A Paradigm of Humility: Dr. Prasant Mohapatra
Afif Janjirkar | Jul 30, 2018
Dr. Prasant Mohapatra, the recipient of Distinguished Alumnus Award, graduated from the Electrical Engineering department of NIT Rourkela (then REC, Rourkela) in 1987. A humble, hardworking and overachieving person, he is currently serving as the Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of California, Davis after his recent investiture to the prestigious post. Team MM corresponded with Dr. Mohapatra, who has published more than 350 papers in reputed conferences and journals, and he shared with us his experiences of his earlier days, REC Rourkela, his interests, and more.
MM: A person of your stature can be easily searched online and researched upon. Keeping your every available online description aside, how would you describe yourself?
PM: I am a simple and unassuming person. I enjoy pursuing dreams, cherishing thoughts and making tiny efforts for the betterment of society and mankind in general. Positive thoughts, views, and simple acts serve as my driving forces on a daily basis.
MM: Tell us something about your days before joining the erstwhile REC, Rourkela. How did you learn about REC?
PM: The carefree life and lack of complex luxuries defined the days before joining REC, Rourkela. Honestly, I am not sure how I learned about REC, Rourkela.
MM: Share with us your experiences in the erstwhile REC Rourkela. How important do you think were the four years at REC in your life, both professionally and otherwise?
PM: Just a simple statement to define my experience: I went to Rourkela as a boy and came out as a man!
MM: Your research interests, among others, include wireless networks, mobile communications, cybersecurity, and Internet protocols. You have published more than 300 papers and received research grants from numerous organizations like the National Science Foundation. What attracted you to this field?
PM: Fascination towards technology and aspiration towards innovations to nurture my creativity was the main attraction for the areas of my research.
MM: What was your reaction on being the Vice Chancellor of University of California, Davis, after being associated for so many years as a Professor, the Department Chair for Computer Science, then Associate Chancellor and finally the Dean of Graduate Studies?
PM: My passion towards research and an ardent desire to make a broader and bigger impact inspired me to pursue this leadership position.
MM: What key differences did you observe in the university learning environment at UC, Davis from that of NIT Rourkela in your time?
PM: Freedom to learn whatever I want differentiates my times between UC Davis and NIT Rourkela.
MM: You have been associated with the Iowa State University, Michigan State University and the University of California, Davis. On the other hand, you have also held the position of visiting scientist in numerous companies in the software and hardware technologies industry. How would you compare your association with the academia as a faculty, against working as an industry expert and consultant?
PM: Industry experiences add practical values to thoughts and abstractions that we deal in academic research. I have enjoyed maintaining a balance between those two flavors.
MM: You have also been associated with numerous IEEE publications in editorial roles, including serving as the Editor-in-Chief. How did your long association with IEEE start off?
PM: The association with IEEE gradually developed primarily through my publications in IEEE journal and conferences. I have also chaired several IEEE conferences and served on the editorial boards of about 5-6 journals.
MM: What is your opinion on the prospects of an Indian engineering undergraduate in pursuing research and higher studies in the United States, and particularly UC, Davis? Are there currently any academic assistance programs for Indian students in UC Davis?
PM: I would like to see more and more Indian undergraduate students pursue higher education in the US. That number has come down in recent years as most students are pursuing jobs in industry after their undergraduate degrees.
MM: How recently did you visit NIT Rourkela and what did you feel about your visit? What changes did you observe between then and now? Are you in touch with any of your classmates or colleagues now?
PM: I visited NIT Rourkela about 5 years back. I was very impressed with the new infrastructure and the general look-and-feel of the campus. Unfortunately, I was not able to meet students and faculty during that visit – the classes were off at that time.
I am in touch with many of my batchmates through WhatsApp.
MM: What is your take on the role of alumni for an institute of national importance like ours? How do you think the present scenario of alumni interaction can be improved?
PM: The role of alumni in developing an education institution is huge – we have missed an opportunity there. Currently, I am working with a group of alumni and the administration at NIT to create an effective liaison between the alumni and the institution.
MM: You have occupied numerous positions of responsibility throughout your career. How did you handle the pressure and the disappointments? What are some of the things that you had to learn along the way?
PM: Keeping a positive attitude is the key to handle pressure and disappointments. All problems have solutions – it is for us to find the best one that suits our preferences.
MM: How do you keep your spirits high amidst professional pressure and hectic schedule? Any long drawn out hobbies that you still indulge yourself in?
PM: I love traveling, which is my main hobby. Visiting new places, learning new cultures and traditions are very satisfying for me. I have traveled in more than 50 countries and intend to cover another 50 or so during the next 15 years.
MM: What does it take to be Prasant Mohapatra? Please enlighten our readers with a few lines of inspiration.
PM: Stay focused and attached to the ground and let your dreams fly high. Respect the value of time, think innovative and create an impact on humanity.