space, nuclear, telecommunication and biotechnologies. While India has a long way to go to match with US, Europe and Japan/Korea, I am optimistic about India’s research progress and future.

Not only India, it is universal to say students rush for jobs rather than higher studies. It is always market driven and money driven. There is nothing wrong in it. Even in US, Europe and other developed countries, a significant amount of excellent students come from foreign countries. In my view, this scenario is never going to change. But, it is fine.

MM: How has your experience been so far at IISc Bangalore? Tell us something about the work culture at IISc.

PB: Simply wonderful! I just finished 8 months in IISc and am setting up my research lab slowly and steadily. All my colleagues have been extremely helpful and encouraging. The ambience is simply perfect for academic research. IISc provides relaxing ambience, tremendous independence and excellent platform to pursue research.

MM: How important do you think Alumni Relations are for an institute? What steps, according to you, can be taken to improve in this field?

PB: It is very important for any institute. Few suggestions to improve alumni relations are (i) to start an account to which interested alumni can donate money, (ii) to periodically invite interested alumni to deliver general talks and share their expertise/ experiences, and (iii) to conduct an annual 2-3 days function inviting several alumni to conduct workshops/ talks and bestow ‘Distinguished Alumni Award’.

MM: What does the future hold for you both on a professional and personal level?

PB: I am just a kid! It’s my great fortune to have an international education/ research experience, having worked in six countries and having travelled over 40 countries across the globe. I would like to imbibe some good points from the great scientists I have encountered and conduct good research in energy materials. It’s a life long journey and I aspire to pursue research career with perseverance, good spirit and ethics. 

     Life and science goes on.

MM: We all are looking forward to hearing from you. Any final message that you want to give to NITians out here?

PB: Enjoy your days in NIT. These are golden moments. At the same time, please do not waste this wonderful opportunity. Hone your academic and extra-curricular skills with hard work, perseverance and sincerity. Be a great NITian and a great Indian. Sarbe Bhabantu Sukhinah.