Eminently Offing the Beaten Path
Saumya Agarwal | Apr 17, 2018
The Department of Food Process Engineering asserted its presence more firmly than ever with the first doctoral degree being awarded to Ms Baby Hmar, who also happens to be the first person to have a PhD in Food Process Engineering from the state of Mizoram. It was clearly a milestone for her and the HOD, Prof Sabyasachi Mishra, her PhD supervisor, when she became the first woman in engineering to have a PhD in her home state, Mizoram. Team MM had a candid talk with this lead vocalist of Euphony band of the institute and learnt about her professional career and personal experience so far:
MM: Tell us about your childhood and school life.
BH: I was born and brought up in Aizawl, Mizoram. I grew up with a pretty smooth academic life, but due to my parents’ job, we were on a move from one city to city. I had to change my schools and boards for primary, middle, high, and higher secondary education. In addition, throughout my childhood and graduation, I lived in boarding schools and hostels which inculcated my ability to adapt to different cultures and environment easily. I thereby could easily get along with people of different backgrounds and diverse thoughts. To sum it up, I grew up to be an extrovert adult who gets pleased with the company of friends and family.
MM: Since when were you inclined towards Food Process Engineering? Was it fate or pre-planned?
BH: As a child, I had a fantasy to become a pilot (*Grins*). Somehow, it did not materialize. By the time I finished my higher secondary, I realized that medicine was not my cup of tea and wanted to be an engineer. I eventually joined Agricultural Engineering in the College of Agriculture Engineering and Post Harvest Technology, Gangtok, Sikkim under Central Agriculture University, Imphal. I chose this branch due to its wider applicability to the economic development of our state as well as the country through better Agricultural engineering practices.
During the final year of my B. Tech, I had three options to choose from, for my research project i.e. Soil and Water Conservation (SWCE), Farm Power and Machinery (FPM), and Food Process Engineering (FPE). Due to dynamic faculties, various interesting activities and future scope, I opted for the Food Process Engineering specialization under the supervision of Prof. Sabyasachi Mishra, who was the Head of the Department at that time in my B.Tech college at Gangtok. It was then when I developed an interest in Food Process Engineering and learnt a lot from my project guide and HOD, Prof. S.Mishra, who later became my PhD supervisor in NIT, Rourkela. I can, therefore, say that it was not pre-planned, rather, a fate backed by the continuous process of learning and growing interest that led to my selection of this branch later in MTech as well as for my PhD.
MM: How did NITR happen to you?
BH: Teachership is a noble profession that I always wanted to pursue. However, to be a teacher in an institute of national importance like NIT or IIT, having a PhD is a must. I was looking for an opportunity to go for my PhD in a premier institute in India or abroad when I came to know that my B.Tech project guide, Prof. Mishra, has shifted to the newly established Department of Food Process Engineering at National Institute of Technology, Rourkela. That actually inspired me to try my luck at NIT, Rourkela.
It was the teacher and then the institute, which influenced my decision. Life is full of turns and twists. NITR was that one turn which actually changed my due course of life.
MM: How was your experience working with your guide and the HoD, Prof. Sabyasachi Mishra?
BH: I feel blessed as well as thankful to be supervised by Prof. Mishra who defined the right research path for me since the first day of my PhD curriculum. It was because of his contribution and guidance that I could complete my PhD in the right time and graduated as the first PhD from the Department at NIT Rourkela. Prof. Mishra is a taskmaster and is very systematic. He had set a list of time-bound goals for me, which he used to monitor in our weekly meetings of the research group. While working with such exemplary mentor, I learnt two most important lessons of my life. He refined my time management skills through which I enhanced my efficiency besides staying focused on my goal. I will always remember his inspiring words “PhD is where you learn skills important to manage your personal and professional life” and “Dream of moons and stars, but be grounded”. I will forever remain in debt to him for all the encouragement, support and guidance that I received from him.
MM: How was your college life here at NIT Rourkela? How did you manage to be the lead vocalist in Euphony besides your PhD research work?
BH: My entire academic life has been totally study-oriented. But I am always interested in dancing and singing right from my school and college life. NITR has a vibrant club culture and with my personal interest, I was able to practice singing. I performed with my band ‘Euphony’ on various occasions during Innovision and NU, and even released an Audio album. According to me, for a proper research mind and devoted hours of study, one should find an escape from the monotonicity and indulge in the activities of his/her interest. I believe this relaxation beyond the working hours, in turn, made my PhD research life more focused and enjoying.
MM: How do you feel being the first PhD from the Dept of Food Process Engineering, NITR and the first in entire Mizoram?
BH: Well, I am very honoured and delighted to be the first PhD student from my Department as well as my state in Food Process Engineering. I want to extend my gratitude to Prof. Sabyasachi Mishra and Prof. R. C. Pradhan as well as my doctoral committee members and other departmental faculties and colleagues at NIT Rourkela who were a constant support throughout my research journey. I feel responsible and want to explore the best of my potentials to serve my people, state and country with the knowledge I have gained so far.
MM: What prospects do you think Food Processing Engineering has in India?
BH: Food Processing has a tremendous scope in India. Almost 95% of the food that we buy is processed at some point and packed. Government too realised that Food Processing Sector is the engine for farmer’s growth and in order to promote it, allocation of the budget of Food Processing ministry has been doubled from Rs.715 crores in 2017-18 to Rs.1400 crore for 2018-2019. People have general notion that food processing has something to do with cooking, whereas the reality is not even near to it. With the ever-increasing demand for food and change of lifestyle, numerous food industries have already been set up in the processing sector. New technologies can aid the current scenario, and Food Processing being a comparatively less explored domain can harbour brilliant research and job opportunities.
I believe that our department will soon be one of the top in the country to produce the best food process engineering graduates and scientists. And the branch, being a skilful and applied subject, can give the best opportunity for start-up and entrepreneurship.
MM: How much has the department developed since you joined?
BH: I have seen the department from its inception to what its now. Its tough and time taking for a new department to establish. When I initially joined, there was a dearth of machines but soon with the painstaking efforts of our department HOD and faculties, we procured the necessary equipment and machines. Earlier, we had to send our samples outside or to the other related departments, but now we, at least, have the basic amenities. It has developed a lot, and much more scope for improvement is there yet. Our department faces a shortage of space, owing to which we cannot space up the equipment. It is necessary that authorities decide for a separate building for the department. Also, we need to increase our faculty numbers. I hope that soon the department reaches new heights.
MM: What are your future plans?
BH: Right now I would be joining as a Faculty (Post Harvest Technology) in State Agricultural Management and Extention Training Institute, SAMETI, Mizoram. Let's see where time and personal life brings me, but I would always want to work as Professor, stay close to academics and keep doing my best for the research community. Doing Post-doc from somewhere abroad is still on my checklist.
MM: What message do you want to give to your friends and the department?
BH: I would like to thank all staff and faculties of the department for the immense help they’ve provided in my entire PhD journey to get it completed in right time. My friends in NIT, my ‘Euphony’ bandmates and all other research scholars in the department have made my life in NITR memorable and I will cherish them forever. I wish my juniors all the best and hope that they be the best alumni in future and spread all over the country as well as abroad thereby taking the department to even greater heights. My best wishes to all the readers and Monday Morning.