A Tale Of A Diligent Academician: Prof. Rohan Dhiman
"Safety isn't expensive, it's priceless", safety has always been of prime importance to human society, and this corona pandemic has only magnified the need for safety and security in our lives. Prof Rohan Dhiman, Department of Life Sciences, and also Professor-in-Charge (PIC) of Safety & Security, has worked tirelessly and diligently in these challenging times, to keep the safety measures inside the campus in check. Team Monday Morning caught up with him, despite his busy schedule.
In a brief talk with MM, Prof. Dhiman shares the myriad experiences of his journey from childhood to the present day of being a faculty in this renowned institution in this edition of the CGPA (Cool and Glamorous Professors' Adda).
Monday Morning (MM): Tell us something about your early life, schooling, and graduation.
Prof. Rohan Dhiman (RD): I belong to the Una district of Himachal Pradesh and I was home-schooled till Grade 5 owing to my parents who are teachers. Afterwards, I moved to Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya to continue my studies till Grade 10. Further, I went to DAV College, Dharamsala to continue my studies for the 12th board following which I gave a combined entrance exam for Panjab University and pursued my undergraduation and postgraduation in Botany. After completing Masters, I qualified CSIR-NET in 2001 and got admission to one of the CSIR labs Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh for my Ph.D. In 2007, I submitted my thesis and got an offer from the University of Texas for my postdoctoral degree. I accepted the offer and went to the USA to complete my further research.
MM: What was your inspiration to join a PhD at the Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh?
RD: From the very beginning I was interested in pursuing my research in Botany. Though my father wanted me to clear the IFoS (Indian Forest Services) exam and that was one of the reasons I took botany as my subject initially but with time I was more inclined towards research in botany so I decided to pursue Ph.D.
MM: What made you take up research in immunology? And what is the scope of research that you are pursuing at present?
RD: I did my PhD in the field of Microbacteria and after I came back to India from the USA, I joined Dr. Majumdar who used to research in the field of Microbacteria and from there I inculcated the interest to work in the field of immunology.
MM: What projects are you working on as of now?
RD: I started my research career in microbiology, cell biology, and immunology. Initially, I used to do research on the virus which causes tuberculosis and also on the defence mechanism which can be used to kill the bacteria. Currently, in NIT Rourkela I am working on 3 projects, two of the projects are funded by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) which comes under the Department of Science and Technology, GoI. We have also got some lead on compounds that can be useful in tuberculosis treatment and we are also studying the mechanism of the inhibitors and the role of RNA. So ultimately our aim is to have a drug that can shorten the 6 months therapy cycle for tuberculosis disease.
MM: You have been teaching in this institute for the past six years. How has been your teaching experience so far?
RD: The experience has been great till now. I prefer to teach students who are not from a biology background because I think that's when we are tested as professors. I have taught students from various backgrounds and the experience was very enlightening. Personally, I have always encouraged students to take up biology subjects because they can help you in the future. So, the students have also supported me and the support of students is always a good thing to have.
MM: What has been the worst and best experience in this institute up to date as a professor?
RD: The best thing is that all my colleague professors in our department are of my age, and speaking of the worst, I don't find any. The journey till now has been very smooth and happy for me.
MM: Besides being an adept researcher and a diligent professor, what keeps Prof. Rohan Dhiman engaged? What are your hobbies?
RD: I am spiritually inclined, and I go to Satsang and do my Seva, most of my Sunday goes into this. Apart from it, music keeps me engaged and going, and also I sing a bit. In addition to this, I love to spend time with my family.
MM: How was your experience in executing the rules of controlling the spread of COVID-19 inside the campus?
RD: (laughs) This is one of those experiences which I will remember for a lifetime. Last year in February, Director sir had called me and told me to take the responsibility of PIC Safety and Security. Although I was already involved in other positions of responsibilities, I accepted the PIC role as I wanted to do justice to the belief of the Director in me. I always believe that we must always face things as they come; also, we must not run away from our responsibilities.
There were almost 3000-3500 inhabitants on the campus at that time when students left the campus, so I thought of taking responsibility for everyone. I must admit that nearly all the campus residents followed the rules diligently. Initially, there was a small COVID-19 committee with whom I would put forward my thoughts. Some of the campus residents faced issues due to the rules in place, and I express my gratitude to everyone, and also I am sorry if anyone faced difficulties, but the rules are the demand of the time. Overall, the experience was good, but the thing is the situation used to change every day and new rules had to be framed every time, and right now, the situation is slowly improving. Hopefully, things will be better in the coming months.
MM: What safety and testing measures are to be taken while allowing the Ph.D. scholars inside the campus?
RD: The safety of the students and the campus residents was of prime importance to us, we had a lot of meetings in due course of time, and when the ministry announced that the students could return to campus, it was easy for us to execute the various safety measures. Multiple committees, headed by the institute professors were formed. The Central Task Force committee suggested circulating a Google form which would help us know the willingness of the students to come back to campus, and it is to be filled by the student and the guardian. Then the list of selected students (for campus return) along with their arrival dates is sent to the security at the entry gate.
Before entering the campus, the students have to show a Rapid Antigen Test report at the gate, and a student will be allowed if he/she is COVID-19 negative, following which they will be kept in isolation in the hostel for 5-6 days. After the isolation period, the students have to undergo another COVID-19 test at CWS, Rourkela (institute will bear the cost of the test), for which the health centre provides the referral slips.
Before going to CWS, entries are made at the Jagda gate. If the report is negative, then the students are free to go to their respective departments and labs. All the students at the campus are following the rules diligently, and so far this particular model is working well. No issues have been faced till now, except once when two students came to the campus without filling the Google form, and they were sent back.
MM: What was your experience being the convener of the national level conference on "Host-pathogen interaction: present and future perspective"? What more plans do you have in store?
RD: As not many activities were going on in the department, I, with my fellow convener Prof. Vidya D. Negi, decided to have this conference. Other departments were also conducting various courses and webinar series. So with great zeal, we contacted leading experts who graciously agreed to present their research findings.
We had a good number of participants as the registrants for the conference were 900+. I had a tough time managing the roles as I was also assigned the PIC of Safety and security. It was a good experience overall.
During this particular time, thinking about pandemic will not suffice the purpose of growing academically and scientifically.
Having The Bioscience Society on the campus, I was privileged enough to give the first lecture. We encourage them to bring more speakers and researchers on the platform to enlighten everyone. At an institute level, these types of programs are beneficial for everyone.
MM: What do you feel about the present scope of the Department of Life Sciences at NIT Rourkela? How well equipped are the labs in your department for research activities?
RD: If you see biology as a whole, a more significant chunk of students pursue research following this, a career as an academician. Few of them have also been to coaching institutes or some other fields, but majorly, it is research-based-academic purposes. During the Masters, the curriculum also focuses on various national level exams. Many of the students are well placed, and some have pursued PhDs at foreign universities and gone for a postdoc.
Most of our labs are well equipped at an optimum level. If we consider high-end equipment, we lack that. We have discussed the same issue with the Director, and he also agreed to support us. And that would keep us in a leading position comparing with our research peers.
Research infrastructure wise we are indeed lacking but very soon, with the able leadership of our HOD Prof. Surajit Das, we will achieve that as early as possible. Apart from the current set of equipment types, we also have to be open to all research scholars.
Considering my lab, any student can come, and they can work as per their research is concerned.
MM: What improvement do you think NIT Rourkela needs to take in all aspects?
RD: In our faculty group, there was news that six professors from the institute in the top 2% of the world scientists in their respective fields as per a Stanford University database, which is indeed an outstanding achievement. The environment here is very positive, which needs to be continued and increased further with our personal ambition and interest. This can't be done with the help of any single individual. It has to be a collective effort from all the campus residents.
Talking about NIRF Ranking, we lack the perception category of ranking. Being a part of the Press and Publication Relation Committee (PPRC), we are working to increase our input in this category. Recently we had the Hon'ble Union Education Minister inaugurating the Golden Jubilee building, which was publicized widely. These are the small things that add up to a grand total. During the admission process, platforms such as Quora form a significant source of public opinion. We are planning something regarding that.
As far as research work is concerned, the professors are working hard on research grants, citations and patents to increase the institute's research output. The administration also conducts many meetings on how to improve as a whole. When we work together with positive energy and high zeal, we will definitely flourish in the upcoming years.
MM: What is your final message to the students of NITR?
Belongingness to your own institute is very important. Once passing out from here, placed at high positions, or pursuing research at top universities, the attachment to this institute, which has shaped you as a person, is important. The urge to contribute is essential, be it helping some students by mentoring or sharing some experience and knowledge with the present students. Just making buildings won't suffice the purpose, it is the campus residents who make it a vibrant environment. When I see silence near the hostels, lecture halls, corridors, it doesn't give me the zeal to work hard. The majority stakeholder of the institute is the students, so definitely, I feel we are here for students, and we want them on campus as soon as possible.
Team Monday Morning wishes the Professor great heights and the best of his health.