Spreading Wings: Prof Suverna Trivedi bags MIT Fellowship

Spreading Wings: Prof Suverna Trivedi bags MIT Fellowship

Aishwarya Nanda Anujit Jena | Feb 08, 2021

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Innovation demands passion and dedication which means looking beyond the monetary output of the research and genuinely making attempts to change the lives of people. Also, Academic research is one of the most fundamental methods for innovating. 

Amongst countless other achievements in the research field, recently, 6 Professors from NIT Rourkela were featured in the World's Top 2% of Indian Scientists in the open-access science journal PLOS (Public Library of Science) authored by the researchers of Stanford University. Taking forward the same legacy, Prof. Suverna Trivedi from the Department of Chemical engineering has been accepted recently into the MIT Fulbright Fellowship programme.

Team Monday Morning caught up with her and discussed regarding the programme and how she managed to crack it off. The article also consists of basic guidelines for amateur research enthusiasts to proceed on with their passion. Read on to gain insights into the same!

Monday Morning(MM)- Could you tell us something about your childhood and early schooling days?

Prof. Suverna Trivedi(ST)- I was born and brought up in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh(UP) and hail from a middle-class family. I completed my education in UP itself. I chose science in senior secondary because I enjoyed mathematics and chemistry by the end of 9th standard. We didn't have an engineering background in my family. It was difficult for me to make my career in the engineering field without proper guidance. My father has always been very supportive. Since my childhood, I have been a hard-working, diligent and intelligent child. Also, I enjoyed studying whatever I was studying so all that added up in the end.

MM- How did you land up in an engineering college and what was your experience pursuing B.Tech?

ST- During my formative years, I often visited my grandparents. My grandfather was a PCS officer. He motivated me to study and focus on my career. Credits to his motivation, I decided to be an engineer. My B. Tech experience was good. I learnt many concepts through which I can contribute to various sectors as per the current requirement. I have always wanted to do something beneficial for our society. Without technical knowledge, it was not possible to do so. This dream can come into reality when you have a combination of technical knowledge and research background.

MM- Following B.tech, you had loads of options like corporate jobs in front of you. What motivated you to go for higher studies?

ST- Yes, that’s correct! I got an opportunity to make my career in the corporate sector. However, the goal of my life has been very clear. I had decided in my teenage years what I wanted to do. On the other hand, my maternal uncle, the late Dr K.K. Pandey was a professor of commerce. His profession always fascinated me from an early age and my cousin Dr Veena Pandey is also a professor of Biology. Hence, I wanted to be a professor and thus, went for higher studies.

MM- You bagged the coveted Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellowship, MIT USA (United State Indian Education Foundation), 2020. So, what is the selection process and how did you apply for it?

ST- The United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF) administers the Fulbright-Kalam Climate Fellowship on behalf of both the governments.

The objective of the Fulbright Programme:

In pursuance of the Joint Statement, the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of India – desiring to promote further mutual understanding between the two peoples by a wider exchange of knowledge and professional talents – intend to partner to build long-term capacity in the United States and India by engaging scientific and technical research scholars from both countries.

 The programme offered under the Fulbright scheme:

  •  Student awards to pursue a master's degree or attend a U.S. university as a visiting student researcher.
  • Scholars and teacher awards for academics, teachers, and professionals to teach or research in the U.S.
  •  Professional development programs for university administrators to develop leadership and specialized skills.

 I was eligible under the section of point two. I had applied for a post-doctoral research fellowship. For the application, we required a project proposal along with the host letter of the American institute.

I had written a project proposal based on my doctoral research experience that was an extension of my Ph.D. work. I approached professors from the top 10 universities of the US related to my research field. I got a positive response from MIT Boston, Harvard, Californian institute of technology. They conducted an online interaction to understand our common research interest of both of us. After meetings/ presentations, the professors were satisfied. They gave me a letter for being a host for my Fulbright fellowship. With the blessing of God and my parents, I received two letters from the MIT DMSE department.

After application, the Fulbright/USIEF office has shortlisted my proposal and called me for an interview in the office of USIEF in Delhi. I appeared in the interview. There was a panel of six members. They asked technical questions related to my project proposal and also, they asked general questions. That was an amazing experience.

After one month, they intimated to me that I have been selected as a principal candidate for Fulbright post-doctoral research.

MM- How do you think the recent covid scenario impacted the fellowship programmes? Was the MIT fellowship programme affected in any way?

ST- The CoviD-19 scenario has affected the academic activities of universities, both in India as well as abroad. Covid-19 yielded unprecedented challenges to higher education. Just like other things, the MIT fellowship programme has also been delayed. However, the Fulbright committee is very supportive and is putting in all efforts in helping us to start fellowship this year. 

MM- What was your reaction when you got to know that you have been accepted.? 

ST- For over a year, I was eagerly seeking a good platform to gain research experience. For the same, I applied for different fellowships in South Korea, Switzerland, etc. I did face several roadblocks during the application process. On several occasions, I did not get the host letter on time. 

MM- What are your expectations from the fellowship and how do you think it will help in shaping your career ahead?

ST- After the interview with MIT, I felt glad. I can’t express my feelings at the instant when I received the letter from USIEF. MIT is a dream institution for several researchers.

I am apprehensive of this fellowship as utilizing it, I will be part of a globally recognized university, which is like a dream come true for me. 

Counting feathers

Apart from the MIT Fellowship, Prof. Suverna Trivedi has loads of feathers in her hat as a research scholar. Here's an account of a few of them.

MM- You have published research articles in reputed journals like the New Journal of Chemistry (Royal Society of Chemistry), Journal of Environmental Science (Elsevier), AIChE (Wiley). Please tell us briefly about the story behind the scenes of these successful research papers. 

ST- The journey of PhD is not smooth for everyone. I was fortunate to have a very supportive supervisor, Prof. Ram Prasad. I started my experimental work on heterogeneous catalysts design for CNG vehicular emission control and observed interesting results. To create awareness among the research community about our findings, my supervisor motivated me to publish our work in reputed journals.

As a beginner, I started to write a research article with the help of previously published articles of our group. I made many mistakes that were corrected by my supervisor. Then, I communicated my first article. As I was not an experienced person in article writing, I received many rejections from journals after receiving suggestions/comments. My first article was published in one year. In my first articles, I have learnt a lot. In the continuation of my initial study, I did several experiments to achieve my desired goal and published more than 7 articles from my doctoral work.

After my doctoral studies, I also got a chance to work with a renowned research group of Dr Pankaj Yadav (student of Prof. Michael Graetzel, EPFL Switzerland) in Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar, where we worked together on perovskite material development for solar cell and published studies in a reputed journal in a very short period with the help of my experience of article writing.

The publication of articles is an art of writing along with your good technical skill. If you can write your work or studies in a very simple language with your technical stuff, definitely you will get success in a single time. That only comes with experience and from continuous improvement.

MM- You received Postgraduate Young Scientist Award at ICNBL by IIT Kanpur & NIT Srinagar, 2016. Could you elaborate on the details and how you managed to crack it off? 

ST- I received this award in the conference ICNBL which was organized by IIT Kanpur & NIT Srinagar in 2016 during the second year of my PhD. Journey. At that time, I had presented the work of my initial phase of my PhD. I discussed the concept of my new finding there. Judges liked the uniqueness of my work and they recognized me as a young researcher and awarded me for my work. In the same group, there were well-known researchers. I was not sure that I would be recognized with this prestigious award. With the blessing of God, I got paid off of my work for the first time there that inspired me a lot to do good work.

MM- You have been also recognized as a High Talent Research Fellow by the Government of China. Please throw some light on the application process and the benefits that you have received from this programme.

ST- After the completion of my PhD, I was eagerly looking for a post-doctoral opportunity abroad. I had contacted universities in China concerning my research field. Fortunately,

I got a response from Wuhan University. A professor interacted with me and suggested that I should apply for a high talent programme of the China government. In this fellowship, we have to process the application through the university with the consent of the Host professor.

For the applications, we required a proposed plan. They screened out the application and conducted an online interview. After the interview, I received the selection letter.

A successful research paper(Dos and don'ts')

MM- What will be your advice for budding research aspirants who wish to publish papers but are completely confused regarding the pre-requisites and where to start?

ST- As a scholar, we strive to do high-quality research that will advance science. We come up with what we believe are unique hypotheses based on our work on robust data and use an appropriate research methodology. As we write up our findings, we aim to provide theoretical and practical implications of our work. Then, we submit our manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. I think these following things should be avoided for good quality research paper.

  • Do not rush submitting your articles for publication.
  • Select an appropriate publication outlet.
  • Read the aims and scope of the journal along with the author guidelines.
  • Make a good first impression with your title and abstract.
  • Submit a cover letter with concise information about your work.

These basic recommendations require proper attention, planning and careful implementations. However, this advice could help scholars to improve the likelihood of getting their work published

Experience at NIT Rourkela

MM- You have been in NIT Rourkela for almost a year. How has your experience been so far?

ST- I am blessed to be a part of NIT Rourkela. I feel that we require peace of mind for efficient work.

The lush green campus of the institute nourishes us with a healthy environment to maintain our good health. NIT Rourkela is one of the oldest and well-established institutes, which has all the research facilities needed for an early career researcher. The administrative system is very well organized and digitalized. Director sir and other higher authorities always encourage and support us.

The conditions are conducive for starting and continuing research. In the Department of chemical engineering, HOD ma'am and all my colleagues are very humble, knowledgeable, and cooperative. Their knowledge and experience help us in many aspects such as research-related discussion, departmental/institute related work, etc. 

Also, the students are quite aware and updated regarding the recent advancement of technologies.

I do learn a lot from students during discussions on our teaching topics.   

Frankly, there is no lack of motivation here. I believe that the quote of Philip Green, “It's all about the quality of life and finding a happy balance between work and friends and family”, is quite apt regarding my life over here. 

Chemical engineering is a broad field, covering a variety of applications and there has been a growing demand for chemical engineers.

Journey as a chemical engineer 

MM- Having pursued higher studies in the same field, what do you have to say about your journey in the field so far and what do you think is the future of chemical engineering in India?

ST- In Chemical engineering, we do have a lot of opportunities to explore our careers. The applications of this field range from mere necessities to wide applications in the defence sector. It has a good scope concerning job and self-development as well. Like in my case, I did master and PhD in the same area. In India, the Future of chemical engineering looks quite bright. Apart from sufficient jobs, entrepreneurship can also be considered as an option. If you have a good idea for a start-up then you can make our contribution towards your future as well as building a technocrat nation. 

Message for the readers

Work hard, maintain consistency, be passionate about your aim and lastly, never give up. I would like to conclude with a quote that has always motivated me: मंजिल उन्हें मिलती है जिनके सपनों में जान होती है, पंख से कुछ नहीं होता हौसले से उड़ान होती है। ("Only those who have strength in their dreams reach the goals. Only wings can't do much, friends, we need the courage to fly.")

Team Monday Morning congratulates Prof. Suverna Trivedi for her success so far and wishes her all the luck for her future endeavours ahead.

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