Standing Out Conventions: Amlan Das
Well, a person cannot grow without challenges.
Amlan Das, a PhD scholar from the institute as well as an advisor at ICS (Institute Counselling Services), has been a part, parcel, and catalyst of important changes and establishments in the institute. From serving as a senior coordinator to being an advisor at ICS, Amlan Das has been an active part of ICS since 2017 and has seen and brought forth several catapulting changes in the organization. Being a research scholar, Amlan Das has miraculously managed to juggle academics and co-curricular activities smoothly, despite the hurdles and potholes on either path.
Team MM caught up with him and had a fruitful discussion regarding various milestones in his life, takeaways, and giveaways in the institute, his journey(academic and non-academic), amongst other things. Read the article for an insightful trip down his memory lane.
MM: Tell us something regarding your early schooling and childhood.
Amlan: Almost all of my childhood was spent in Rourkela. I completed my schooling at a missionary school. Sceptical in the beginning, I gradually found that the school was not biased in any way, respecting and celebrating all cultures and traditions. One major aspect of it was being an all-boys school. This made me a bit shy in dealing with society. Nevertheless, the values that were instilled in me help even today. During my twelfth standard, I appeared for both medical and engineering and even got a dental seat, but out of the common notion of the medical field being a long-term investment, I chose engineering!
MM: Throw some light on your B.Tech days.
Amlan: My B. Tech days at Gandhi Institute of Engineering and Technology were very fulfilling. I was a part of the institute's basketball team and I remember winning all the competitions. I held some important posts like the Secretary and President of the Mechanical Engineering Students Association in my third and final year respectively. During the placement, I was more focused on core jobs. After exams, I applied to a few companies but the letter took quite some time to come, and so I chose to become a lecturer at my own college.
MM: You have been a lecturer at Gandhi Institute of Engineering and Technology. How was your experience and what exactly drew you towards research again?
Amlan: For that, I contacted the Dean. He smiled and told me that an interview needs to be held for the post. It was done, and I became the lecturer. Only after some time, I received suggestions for pursuing a higher degree, from my parents and colleagues and so I decided to appear for GATE. Later it was known that success was not at hand and I engaged myself in many different entrance exams as well. One of which was the Air force that went well until the physical round (laughter).
Consequently, I started my preparation for Manipal University for an MTech seat and got successful. I had four months in hand before enrollment. Hence, I joined TATA business support services where I got a hint of corporate life and managing customers.
MM: Tell us about post-graduation in thermal power and energy systems.
Amlan: So after the job I started my degree program at Manipal University. There were all sorts of amenities there. The field of my interest i.e.Thermal Power and Energy Systems Academics is a rare one. The professors were strict and the syllabus was rigid. There are fewer institutes that provide this course. As a result, the books were not available. We used to photocopy the content of the books available with the professors. The labs were divided into major experiments and minor experiments. The Initial semester was a struggle after which I covered up. For an internship, I went to the National Institute of wind energy, Chennai.
MM: When did you decide to go for a Ph.D. program and how did NIT Rourkela happen?
Amlan: I applied for a Ph.D. at NIT Rourkela in Dec 2015, got an interview call but did not manage to be through. Later, I applied in 2016 and got selected. The field of research was more inclined towards Metallurgical and Material Engineering. My field of study was a unique amalgamation after which, I could go in fluid dynamics, heat engines, or renewable energy systems. My project was highly inclined towards wind energy and hence the research field was chosen. I did not find many options at Nit Rourkela on renewable energy sources.
MM: What exactly is your field of research and how would you rate the research facilities at Nit Rourkela? Any particular challenges that you've faced while publishing one or more of your papers.
Amlan: Initial part of my Ph.D. degree was focused on mechanical aspects as we were supposed to build various models. Unfortunately, after two years, Prof. D Nagrajan went to NIT Trichy and I was obliged to change my field. Currently, I am working on coating metals with graphene under the wings of Prof. Archana Malik.
Regarding facilities, I observed that she has sufficient facilities under her as compared to Prof. D Nagrajan. Maybe because he was quite new to the institute. I believe the facilities at our college are sufficient but on ground levels, few technologies function seamlessly. For example, out of the two scanning electron microscopes, only one works fine. There may be loopholes but what drives the research culture at NIT Rourkela are our diligent professors and researchers and it is the reason our institute is growing leaps and bounds in the field.
MM: Being a Ph.D. student you have been quite active with student activities and ICS whereas most students indulge in academics. What's the reason behind this? How do you manage your time between research, academics, and extracurricular?
Generally, for PhD students, the sole concern is academics. They have to complete their thesis in a stipulated time period (institute fellowship for 5 years, maximum-8 years). You have to be dependent on materials and equipment. Theoretical background students have it a bit easier though. At this juncture of career, when people have seen bachelors' as well as masters' life, there is generally a decline of interests for co-curricular activities. Also, several are married and are focused on family life. Strict supervisors, responsibility and a desire to not disrupt the timetable can be the reason for a very low percentage of PhD students(1%) involved in co-curricular.
Speaking of myself, since my bachelors' life, I've had a keen interest in such activities. I got and utilized several opportunities at the time. Coming to Ph.D. life, initially, I was not inclined to be involved with SAC (Student Activity Center) because of time constraints. However, it was a twist of fate in 2017, which started with an advertisement of ICS ( then called Student Counselling Program). This sounded favorable since I was also a hostel superintendent at my previous institute and thought the experience would come in handy. Also, I thought I should give needy students whatever I could from my experiences.
Find a detailed article on SCS’s inception in 2017 here:
MM: Can you share some of your enriching experiences as the senior student counseling coordinator?
Amlan: I would go yearly.
- 2017: We were 14 coordinators and 117 mentors. The whole idea was of a democratic movement rather than a single-headed organization. During the starting times, we did not have a particular venue for meets and met at the mathematics seminar hall. I was selected as the coordinator.
- 2018: We had a proper interview this year, we had prepared guidelines, hence things were better. Several Monday Morning Chief Coordinators and fest coordinators were a part of ICS in important roles. These people brought in new ideas and made the job very easy.
- 2019-2020: The coordinator and mentor things we're notched as tasks were introduced for interviews. This improved module moved on well. I backed up a little at this time as I wished to focus more on my thesis. Since Prof. Pati had been a part of it for 4 years, he advised me to stay and take over slight roles and guide people, this was how the advisor thing happened.
MM: How has the newly formed Indian Institute of Metals (IIM) Student chapter NIT Rourkela fared under your leadership in the past year? As its president what is your vision for the same?
Amlan: IIM is totally a newly formed enterprise of our institute. We had been trying since 2018 to get a chapter of IIM. In Nov 2020, we had National metallurgical day and the Rourkela chapter celebrated it. It was not held as usual but our chapter celebrated it.
Then, the idea of a student chapter was brought to action. Prof. Anshuman Patra was the faculty advisor for the student chapter and he announced that we had got approval for it. After the completion of nominations and selections, we tried to organize awareness sessions. Till now, we have arranged 4 webinars with eminent personalities. Currently, our motive is to make the chapter active in order to get proper funding from IIM, so that we could plan further.
The inception of IIM is fully covered in the following article:
MM: How do you think the five years at NIT Rourkela have shaped you professionally and personally?
AD: I have had my own set of challenges and a series of ups and downs when it comes to the professional part of my years at NIT Rourkela. With the supervisor change and change in the research topic, adjusting to the new environment asked a lot from me as well. Well, a person cannot grow without challenges. So it was all good in the end with the help of the new supervisor and better research facilities. Looking at other aspects, I had a quite good experience as most of the professors and the lab technicians were helpful and cooperative. And working with so many Professors has been a wholesome experience and has taught me the art of talking to other people as well.
MM: What are your plans 5 years down the line after the Ph.D.?
AD: In India, People generally think there are only two options after a doctorate which are academics and the research profession. The research area is quite weak in terms of employment as the funds flowing in is quite less which results in most of the doctorates aiming for employment in academics. Coming to my plan, I aim to select a profession in academics as well where my management skills, which I have been polishing since the last decade come into action in a major way.
MM: Advice to the juniors aiming for the path in the field of research.
AD: For Ph.D. students, my advice would be simple, the Ph.D. is never an alternative to a job where you join just for the sake of a stipend. Ph.D. is made of many factors like your supervisor, your academics, your partners. Therefore make a sureshot plan and strong decision for 5 years if you have a plan to pursue Ph.D. and be dedicated to your work.
The second would be that after you enroll in a Ph.D., try to not make decisions randomly without proper knowledge. Always take an information-based decision that will make things easier for you in the long run.
Lastly, inculcate good values within yourselves as after a research graduate society views you as a highly educated personality so you need to show that dignified behavior to society.
In the end more or less it's our own self respect if we can’t show dignified behaviour and pass on our knowledge to the next generation after spending so many years in education and earning so many degrees, it would all lead to a waste in the end. So be a genuine person and keep growing.
Amlan Das has been a gem for NIT Rourkela, enduring the strict academic life of a PhD scholar while sparing time for co-curricular advancement of the institute. Team MM wishes him luck in his future endeavors!