The Polished Perfectionist: Snehanshu Pal
A dedicated professor of Computational Metallurgy who in addition has tried his hand and made it big in corporate and banking, Team MM caught up with Prof. Snehanshu Pal, Assistant Professor of the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science Department. In a candid interview, Prof Pal talks about his schooling, college life, career, struggles, and achievements.
MM: Tell us about your childhood and graduation.
SP: Having confronted obstacles pertaining to finances and family, I was very much motivated and inclined towards studies. At times when I felt low, I used to take up a mathematics book and solve the problems. I had a knack for writing especially poems and essays in the Bengali language. Back in seventh grade, owing to my writing skills, I received an award from the Governor of West Bengal for securing the third prize in a state level essay competition.
I had done my schooling in Bengali medium schools. I never had the background of convent English, so I always faced problems during my BTech. studies, specifically in my first year. It was difficult on my part to understand what was being taught in the classes. I used to read English newspapers daily in an attempt to improve my understanding of the language thus enabling a better understanding of the curriculum. Initially, it took me 2-3 days to read a paragraph of 20 lines (laughs). However, after the first year, I began to understand the subjects and started performing well.
MM: Walk us through your Engineering days.
SP: I did my graduation from IIEST, Shibpur, then known as Bengal Engineering and Science University (BESU) in Metallurgy and Material Engineering. I was a socially outgoing and fun loving person and did not want to always keep myself busy with studies. I used to play cricket, badminton and was often involved in a plethora of student activities. I never went for direct politics but was a part of the Student Union. I used to be actively involved in our in-house politics, more or less for small student issues.
MM: Tell us about your early professional career, about your tryst with non-core sectors.
SP: I was selected for a job after my graduation, however, after 9/11, I got a pink slip informing me that I was rejected for the job they had initially selected me for. Following this experience, I applied for a job at ABN Amro (currently known as Royal Bank of Scotland now headquartered at Edinburgh). Back then I was posted in Chennai. My job at RBS was mainly related to technical document checking. However, after some time, I found the job to be boring and monotonous. Having realised that banking was not my forte, I moved into the core sector. Owing to my GATE scores, I joined IISc, Bangalore for my Masters. However, I had to leave IISc, Bangalore after 9 months due to some family problems. After the stint with IISc, I joined SAIL, Rourkela. I endured almost a four-year stint at RSP before the job turned to be mundane and droning. I left the job and decided to pursue higher studies. Again, I appeared for GATE in 2009, after which I joined the Ph.D. program at IIT Kharagpur, following which I went for post-doctoral philosophy from Pennsylvania State University, US. After this, I gave my interview at NITRKL and upon selection, started working here.
MM: Please share your experiences while pursuing post-doc at the US.
SP: I was pursuing my post doc at Pennsylvania State University. The subject of my study there was initially completely unknown to me. My selection was done based on my analytic skills. My professor (guide) was very helpful, who never hesitated to devote his time to me. At Penn State, all the laboratories and facilities were functioning 24/7. Apart from the labs focusing on defence research, which had certain restrictions on people from outside the States, all the facilities offered the latest technology were easily accessible. The culture was a very cosmopolitan one. The atmosphere was very cordial and encouraging. My fellow batch mates were from Europe, Brazil, and China.
MM: You have tried your hands in different sectors, what was your motivation to come back to your core stream of metallurgy again?
SP: Whatever job I had done, I never experienced freedom.
I believe that your knowledge, your skill, your understanding should not govern your approach towards a problem, rather the problem should be the key and accordingly one should acquire knowledge and skill to mitigate it.
Suppose a problem cannot be solved using only metallurgy, one needs mechanical understanding, electrical understanding or say instrumentation understanding to solve it, so based on that you have to make yourself efficient by understanding the inter-disciplinary thinking. Only then one can solve a problem. But, conventionally, what I found, people think that whatever problem would come, it can be solved by their skill or logic only. They do not allow the problem to dictate, which is why the solution is much more difficult. To improve the problem-solving skill of students is something that motivated me to come here.
In corporate sector job, I never enjoyed freedom. There was always some demarcation, a limit, up to which you could suggest your views. I needed the freedom, which was another motivation for me to come here.
Next thing that I really like about being a teacher, because I think, in one life one cannot achieve everything, but in 10 lives you might. By being a teacher, I can live the lives of my students. Their achievement is something, which gives me happiness.
MM: How would you describe your experience at NITR?
SP: I never enjoyed my first year at NITR, as there were many hindrances and I was unable to cope with the situations existing at that time. Studying in the States and having done my PhD at IIT Kharagpur made me a very methodical and disciplined person. I had got into a habit of getting things done immediately as and when I required them but in contrast, at NITR, things never traversed fast. Here one needs to create a situation in order to get things done, because NIT Rourkela cannot offer you things immediately. However, gradually as I started to comprehend the day-to-day functionalities of the system, I started liking it. I love to enjoy the company of my students. I never got depressed whenever I associated with any of my students. I focus to take care of anyone who is under my supervision.
MM: After GATE, good rankers get to choose between pursuing higher studies or go for a job in PSUs. You have tried your hand in both of these options. Which do you think is a better option?
SP: My suggestion, especially to the material science engineering students would be that they should opt to go for higher studies if a quick financial settlement is not their ultimate goal. Material science has an immense scope for higher studies. After completing higher education, if students do not want to get into the teaching profession, they can even go for a corporate job, or in the research field. For example, in countries like Poland, Switzerland, there are dedicated departments and universities for subjects like computational materials engineering. The trending BIG DATA concept has numerous applications in material sciences.
MM: What are your thoughts about future of Metallurgy Department?
SP: The future is very bright. Many young and talented faculties have joined the department and for us, students are very important. Our Ph.D. students are very brilliant, just a thing they lack is proper knowledge to create self-esteem while learning metallurgy.
The belief that needs to be nurtured by us, among the students is that our department is no less than other departments like computer science, EC etc.
Before admitting their wards in the metallurgy department, parents should also have sufficient information about this field. What I believe is that social acceptance for the subject of your study gives you the motivation to excel in it.
My sole career objective is to motivate my students and teach them how to actually learn the subject. I feel that we must continue the culture of publishing article in SCI journals, which is highly acclaimed globally.
MM: What message would you like to give to the students?
SP: A student should be passionate and should have an idea of what actually triggers him/her. Students, who want to get into the corporate world while maintaining the identity of material science engineer, should have a good level of confidence to apply whatever he/she has learned as a material science engineer. Failing which can otherwise lead to an identity crisis.
Every stream of engineering, be it metallurgy, or chemical has its own charm and significance. Whatever branch students get by their rank in the entrance, they should learn to become excellent in their subject. Once you perform well in your branch and gain supremacy in its knowledge, the opportunities you would get is even better than other branches whose rank cut-offs were much higher than yours.
Students should show truthfulness in their existence and must be curious, they should get what they deserve.