The Keen Researcher and Motivator: Prof Sirsendu Shekhar Ray
On a comfortable and cozy evening, when classes for the entire day had gotten over and everyone else was busy with post-lecture activities, team MM visited the Department of Biotechnology and Medical Engineering to catch up with Prof. Sirsendu Shekhar Ray, who is famous among his students for his warm and friendly nature. Besides having a keen interest in research and teaching, he is a strong proponent of new ideas. He firmly asserts to put your heart, mind, and soul into even the smallest of acts to achieve success. In a brief talk with MM, Prof. Ray shares the myriad experiences of his journey from childhood to the present day of being a faculty in this renowned institution.
MM-Tell us something about your early life, schooling, and graduation.
SSR- I was born and brought up in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and did my schooling from there itself. I graduated standard X from Rabindra Bangla Vidyalaya in Port Blair after which I went on to pursue my higher secondary education from Model school. Following this, I took up a course in medicine and graduated with an MBBS degree from Sampurna Nanda Medical college from Rajasthan. After that, I went on to pursue MMST (Masters in Medical Science and Technology) from IIT Kharagpur following which I joined NITR as a faculty member on the very same year of my graduation from IIT KGP.
MM- You pursued MBBS from SN medical college in Jodhpur and then MMST course from IIT Kharagpur. But being a proclaimed faculty in an Engineering college what has been your experience in applying knowledge from both Medical science and Engineering course and reaching out to the students?
SSR- Being one of the few faculties at NITR who has undergone coaching in Medical Science as well as Engineering courses, I found these two to be highly diverse in their nature although we can trace both these subjects of interests to a common origin which forms the basis of Research and Development. For example, one striking difference between the course structure between the two is the precision. Personally, I found the Medicine courses a lot more streamlined than Engineering. This, of course, makes it quite clear that undergraduate subjects of any Engineering discipline are pretty much expansive. Apart from that, BT-BM is the discipline which seeks proper amalgamation of Medical Science with Engineering subjects. So in order to provide the students from BT-BM a proper understanding about their subject, it is necessary to apply prior knowledge from Medical Science as well as Technological stuff.
MM-How did NIT Rourkela happen to you and how has been your teaching experience so far?
SSR- Well, being very honest NITR happened to me by chance. After graduating the MMST course from IIT KGP, I filed my application for a vacant post of the faculty at NITR as well as a military medical personnel although I was more inclined to join the latter. But then, my family members weren’t of a radical approach to accept my joining as medical personnel owing to the location constraints related to the job. So I wasn’t left with any other choice save for NITR.
But my experience as a faculty staff here at NITR has been one of the best experiences I’ve had throughout the years of journey in my life. So when I take a look back at those 10 years at NITR starting from day 1 till today, every day has been cherishable for me. Particularly speaking of the students at NITR, they have ample amount of aptitude and sense of appropriate application of skillset in the correct field and this is the reason why interacting with them makes every single day of mine lullable in NITR.
MM-What according to you makes the difference between the research of Professor in our institute and a full-fledged R&D profession. How can the institute work in tandem with the R&D organizations and better the research interests of the institute?
SSR- The only factor which makes institute like that of ours stand out from a crowd of R&D organizations is the existence of solid teaching components. Speaking of R&D organizations in India and even abroad, there isn’t the prominent inclusion of undergraduates and that being said, the knowledge behind the applied skillset in any field is not propagated to the extent like that in our case. There is a much more free flow of thoughts and ideas amongst faculty staff and Undergraduate, Postgraduate students.
The institute can only be at par with R&D organizations if proper funding is received by the institute. Apart from that this initiative towards a step ahead in research spectrum calls for easing off the academic pressure so that students can devote ample amount of time towards research.
MM- Can you provide us the briefing of any notable research work you’ve taken up?
SSR- Out of many research works the one which holds a special place for me is the one on Graphene Quantum Dots and its toxicology. Some of the real-life examples pertaining to the aforesaid subject are cigarette smoke, automobile exhausts etc. Graphene Quantum Dots are nano-particles that are sized less than 10 nm having quantum properties. Now, in our laboratory, we carry out experiments on atmospheric Quantum dots that can be carried from one place to another via vapors. So in our research, we deal with the toxicity of the Graphene Quantum Dots.
MM- Being an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and the present faculty staff of NIT Rourkela what differences in research practices do you find in both these places?
SSR- Speaking from my personal experience, when I was pursuing MMST from IIT KGP the research culture there was a lot more flourished while comparing the same to NIT Rourkela. People there devoted more time towards research and academics which eventually led to sweet outcome in the aforesaid field. Although NITR has eventually gained some pace in research practices, the growth has been slow and then again lack of proper funding further ignites this issue.IITs certainly have a cutting edge when it comes to the research practices followed there. The research labs there are open for the entire day. One could even find people working until 2 am whereas when I joined NITR a few years back, I found the labs remain open from 8 am to 5 pm. Beyond the working hours, one could find pin-drop silence in our labs. However, research culture in India is slowly building up and NITR has been steadily catching up with the IITs in the research domain. Earlier, only Ph.D. scholars and MTech students were associated with full-fledged research activities but now even UG students of BT-BM department from the third or fourth semester have started working on problem statements.
Such differences stem from the fact that certain educational institutions get more exposure in terms of infrastructure, funds and other human resources. If all the schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions at the state and national level are given a platform with ample human resources, I firmly believe such meager differences can be bridged.
MM-What were some of the high points in your professional career?
SSR- I consider every day in my life as a high point. I enjoy teaching my students and that is what gives me the utmost happiness and satisfaction along with a sense of achievement. Protecting the research confidentiality, I cannot comment on the various research works that are being carried out. We certainly have got impressively good findings but such findings need to be optimized. My research work involving " Biomolecular glass” has been certainly a high defining point of my professional career.
MM- According to your colleagues and students of the department, you are probably one of the most amiable personalities at NITR. So how do you maintain your temperament in all kinds of adverse situations?
SSR-As said earlier, I enjoy teaching my students and that is what gives me the utmost happiness and satisfaction along with a sense of achievement. I believe the most crucial task is to keep the students motivated and this is what comprises 80% of the job of a teacher, and the rest 20% involves facts and figures. I try to ensure the active participation of the entire class by encouraging the students to ask as many questions as they want to and clear the air of doubt surrounding them. This makes my students very willing and gives rise to a positive and strong teacher-student relationship. In a professional work environment, it is natural to lose temper at times but at the end of the day the fabric of “trust” that we share amongst us makes up for such trivial issues. I treat my students like my own family. I encourage healthy debating amongst my colleagues because when our views are challenged it makes us think on your feet and thus boosts individuality. At the end of the day, what matters is the background feeling of trust that defines our family.
MM-What are your hobbies?
SSR- I used to enjoy playing all kinds of sports, ranging from cricket to football during my early childhood days but currently, I have not been able to pursue such activities. I still love playing chess during leisure hours. My favorite pastime includes spending quality time with my kids and family as well as socializing with friends and colleagues.
MM- We came across your portfolio where it stated that your areas of interest are Cryobiology, Tissue Engineering, Stem Cells, and Regenerative Medicines and Neuroscience. So what according to you make these topics stand apart from the rest of the subjects concerning Bio-Engineering?
SSR- I have completed my Masters in Neurosciences. I always had a penchant for it. Due to various constraints, I have never been able to start working on it fully fledged though I always wanted to. Its scope is vast and flourishing but the lack of a basic level of infrastructure not only here but all over India serves as a deterrent to this highly advanced field of research. I am currently working in the field of Nanotechnology along with Cryobiology which mostly involves building up futuristic methods for the survival of life under extreme conditions. I have been working in the field of Tissue Engineering along with Stem Cells but it has been recently overshadowed by my research endeavors in Nanotechnology. I am particularly interested to delve deep into a nascent yet promising domain of Astrobiology and my research interests and endeavors in neurosciences have to be accommodated in between all these projects. Owing to its bleak future in India, there is a need of the hour to develop much-dedicated Neurosciences labs in India to benefit the scientific community.
MM-What do you feel about the present scope of BM-BT department at NITR? How well equipped are the labs in your department for research activities?
SSR- Biotechnology and Medical Engineering is an interdisciplinary course that includes offshoots from a plethora of other branches of Engineering. The students gain knowledge in multiple domains which helps them to build up a bigger perspective but to gain ample knowledge in one single domain and gain specialization in the same is what defines skilled labor and feeds the demands of the hiring company and the job under consideration. The major subject areas under this course are molecular cell biology, biochemistry, microbiology, botany, systems biology genetics and statistics. One will be introduced to the fundamental concepts of modern biology, including cell biology, experimental techniques and data handling, bioinformatics, genomics, and proteomics at the UG level. Very few core companies visit our campus for placements. This drives off many of the students towards the IT sector.
It is primarily a research-oriented branch. Since there are no issues quality-wise; depending upon the interests the students should learn to gain specialization in one particular domain. Although in India this industry is yet to achieve momentum, there are perennial and unparalleled research opportunities in abroad to pursue higher studies in the chosen domain.
Coming to the labs in our department, they are well-equipped. In addition to that, we have got an extremely good number of projects undertaken by various professors in our department. The number of publications stands out at impressive numbers.
MM-What would your message be for the students?
SSR- Students should learn to strike a fine balance between academics and merry-making that echoes in sync with the popular saying “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. I personally feel students should be encouraged to take up extracurricular activities for the all round development of a student’s personality. What is essential is to do every task with utmost devotion and dedication and channelizing your entire mind, body, and soul into that particular job at that moment. In simple words, “Work hard, party harder!” because at the end of the day, that is the reason a man strives for, to work hard and then reap the fruits of his hard-work by enjoyment and merry-making!