Grit, guts and glory : Swati Kumari at Women of Mettle Challenge 2019
Right outside KMS Hall of Residence, the graffiti reads
Here's to strong women, may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.
Swati Kumari, a student from the Department of Mining Engineering recently bagged accolades that are reminiscent of the words above. After completing her internship with Eastern Coalfields, Swati recently bagged the position of the second runner’s up, an internship offer in addition to a pre-placement offer at the third edition of ‘Women of Mettle Challenge ‘2019, organized by TATA Steel. Jasmine Nayak from the Department of Metallurgy and Materials Engineering also bought laurels to the institute by making it to the top 30 of the competition. This week, team Monday Morning had the opportunity to talk to Swati about her journey in the competition and much more.
Monday Morning (MM): Tell us something about your family and your life before joining NIT Rourkela.
Swati Kumari (SK): My father is in paramilitary, Border Road Organisation to be precise and my mother is a former Economics teacher turned homemaker. Owing to my father’s military background, my schooling was rather distributed all over India but mostly it was in the North East. I started at Don Bosco in the North East, followed by Amritsar and now we are settled at our native place Chittaranjan in West Bengal. I spent the majority of my school life in ICSE schools but I wasn’t very drawn towards the “active culture” that prevails there. I wasn’t completely introverted either. I took part in house activities, was a little bit inclined to sports as well while academics, however, remained the arena of focus.
All the exposure due to different schools contributed to my personality development. I can speak around 5 languages and I have been learning Chinese in the summer vacations.
MM: Why did you choose Mining Engineering at NIT Rourkela? Did you find it challenging to be the only girl in your batch?
SK: I had a rank of around 16k in JEE Mains. I would have preferred Chemical Engineering over Mining had my father not advised me to take up the latter. He felt that I would get a lot of scope in this field. I am pretty happy about the decision now (smiles).
During the very first orientation in college, I was shocked when I realized that I was the only girl in my department. Entering a room full of 44 odd boys seems hilarious. Initial days were difficult due to the lack of interaction. Things got better later on. I made great friends and they help me out with a lot of things.
MM: Mining Engineering remains a stigma for female students. How do you perceive this situation?
SK: Right from the beginning of the era of engineering, it has been a common mindset that engineering is not suitable for females. People believe that women can’t perform well in the manufacturing sector. It's about how we treat ourselves, whether we trust ourselves or not. As far as Mining being unconventional is concerned, it's not that unconventional. Different jobs have different needs. Sometimes you have to be tough.
When I visited a plant during the competition, I saw an LD shop. The temperatures soar as high as 1500 degree centigrade. There are fire sprinklers coming out. Even for a guy, it will be difficult. But if you are concentrating on your work, it will help.
MM: How did you come across the Women of Mettle Challenge?
SK: It’s a funny story. I first saw it on Facebook when TATA Steel posted an ad about it. Other seniors also mailed me and informed me. One of my seniors, PN Shivangi who is currently working in TATA steel also told me about the same in the SCS programme during my sophomore year.
MM: What is the procedure and eligibility criteria for the challenge?
SK: The first round was for writing the abstract.
The last date of application was 20th May 2019. The applicant must be in the 2nd year of their graduation and in the top 25% of her discipline. We were to write an abstract of 1500 words based on three things- you as an individual, why you want to join TATA Steel and how you can contribute to it.
1500 characters are not enough to express all the things. The important thing is that you have to be very clear about the career objective and show that your visions are similar to your recruiter’s visions. You must be very clear about why you want to join them and should be brief and informative in your responses.
The second round is the online test AMCET: 20 questions from 2nd/3rd year’s departmental topics were asked which needed to be answered within 30 minutes. Most of the questions were numerical and a part of them was theory-based. I feel that if one wants to excel in them, then they should focus on their 2nd-year topics. The third round was the pre-finale where we were required to showcase a presentation whatever we had studied and then go for the interviews which consisted of technical questions, questions from my presentation and other fundamental concepts. In the Finale the interview questions are mostly HR based for example, what are your areas of interest and how do you think that you can contribute to TATA Steel etc.
MM: What special skills and prerequisite knowledge are required for the competition?
SK: The internship program begins after the summer vacation. So experiencing real-time industries is a must. Having research experience is always great since we will be asked to innovate for this competition. Other skills such as public speaking might come in handy during the presentation. Confidence is a must and self-doubt and nervousness is a strict no-no. Proper research is very important for the case studies. You will be collecting data on your own accord. They can question you about anything.
MM: Describe your sector of focus in the challenge.
My challenge was based on the digitization of support effectiveness in underground coal mines. It was about how we could develop or change the supports we already have in the mines and how we could develop a real-time alarm system for the miners. I was apprehensive about my success in the beginning. I faced a few problems since I wasn’t very clear about the systems and also, reaching out to professors could be an issue during the vacations. But once I reached out to them they helped by getting me all the research papers they could find. I was also assigned a mentor during competition. His name was Mr Pinaki Saha. He was the head of the colliery I was working at. He was very helpful. Most of the mentors hadn’t helped their mentees properly but I was lucky in that sector.
MM: You were required to make a presentation based on your challenge topic for the competition. How did it go?
SK: We were required to give a presentation on our respective topics at XLRI Jamshedpur. The students belonging to mining and environmental engineering departments were allotted a panel of 4 judges which included the Head of the department for Environmental engineering at TATA Steel, an R&D officer and 2 executives from the mining sector of TATA Steel. The panel was to judge 11 of us out of whom 7 were from Mining including me and 4 from Environmental Engineering. All the 11 of us maintained high standards of professionalism and it even surprised the judges who were pleased to see this. So it's very important to maintain secrecy and professional attitude about your project. We all were provided lodging at XLRI Jamshedpur.
MM: What aspect of the challenge appealed the most to you?
SK: For me, it would be “safety”. TATA Steel is very disciplined as an organization where they ensure proper safety standards. If one candidate fails in the safety aspect, they are shown the doors right away. Mines are prone to accidents. My project, a real-time strata monitoring system is closely linked with this. It can be used to warn an individual before a calamity strikes in the mines.
MM: You previously interned at Eastern Coalfields. How did that internship help?
SK: The internship at Eastern Coalfields helped me to know about the different software that we use in the mines. I was assigned two weeks' work in the survey department which helped me to know about the remote sensing part and the GIS(Geographic Information System) software. In the study, I was working on designing a real-time strata monitoring system which involves the use of sensors, so while working on that project I got to know a lot about how the sensors work. The most important thing I learned about is the blasting part which also taught me a lot about the aspects of safety in mines. And the inculcation of the safety factor in my presentation at TATA Steel made a difference I think.
MM: Did you have any other internships in mind?
SK: No, I didn’t have any other internships in mind. My first internship was in Eastern Coalfields and apart from that, I am doing a research project under Prof. Amit Kumar Gorai in Urbanization trend analysis by remote sensing and GIS software of RSP(Rourkela Steel Plant), it is still under process, we completed the literature survey and are working on the application part.
MM: Any personal experiences during the competition that you would like to share?
SK: There are many, the moment one enters XLRI, a whole new world opens up before the eyes. There are many more architectural buildings over there than NIT Rourkela. I found the work culture at TATA Steel pretty amazing, they make you work hard but party harder. Once the presentations were over we were taken for the plant visit and on the very day they had organized a dinner for us in one of the resorts there. All the women currently working in TATA Steel like the various HODs and the HR heads also joined us and shared their experiences working at TATA Steel. It was the most happening evening for me because I had always been accustomed to entering a class of 44 odd boys and no girls, but that evening I entered a room full of 50 women and no men, so for me, the feeling was surreal. For the Finale round, we were taken to the Alcor hotel which is like a posh hotel in Jamshedpur and I was very nervous seeing the dignitaries like the VP of manufacturing and the like pouring in for the event. First, we thought that they would be very intimidating, but they were friendly and courteous. Overall I had a very nice experience at TATA Steel.
During the pre-final rounds, I was the last person to go up on the stage. We were listening to the panelists reviewing the presentation and I can recall sweating, even in an air-conditioned room. One of my fellow contestants saw me during that stage and asked me to remain calm. After my presentation was over, she came over to talk to me, told me I did well. She has become a very good friend since then. This is one of the aspects that I admire about the competition. Everyone was friendly in spite of being in stiff competition with one another.
MM: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the mining department of NIT Rourkela? Do you think it is enough to prepare students for competitions like this?
SK: I would grade it a 7.5 or 8. The professors here did help a lot, some of my professors made the students present topics in the class by giving us assignments, which I think helped me present my solution to the challenge more confidently. The only area where I feel we are lagging is projects, we don’t get many research projects so it's all about the theories which we are studying and nothing beyond that. We also don’t have a state of the art lab for our department. Most of the labs I attended in my second year focussed on the pneumatic sort of work but not on the digital aspects of Mining Engineering. There is also a need for new professors in the department as they would bring ideas with them and also make the student-teacher ratio better.
MM: You are a member of different clubs and organizations like Design Tab, Microsoft Campus club and SCP. How do you think the club culture has contributed to your personality
SK: Clubs like Design Tab and Microsoft Campus club helped me more in the design and research part, because even for designing a particular poster you have to think a lot and think deep on the subject. This improved my analytical thinking. Content writing for MCC has been also helpful because writing about technical stuff also demands some background research. To sum it up, I can say that the club culture has helped me a lot and is sure to help me in my future endeavours too.
MM: Any advice for the juniors?
SK: The students in the first year should pay special attention to their academics because that is something on which they can rely upon even if they are not so good at extra-curricular activities and instead of worrying about internships they should focus more on developing a skill-set to their liking. The second-years should focus on academics but shouldn't isolate themselves from the clubs for academics. They should actively participate in the clubs and try to capitalize on their present skill-set.
Apart from this, I would advise them to have a group of friends who motivate you in every field and not just academics. I gave many of my mock presentations in front of my “hexagon” friends and that worked wonders for me.
MM: What are your plans?
SK: I would be joining TATA Steel after completing my dual-degree from here. Since I will be in the R&D sector of TATA Steel, after gathering 2-3 years of experience in industrial research methods I would like to go for higher studies and focus solely on research in the mining sector.
Team MM wishes her best of luck in her plans.