The Conscientious Signal: Siddharth Deshmukh
On Saturday morning, when the classrooms were empty, team MM caught up with one of the Coolest and Glamourous professors of the Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering, Siddharth Deshmukh to know more about his life and achievements.
MM: Tell us about your childhood and schooling.
SD: I was born and brought up in Raipur, MP. However at that time, in 2001, Chhattisgarh was a part of Madhya Pradesh, soon after the division Raipur officially became a part of Chhattisgarh. I never changed school for 14 years. Then there was engineering entrance exam where I got electrical engineering at NIT Raipur. The job opportunities were not that good. So I did M tech in IITD and from there I landed at C-Dot, Bangalore which is a research organisation for telecommunication. After 4 years and I tried out for GRE and TOEFL and got a scholarship at Kansas State University.
MM: Apart from Electrical Engineering, what other activities spur your interest?
SD: We loved playing cricket. We used to host inter-branch and intra-hostel tournaments. We had three factions of students in the campus. There were the day scholars who were primarily the residents of Raipur, the boarders and the third section of the student fraternity were the ones who used to board a train from places like Bilaspur and Bhilai to attend college. Although we lived in an environment of camaraderie, there was no love lost between us when it came to football and cricket matches.
MM: Tell us about your days in NIT Raipur
SD: When we joined NIT Raipur, it was on the verge of becoming an NIT. So we were not having similar academics as we have in NITs now, we were more like the universities; it had just started the process to be an NIT. Government University college students were different in the sense that even though we had ragging which is quite different from what we have in here, and about bunking classes, I would like to mention that in the 8th semester, after I had cleared my GATE, I did not attend any class. Also, since it was a Government College, our teachers back then were not as serious and I have a lot of respect for them as they had guided us even though having taken not more than 5-6 lectures in the semester.
MM: How was the environment at NIT Raipur different from that in NIT Rourkela?
SD: NIT Rourkela is more of a school. Students here have to attend classes regularly. In our time, we never had any compulsion to attend classes. The exams were conducted by the professors, where we had to stick to a syllabus even if the contents were not taught in the class.
NIT Rourkela has more of a school system where the ones conducting the exams are the ones who teach you. That according to me was the primary difference.
MM: What is your opinion on the attendance system in our institute?
SD: According to me, the attendance rules should be flexible. However, at the same time, there should be a balance, so that the students understand the concept as well. Nowadays a student can avail many resources to learn new concepts and subjects like NPTEL and open courses by various institutes. Classroom study is something we cannot ignore. We need to set some basic parameters of classroom teaching to enable a student to get a very good understanding of the basics.
MM: What are your opinions on the current curriculum and system of education in the institution?
SD: With flexibility in attendance, it is expected that the students learn some concepts of their own as well. This will definitely change the type of questions that are being set currently. In doing so, we are slowly moving away from the school-based system of academics as well as from that of the US, while meeting them both midway. In that scenario, we also have to keep in mind the various interests of the student community. Some students will switch careers; go for MBA, analytics or any other stream that allures them. We should respect their choices and make sure the new course load is not too much for them. At the same time, special stress should be laid on the students who are passionate about their branch and want to go for a career in their respective department. In case a student does not meet the expectations, I should retrospect as to the reasons that hold him back or affect his learning process.
MM: How was your experience at IIT-Delhi as a postgraduate?
SD: The teaching-learning process at IIT-Delhi was more eccentric than what I had in NIT Raipur and somewhat similar to what we have here at NIT Rourkela. Professors at IIT-Delhi were well versed in the literature of their subject and focussed on specialisations rather than a generic approach towards the subject. They set high standards for their subjects and achieving those standards is only possible for students having clarity in the basic concepts and terminologies of the subject.
For students pursuing their Mtech. degree, the first year is the stumbling block while for the under graduates, they are the first two years. Students take time to get accustomed to their new environment, but if they fold up under the pressure, then it becomes a cause of concern. Pressure is something we have to co-exist with throughout our life, what matters is that how we can use the pressure to our advantage.
MM: How was your experience at C-Dot?
SD: C-DOT was a like a product development company. At C-DOT I was exposed to the practical implementation of engineering. Even though it was a government organisation, the newly appointed employees were summoned on Saturdays to meet the deadlines. Even though many of my friends were placed in MNC’s like Samsung and CISCO, working at C-DOT presented me with the opportunity to work with the complete product, unlike in companies like Samsung or Intel where engineers only get a small bite of the apple.
MM: What was the reason behind pursuing a Phd., considering that you had a job at C-DOT?
SD: When I was working at C-DOT, I came across an advertisement for the recruitment of professors at NIT-Raipur. I appeared for the interview as an M.Tech. graduate and was selected eventually. Following my resignation from C-DOT, the Director seeking the reason behind my decision to leave called me and asked whether I was really interested in pursuing a career in academics. I responded that during my tenure here as an engineer, I have developed an interest in the field of research and I would like to pursue the same. Industrial research is however, more product oriented and does not provide the same scope as an independent research. He pursued me to get a PhD. before pursuing a career in academics and I applied for GRE and TOEFL. I received calls from Georgia Technical University, Ohio State University and Kansas State University but since none apart from the later offered financial assistance, I decided to go for Kansas State University.
MM: What was the difference you experienced in the research scenario at KSU in comparison to that in India?
SD: My professor was an Indian, who hailed from the city of Bangalore. He urged me to broaden my horizon and take as many subjects possible. I completed my Phd. in six semesters whilst taking 13 courses in that duration. He explained it to me that event though you are performing research your focus should be on learning as well, which I feel is in stark contrast to the situation in NIT Rourkela. Undergraduate students here are more concerned about their placements rather than learning the subject. Same is the scenario with the M.Tech. students who just want to survive the two years and then go for GATE or a job.
However, learning the subject was something they prioritised at KSU and that to me is a significant difference. Even the options provided for choosing an open elective was very diverse as students were provided courses non-relevant to the traditional domain of engineering.
The very concept of education in both the countries bear absolutely no resemblance as in USA they nurture the student to be a better thinker, a better human being by improving his learning process.
MM: How are lab and other facilities in NITR different from Kansas State University?
SD: In NITR, one needs to take permission from authorities for using or accessing any equipment in a lab because mostly the labs are closed during weekends. We have a lot of constraints. But in most of the foreign universities, especially KSU, where I did my PhD, one had all the liberty and right to access or use labs whenever they want. They never close. Even if a professor wants to take class, he can just find any empty room and go ahead or he can book online so that people don’t occupy at that particular slot. As the technology has advanced, I think we should make better use of it like how foreign universities do. Also, there are evening classes instead of tutorials for students studying there. Any volunteer who can be a senior or PhD scholar can teach the students and clear their questions. In fact, whenever I got free time, I volunteered to help many students especially those coming from other countries who were not able to cope up with the intellectuals they study with.
MM: How did NITR happen to you?
SD: When Mr Sunil Kumar Sarangi was the Director of NITR, I applied for a job in many institutes in India which had vacancies, I got selected in NITR and my interview was taken and because my first interview was in NITR though I was offered in IIT Jodhpur too, I took up this job. The fact that NITR is one of the best institutions in India and also that it is advanced in technology and academic activities when compared to many other Indian Institutions and also that Rourkela is near to my hometown, Raipur, has made me become a part of NITR.
MM: Considering you are still part of NITR, where do you see NITR 10 years down the line?
SD: I think I would want to see many changes in 10 years. The traditional course for UG should be changed according to industrial requirement. There are so many new fields emerging from the existing ones like how Electronics and Communication, Computer Science and Engineering and IT evolved from Electrical engineering. We provide the basics of all these subject in the first two semesters because it is necessary for one to have knowledge from various fields but one should be given the freedom to choose courses of their interest that they want to take up from 2nd year irrespective of the branch. We must have more interaction with industry so that the quality of students NITR is producing improves.
For research, we have to change a lot. We don’t have an atmosphere of research as such. Nowadays, research is not done with books trying to derive certain formulas, now research is done with Google where all the research papers and other resources are readily available. But if you are stuck with a problem, you must be able to have an environment in which you can contact any other field student or professor and get the work done. Citing an example, in chemistry, if the researchers use a particular process to develop a product, other field researchers may not be interested in the final outcome but interested in the process which they may later apply for their own work. So, we don’t have to keep ourselves in a room but we should move around and get to know what other people are doing keeping in mind our objective for the same.
MM: What advice would you like to give to the students of NITR?
The institute is changing and they must give a positive response to this change. We want the institute to go in a right direction for which the students will have to go to the right direction and that will be only possible if they have more and more interactions with the faculties. Also, they should have the mindset that NITR is not just a college which they will have a part of for 4 years but they have to think that it has given them a platform for them to develop themselves and as a manner of reciprocation; they should contribute for the institute.