Rounak Rai's Enterprising and Galvanizing Journey to Southeast Asia
‘Determination and Dedication’ would be the words that would best describe Rounak Rai, a final year student from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who recently interned at Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok. He also presented a paper at the ‘International Conference on Alternative Fuels and Energy’, held in South Korea, last year. On a cold Saturday evening at Mokshaa, Rounak sat with Team MM to share his secrets to success and beautiful experiences in Thailand.
Monday Morning: Walk us through your childhood days and life before joining NITR. Was engineering your passion from childhood?
Rounak Rai(RR): I had completed my matriculation from Sainik School. The school primarily focused on military training. I was not interested in joining the military as the training was very tough. So, I had to switch my school to DPS, Bhilai after 10th. I took coaching for JEE and thereby appeared in JEE Mains and Advanced. My rank in JEE Advanced was around 7k. I could not get a decent IIT with that rank and wasn’t interested in dropping a year to reappear in JEE. So, I sat for JOSAA counselling and got Chemical Engineering at NIT, Rourkela. A friend advised me to join NITR, and I accepted the seat. Later, my branch got changed to Mechanical Engineering via Internal Sliding.
MM: How did Mechanical Engineering happen to you? Was it your choice or fate had it in store for you?
RR: Initially, I had no idea in any field of engineering. After joining, I realized that I had lost interest in the automobile field. Gradually, my passion started pulling me towards a research career. I began searching for areas of research where I wanted to work. Many research and publications were taking place in the renewable field sector. Also, a lot of my seniors were pursuing successful careers in the research field. Mechanical Engineering had significant areas of research so now I am happy with getting Mechanical Engineering.
MM: How many clubs or extracurricular activities were you involved with in NIT Rourkela? How did you manage your time between extracurricular activities and academics?
RR: During my freshman year, I was not a part of any club. Later, I joined Pantomime and SAE. I had no interest in making cars, so later I left SAE. We then started a club called ‘Umang.’ Later, I joined a fashion club, Rechargers.
I did not have an interest in joining many clubs. I was focused more on academics rather than the club activities, which were more of a recreational activity for me. In the clubs that I joined, I did not find club activities to be too hectic, hence, I could manage the required time for academics.
MM: Tell us about the International Conference on Alternative Fuels and Energy.
RR: I had a great interest in the research field. During my pre-final year, I contacted Prof. S Murugan from the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He gave me a topic to work on. Luckily, there was a conference, named International Conference on Alternative Fuels and Energy(ICAFE), going on in South Korea on that topic. Sir asked us to write a paper on it so I, along with my colleagues Gayatri and Dhruti, wrote a paper and submitted it for approval. The topic was – ‘Optimisation of Biodiesel from waste cooking oil by Taguchi method.’ We got selected to attend the conference and present our paper. Hence, we started working more on it. We contacted NITRAA for funding, but they refused since the conference was not very much reputed. They only provided funding for the SAE conferences conducted in USA every year. So, we started gathering funds from wherever possible and went to Korea. I got a lot of exposure to different research works and came to know that we are lagging in this field, and a lot of work needs to be done. I met with many professors there. It was not an internship, but I got to learn a lot and had a wonderful experience in Korea.
MM: What procedure does one have to follow for getting selected to present his/her paper at these conferences?
RR: Any conference or any other research institutes have the procedure to first submit an abstract through the ‘Calling for Abstract’ section on their website. So, the applicants have to first to submit their abstract, which is the preliminary criteria for selection. Then, they will be asked to provide the full paper for final selection. The conference in Korea didn’t require the full paper for final selection. They selected after reviewing only the abstract. We were given a period until May to submit our final paper. We had submitted the paper before the stipulated time, and the review for the same is currently under process, it usually takes a long time. The Reviewers give comments/remarks, and we have to rectify the paper based on it. If they think the paper is good enough, it gets accepted, and they call us to present the paper. After presenting the paper, it gets published. The reviewing process takes around 5-6 months.
MM: Coming to your internship at Bangkok, walk us through the selection procedure and the eligibility criteria. How did you come to know about this internship?
RR: Last year, at the end of October, I had to go to Korea to present my paper. Hence, I could not apply for many internships like MITACS, DAAD, etc. as I had to prepare my research paper in time for submission. During my Korea visit, I made contacts with many professors. I contacted Prof. Chettiyapan Viswanathan and asked him that I wanted to work under him, thankfully he was willing to take me in. I discussed my fund issues with him. He told me that he would pay Rs. 20000 per month but I had to bear the travelling and visa expenses. The travelling and visa cost me around 15000 INR and the paid stipend helped me in lodging, food, etc.
MM: What were the topics of research? What helped you in choosing them?
RR: The first topic that I was working on was bio-diesel after which I shifted my topic to biogas because there was a lot of work going on regarding this topic and also because I was very interested in natural gases. The internship was for nine weeks and during this time I had to simultaneously study for the paper since we were not taught much about this topic in our branch. The entire process involved studying, then writing the paper, and then making the corrections recommended by the professors. Add to that the fact that we are undergrads and don’t have much experience; it becomes a very hectic process and a tough one to complete within nine weeks. After reaching Bangkok, while everyone was enjoying the city and its sights, I had to study intensively for the first four weeks, I probably studied more in those four weeks than I have ever done here. Afterwards, I started writing the paper and titled it “A review paper on Anaerobic Digestate Management: Current status and future perspective.” The reason I shifted to this topic was that we have to keep our paper a bit unique to increase our chances of selection and to make the best use of the resources available with us. A review paper is comparatively easier because what you do is arrange the already existing information, compile it and then add your contribution to it including the current scenario and a perspective into the future opportunities/scope in the respective area. So a review paper, from a research point of view is relatively easier since you don’t have to do any experiment yourself. I also had a lot of support from my professors which made the writing process even smoother. I submitted this paper at the end of July in a journal called “Journal of waste management.” The paper will be reviewed by three people and the time taken for the paper to be accepted by all the three is pretty long, around six months, as the quality of the review depends on the impact factor of the journal. The first reviewer has accepted my paper; the second reviewer has almost accepted barring some minor changes which I will make and hopefully my paper will be published by February.
MM: What were the noticeable differences between research facilities abroad and over here?
RR: There were a lot of differences. Here we are obsessed with attendance and are always in a hurry to run from one class to another, and while the professors in the mechanical department of our institute are laid back and lenient in this respect, there was something different about the professors there. They didn’t care about what you did, how long you did it for, whether you came to the classes or not. The only thing they bothered with was your contribution to the research and nothing else. Secondly, the environment there was more professional compared to here and prepared you for your professional life ahead. One has to give a powerpoint presentation every week regarding their progress which is something that helped me a lot personally in developing my presentation skills. Even the interaction with peers and the faculties was very professional. Students had to make appointments while meeting even your teachers and couldn’t just drop by their office without consulting them first, something for which I got scolded a lot by a professor for my first time. They also followed a ‘work hard play hard’ philosophy over there. There was one professor there in his mid-50s who was on a first name basis with me. Once he told me that if he saw me near the lab during the weekend, he would cut my stipend. He wanted me to go out and enjoy myself during my off days while working hard during the other five days of the week. This type of mindset was appealing and refreshing to me. The focus there was a lot on the current research scenario in the world, and the classes motivated students to take part in these research. In NIT we have an excellent research environment, but I feel that the equipment is outdated and we can do a lot better if we get some more equipment to go along with the interest of students. The research scenario in the mechanical department is great, a lot of my batchmates are publishing a lot of papers, but the topics are a bit outdated. The research topics here are not focusing a lot on the current development in the world, and that is one area where we should improve.
MM: What made you interested in research?
RR: I didn’t want to waste my four years here in movies, games, etc. I thought that I had to do something to make something of my time here. So I gave research a try and thought that I could drop it if it didn’t interest me but the opposite happened. I wanted to make full use of the resources of my department and research helped me do that. I also didn’t want to settle down and do a job after my under graduation. So I just started research on a whim but as I progressed and got deeper, my interest increased and I started finding the college coursework to be outdated. Due to this whim of mine, I currently have two papers pending to be published.
MM: What are your plans after graduation?
RR: I am currently preparing for civil services. I've already got research offers from Netherlands, Norway, and Bangkok for MS. But I have put these options on hold. I have also discussed with my professors about my wish to try for civil services as it was my childhood dream. I have devoted my entire final year to the preparation of these exams and have not sat for any of the campus placements. I plan on trying for the examination in 2020. If due to some unfortunate circumstances I am not able to clear the exam after two attempts then I always have MS as a backup plan to fall on.
MM: Do you have any message for our readers?
Students should also focus on research during their four years and not only run behind grades. I want the students to experience the research environment so that they can experience that the UG students in other countries are ahead of us regarding knowledge even though we studied more than them in our 11th and 12th grade. Another thing I would like to say is to make full use of these four years so that one could look back without any regrets in the future.
Team MM congratulates Rounak on his Internship and wishes him the best for his future.