The Fateful Designer: Prof. Dhananjay Singh Bisht
On a comfortable and cozy evening, when classes for the entire day were over, and everyone else was busy with post-lecture activities, Team MM visited the Department of Industrial Design to add one more professor to the “Cool and Glamorous Professor’s Adda”, Prof. Dhananjay Singh Bisht who is famous among the students for his warm and friendly nature. In a brief talk with MM, Prof Dhananjay Singh Bisht shares the myriad experiences of his journey from childhood to the present day of being a faculty in this renowned institution.
MM: Walk us through your childhood, schooling and college life.
Dhananjay Singh Bisht: I was born in the outskirts of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. My father was an agricultural scientist; so we used to stay in government quarters. I received my primary and secondary education in Bhopal. Owing to my father’s transfer, we shifted to Ludhiana, Punjab in my 8th standard. I completed my 10th and 12th boards from Ludhiana. Securing a rank 680 in AIEEE, I followed the trend of joining Electronics and Communication Engineering at Thapar University, Patiala. I was much of a serious academic oriented student from the start of my educational career.
MM: Apart from Industrial Design, what other activities spur your interest?
DSB: Cricket had always been a priority to me since my childhood. I was a fast bowler during my school years. In my Higher Secondary days, I had been more inclined to football, and I had also represented my college during my Undergraduate years. I continued playing sports during my job days, and now, I am more of a sports enthusiast.
MM: Put some light on your inspiration towards designing after having a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics and Communication?
DSB: After 2-3 years, people working in metropolitan cities like Noida switch companies for objectives like money, self-esteem, and new challenges. Some people want to bring some changes in their stalled life. My major push to choose any other stream during my working days was a mix of a sense of dissatisfaction and my intent to learn more and radicalise myself. One of the main reasons for dissatisfaction was the bringing in of conservative mindset by senior administration, and everyone was bound to bend down before that. Apart from this, I felt trapped in the NCR region. It was very congested, and time flew fast without any break. The consciousness of the present was lost which added to my dissatisfaction. I also thought of moving on following the traditional way by pursuing MBA. In the final year of Bachelors degree, I had appeared for NID and passed the written exam but, I didn’t appear for the interview because I wanted to work and earn money. So, the interest in design was still alive in me, and I filled in for both CAT and CEED. Due to some personal reasons, I could not opt for CAT, and then, through CEED, my career in designing took a leap.
MM: Tell us about your inspiration to join IIITDM, Jabalpur and your life in the Institute post that.
DSB: Some events in life can be called nothing short of comically fateful. In the last one year at Pero’s Systems, I had made up my mind to pursue a higher degree, although it wasn’t clear to me in which field. I shared a flat with another friend of mine from the undergraduate days. He and I started preparing for the CAT examination as I thought the conventional route would be a good option. I filled to forms for both the CEED examination ( for Masters in Design), FMS and the CAT as well. A hilarious turn of events on the day of the CAT examination propelled me further towards CEED.
My examination center for CAT was a long drive away from the region of NCR where I resided. I rode on my bike through the nasty Delhi Traffic and over rocky terrains to reach the obscure center. Tired, I searched for my roll number in the seating arrangement list, only to realize I had brought the admit card of the FMS examination to CAT. Disheartened, I turned back and roamed around Delhi for 2-3 hours. My room mate was flabbergasted upon hearing it and I avoided talking to him for months.
By virtue of my score in CEED examination, I achieved the chance to apply for Masters’ degree in Designing programme in IIITDM, Jabalpur. The Head of the Department there was a very helpful and caring person. I had initial troubles settling there because of Jaundice and other ailments as well. Eventually, with the push from my family and the support of the faculty there, I came around and joined the programme. Being a small institute then, it used to feel like everyone knew each other. My touch with society increased and I became rational due to the environment of IIIT. The institute used to provide lectures from various renowned visiting faculties. The programme was planned in such a way that we have ample time in our hand to research and gain more knowledge through self-guidance. Overall, IIITDM played a very important role in furnishing me as a human being.
MM: Share some memories from Dorset Kaba which was your second company after Dell Systems (then, Pero's systems).
DSB: Based on my portfolio, I had applied to different places. I received calls from 3-4 studios and I got selected in Dorset Kaba as an Industrial Designer. My main theme of work was Concept Designing. The job was very hectic with six days’ works a week. The humongous workload with much pressure challenged me in various ways. Though the job profile was interesting, it was very tough and moreover, it got the better of my own time.
MM: What was the reason behind your transforming to teaching stream from industry work?
DSB: Well migrating from industrial/corporate jobs to teaching stream was based on the experiences I’ve had during the earlier days of my professional life. Although I got to learn a lot from industrial jobs during those days, at the same time the job was a pretty strenuous one and demanded six days of severe professionalism from every employee in a week which was quite exhausting. But in today’s world, contentment and satisfaction are the driving force for people to choose jobs in their desired fields. Well, during those days when I was serving in Dorset Kaba, there was an acute shortage of faculty members in educational organizations in India. Truly speaking, NIT Rourkela was not something I expected to be a part of. This was so because by the time I came across the news of vacant posts at NIT Rourkela and filed an application for recruitment, the deadline for doing the aforesaid was already over. But Prof. Biswal who was then the HOD of the department positively replied to my mail and accepted my request to join the Industrial Design program at NIT Rourkela as a faculty member. My ideal academic environment in which I longed to work was IIITDM Jabalpur, but I believe that NIT Rourkela has happened to me probably because I was destined for this place.
It isn’t feasible to have what one wants every timee. So it is best for that person to get around the setback as soon as possible and effectively manage his resources to create a better future.
MM: How did the University of Michigan happen to you? Share some experiences that you preserve from there.
DSB: The Ph.D. degree is not just a matter of choice, its a requirement for a professor to specialize himself in his subject of interest. During my period as a professor here at NIT Rourkela, I came across research articles, thesis, other information materials published by scholars at Michigan University and that aroused interest in me to join the Ph.D. program abroad. So in view of accomplishing my ambition, applied for a special leave for almost a year to the then Director of NIT Rourkela, Prof. Sunil K Sarangi. Finally, after the recommendation from the HOD and subsequent approval of the leave application by the Director of NIT Rourkela, I moved out to the US and stayed there for 14 months. My motive in applying for this course was that probably this would be my last of all opportunities to develop cutting-edge knowledge in a specialized stream in Digital Technology. The course was a very specialized one and only seven graduates were there to pursue the subject; me being the youngest amongst all the other aspirants was quite ambitious to gain valuable exposure
that could give a thrust to my professional skills.
The first and foremost requirement for pursuing a Post Graduate program is that one needs to be pretty much serious and passionate about the subject. In today’s world where mercenary people abound everywhere, it becomes a binding rule that higher studies shouldn’t be conceived as a pathway to fat paycheck but as a medium to satisfy one’s craving to know the nitty-gritty of the subject.
MM: How would you draw parallels between education at NITR and other institutes that you had been part of?
DSB: Well if we analyze the differences between education here in India and abroad, there can be references made to this topic on several grounds. This fact can’t be denied as well that not many institutions in India offer Design courses to graduates and undergraduates. The first thought that comes to my mind when we talk of education in both the cases is that of infrastructure. In Universities abroad, there is no dearth of well-established infrastructure, dedicated laboratories and well-maintained equipment as well. In a nutshell, everything is executed there in an orderly fashion owing to the effective administrative system. Then there is a lottery system in abroad as well where based on the lack of a student, he/she is offered a course which is kind of unfair practice according to me. One of the similarities between education system here at NITR and Universities abroad is the presence of open electives (OEs) and the seat allocation in this system is done with outstanding transparency just like here at NITR. Another striking feature common amongst professors abroad is that they don’t generally have Ph.D. degree but they all are severe practitioners owing to which they have a lot of valuable experience during their tenure. Apart from all these, another quality of foreign Universities that sets them apart from NITR is the organization of a series of guest lectures where everyone is eligible to participate. This is the real source of exposure for the participants and that is where NITR lacks its precision. We do have guest lectures here at NITR but not in the adequate amount. We are focussed more on academics rather than the research aspects.
MM: You are quite famous for helping students and for being active in student activities. What is your vision for students?
DSB: I was hopeful with the reduction of credits, number of contact hours would also be reduced. Some sort of flexibility in the ongoing system should be introduced. 2 years of rigorous course would be good enough, last 2 years of the Bachelors’ degree must be flexible. Greater emphasis should be placed on honing not only their skills but also attitude, personality, and smartness. The Institute should change the traditional education system keeping an eye on the cha with the changing demands of society. Students should be responsible during the final year without looking for spoon-feeding as they are going to be the next generation of engineers and the future of the nation. I would love if the students mature in their pre-final and final year such that they are capable of taking care of themselves and their professional aspirations.
MM: What do you feel about the present scope of the Department of Industrial Design on a national and global basis?
DSB: Few alumni of Industrial Design are placed in nice organizations and doing pretty well. In terms of skills and exposure, they are benefitting because of portraying two or more specializations in this field. Department of Industrial Design is an exception rather than a norm. So, there are many challenges that we come across. Lack of consolidated learning is a major problem. In the future, change will take place at the industry level. Recruiting a greater number of faculties in the institute can raise the academic level. There have been constraints in the institutional level which are being dealt with lately. In the west, the design has been recognized for a long time. A lot of works on design and creativity had always been in fashion so, they have an edge over us. These facts had pulled many brains from here abroad. Though late, India has been progressing in the Designing field quite steadily in the present time.
MM: What message would you like to give to the students?
Apart from concentrating on academics, students should be optimistic, emotionally strong, persistent and rational. They must not succumb to societal or departmental pressure. Students must be mature and actively participate in changing the world around. They must be risk takers in the right sense and proceed in the right direction in life. In the end, they should enjoy what they are doing.