Coming from extremely humble beginnings to reaching the pinnacles of success, this time’s alumnus is an inspiration to all just because of his sheer determination and hard work. From serving as the Editor in Chief of the prestigious IEEE to being the chairman of UCR, there is scarcely any achievements he has to achieve. We bring to you Prof. Laxmi Narayan Bhuyan, who was awarded the Distinguished Alumnus award not many years back by NITR.
MM: Going back to beginnings, tell us something about your life before NIT Rourkela (the then REC). Any memories that you always cherish?
LNB: I grew up in a village and went to study my high school at Vivekanananda Vidyapitha, Bahugram. I was always good in mathematics, but not so in literature, so I barely managed to get a first class in the High School examination in 1966. I did get into Ravenshaw College for Pre-University in Science along with many high school toppers from all over Orissa. However, I worked hard and topped the merit list in Ravenshaw both in their annual test and Utkal University P.U.Sc exam. I think my performance in subjects like mathematics and physics got me to this position. Surely, all the High-school toppers in my batch were shocked but became my close friends later.
MM: How was life at REC back then? Share with us your experiences of times at REC. How has life at REC changed you?
LNB: My liking for mathematics/physics along with an analytical mind suited me extremely well to Engineering. Throughout the 5 years of study I maintained the first position in the university. I thoroughly enjoyed my life at R.E.C, being surrounded by friends, playing with them, biking to see new movies at 2 pm matinee show on a hot summer day. Like for all of you, REC was the most fun part of my life. It was also my second home because, after graduation, I stayed there as a lecturer until I came to USA in 1980 (before all of you were born) to do my Ph.D. at Wayne State University, Detroit.
MM: Indian education system identifies Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Engineering as two separate and mutually independent streams (each with its own scope), whereas there is a mutual blending of the two streams in the USA. What is the reason that we don’t have so called ‘blending’ of these two branches in India, as compared to that in USA?
LNB: Computer Engineering (CE) binds the disciplines of Electrical Engineering (EE) and Computer Science (CS) together. The CE students learn design of computer systems, which cover both hardware and software. The hardware requires knowledge of electronic devices, digital circuit design and basic communications, which are covered in the EE department. The software systems design requires knowledge in data structures, algorithms, and operating systems, which are covered in CS departments. The CE students take courses in both the departments and usually belong to both disciplines. As a result, most of the EE departments in USA are called Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department. There is also a big overlap in faculty research interests in both departments. They work in similar areas and publish in the same conferences and journals. As a result of all these, there is a close interaction between both the departments. Some universities, like University of California at Berkeley and University of Michigan, have even combined both departments to for one EECS department.
MM: If you compare a top notch university in India like IITs or IISc with a top US university like UCR, we find a huge chasm, when it comes to research facilities. Why do you think there is such a widening gap when it comes to research facilities in the two countries? How do you believe this gap can be bridged?
LNB: The main difference between the research facilities exists because of the lack of interest and motivation in research coupled with administrative bureaucracy for purchase of equipment. However, difference in research facilities is not the main reason for lack of research in India. There are several reasons for the gap in research productivity among faculty in US and India.
(a)The faculty in these top universities in India are underpaid when compared to what their B.Tech students can get in industry. Their research and publication records are not awarded in the system. There is no salary difference between a hard working eminent professor and another who doesn’t work. In US, one full professor may be making double the salary of another full professor just because he/she gets raises depending on his/her productivity. There is lack of competition and desire to do outstanding research among faculty in India.
(b) The Indian industry also does not spend enough in research and development, so do not hire many MS and Ph.D. graduates. There is no reward for doing MS or Ph.D. in Engineering in India. The top undergraduate students do not opt to go for higher studies in India. We believe that the situation will change in a few years when there will be demand for Ph.D.s in industry. Then they will be forced to hire those graduates from China. There is also a huge shortage of faculty even in top universities like IITs.
(c)The faculty cannot attend easily attend top conferences in their research areas due to restriction in funding and bureaucratic hurdles, so are not aware of the latest research papers or facilities. Moreover, purchasing an equipment and setting it up in a lab takes a lot of time due to bureaucracy in Indian system
MM: Why did you choose to pursue your higher studies outside the country? Do you believe the aforementioned gap between research facilities to be a major reason for this?
LNB: Actually, the gap in research facility was not the reason. When I left India in 1980, I was a lecturer at NIT and pursuing my Ph.D. degree under the guidance of a professor in IIT, Kharagpur. I left because I wanted to study full time while being able to support family from my assistantship. I knew that there would be significant difference in quality and recognition between getting a Ph.D. in USA and India. Also, there would be significant difference in remuneration and awards if I stayed in USA after completing Ph.D. degree. The worldwide recognition I have received through my research would not have been possible if I stayed in India and did my Ph.D. there.
MM: Being a member of IEEE and having served as an Editor in Chief of one of its journals, what according to you has been the major contribution of IEEE to the world?
LNB: IEEE is the primary forum of research advancement and publication throughout the world. Its publications are always considered as number one in the field of electrical and computer engineering. IEEE has also played a major role in various professional activities and conferences.
MM: How has your stint as a chairman and professor at UCR been different from your previous universities? What are your future plans?
LNB: The colleagues are different and the place is nicer. Otherwise, most of the major universities in USA have similar working environment.
MM: You have also been awarded with the “Distinguished Alumnus Award” of NIT Rourkela in 2011. How does it feel to be remembered back by your alma mater and where does this recognition stand in your bucket full of accolades?
LNB: I am honoured to get such recognition from my Alma mater, which converted me from a teenager to a young scientist. Rourkela is my second home and full of pleasant memories. By the way, I was also inducted into “Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame” at Wayne State University for what I achieved after earning a Ph.D. from there. Incidentally, I think my record of completing Ph.D. in 2 years there still stands.
MM: Already having achieved so many awards and distinctions, do you still have any feelings of regret in your life?
LNB: No, I do not have any regrets in my professional life. One could always do better, but then there is no limit.
MM: For a student presently studying in NIT Rourkela, what are the pre-requisites required, so that he can fulfil his dreams of studying in his desired institute abroad? In short, what would be your success mantra?
First, success is not just measured in terms of academic achievements. One can succeed in profession without doing a Ph.D. But, if someone is interested in higher studies and research, there should be strong motivation followed by hard work. Then everything will fall in place.
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