The Tale of a Fervent Educationist : Prof. Manoj Masanta
Being a favourite among students, he never fails to make the learning process a relish while taking students on a more in-depth exploration of the subject. As he puts it, hailing from the small town of Jhargram, Prof. Manoj Masanta from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who is the recipient of the Best Teacher Award for the session 2020-21, has come a long way from where he began. Besides having a keen interest in research and teaching, he is also a strong proponent of new ideas.
Team Monday Morning caught up with Prof. M. Masanta over M.S. Teams, where he talks about his life, experiences at NIT Rourkela, and what a student needs to grow up as a person. Additionally, he also reveals his inspiration for pursuing research and working as a professor.
MM: Walk us through your early life before you joined Jadavpur University.
Prof. Manoj Masanta (PMM): I pursued my Bachelor's in Engineering (BE) in 2004 and Master of Engineering (M.E.) in 2006 from Jadavpur University in Production Engineering. Belonging from a small town of Jhargram in the Midnapore district of West Bengal, I did my schooling up to class 12 and then joined Jadavpur University.
MM: Why did you choose Production Engineering as your course of study?
PMM: Actually, it wasn't my choice, but I chose Production Engineering due to the availability according to my rank. My first choice was to opt for Mechanical engineering and also at the same time I had decided to study in some government-sponsored institute or university.
MM: You pursued your Bachelors' and Masters' Degree from Jadavpur University. Can you share some fond memories of yours from your college days?
PMM: It was my first outing from my small town, where I had decided to start this journey and how many things happened. Initially, I was nervous about adjusting with the other students, but I found lots of friends later. Since many students were from the cities, adjusting was a bit tough as the city culture is a little bit different and had to face some problems in the hostel. But later on, I adapted and enjoyed that time.
MM: Having already completed B.Tech and M. Tech, how did PhD provide you with a new dimension? What was your experience pursuing your post-doctorate at a premier institute like IIT Kharagpur?
PMM: Actually, during my bachelor's days, I had no plan to do higher study, but getting a job was not so much easier, so in my 3rd year, I decided to go for higher studies and prepared for GATE examination during that time. After securing a good GATE score, I joined in master's degree, and during that time I decided, I had to do my PhD as well as stay in academics only.
MM: How did NIT Rourkela happen to you, and how has been your teaching experience so far?
PMM: I joined NIT Rourkela in 2011. It was not my first job. Before joining here, I worked in a private institute for four months. So I had a little bit of experience with teaching. There was a vast difference between the culture of a private institute and a government-sponsored institute during that time. So when I came here, it wasn’t straightforward and easier for me. But, gradually, I adjusted myself to the surroundings. Initially, I had to take some courses that were not in my field. In the first semester, I had to take thermodynamics as a subject though I specialized in production engineering. I had to study a little bit during that time because I had thermodynamics in my B.Tech only for 1 or 2 semesters. So it was a huge gap in between, but I managed. Then I taught some courses in the mechanical engineering department.
Mainly I teach postgraduate students. Even after almost ten years, I am yet to take any major courses of undergraduate mechanical engineering students but have taken some minor courses and elective courses.
MM: You chose a noble career in teaching and research rather than choosing the conventional industry line. What made you take such a decision?
PMM: When I joined Jadavpur University, I found that the requirements for the industry are different from what I could give, which made me think that maybe it wasn't cut for me. My primary goal was research, but later on, I felt that teaching is essential to improve your research part.
MM: With your completion of 10 years in the Institute in July 2021 and getting selected for the Best Professor Award, how does it feel?
PMM: It was a pleasant surprise because I wasn't aware of when or how this process was going. Because of the pandemic, we aren't able to contact and hence know what is happening for anything and everything. On the day this was declared, just 10 minutes before getting the e-mail from the Director Sir, I got a call from one of the committee members, and he informed me. And I was very surprised, and of course very happy, as this is the actual thing that I've got from my students.
MM: You have always been closely associated with your students. How do you manage to bring the best out of them?
PMM: One advantage that I have is got that the strength of my classes is a bit less ie. at about 30-40 students. So it is easier for me to contact or know about most of the students and monitor their progress. My research students can always approach me for any issue, and there are never any problems related to the communication gap between them and me.
MM: In your career, you must have interacted with different generations of students with a different curriculum in your career. How do you see teaching evolving, especially in your domain?
PMM: There's a vast difference in the way things were back when I was a student versus now that I'm teaching. Back then, we had to rely on classes to know about any subject, and after that, we would discuss it amongst ourselves. Now students get information from the internet or through some other mediums. This is different as sometimes I have to adjust to this method. I used to think that students ought to come to the class and study here from the teacher, but later on, I found there were materials available as well. But it is entirely up to them if they wish to understand from my class or other media.
But they should be paying attention to the class, as from what I have felt, that the material from other sources isn't in a proper manner to be able to study. When I try to see some of the video lectures or course materials, it isn't easy to go through them sequentially. Sometimes I read a particular topic, but I don't think it's the proper way to go through a subject. When you follow class teaching, only then you can understand the subject sequentially and adequately. Maybe you might get some better references, but some gaps may be there. Materials are okay, but they should be supplementary, but class lectures should be a must.
MM: With the introduction of the Online mode of teaching due to COVID-19, what were the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?
PMM: Initially, I faced a lot of problems. I seldom use ppts and always used board and chalk for teaching. The subject that I teach has many figures that I have to draw, and accordingly, I have to discuss. There were two ways to achieve this- Either I draw the figure beforehand and let the students understand it. But this isn't easy because when a component is being drawn, you have to discuss how all the parts are working. But as of now, if you do it through a ppt, it is not that easy. You have to use sophisticated animation, but it isn't feasible again due to lack of resources; moreover, it is very time-consuming. I tried to do that, but for a min animation, you need almost 5 hrs of background work. To overcome the gaps, I tried to use ppt, but sequentially I attempted to draw the figures step by step. In that way, I tried to overcome it.
MM: Having seen both sides of the coin, like both online and offline classes. How do you think the online classes will be beneficial for the upcoming batch?
PMM: Some advantages are there; Suppose at a particular time, you don't want to listen to that particular lecture, maybe you are not in that mood, you have to do some other work then you have the option watch the recorded lecture some other time. But in the case of offline classes, you have to attend the classes whether you are in a mood or not. That is one advantage that I feel, plus at the same time, direct interaction has a different advantage; in the case of offline classes, we can see, whether a student is paying attention or not, what type of difficulties the student is facing that is very difficult to get through this online classes. Although we can see the faces in online classes, we can't get whether the students are getting it or not, but the teacher can get that thing in offline mode.
MM: Please shed some light on the current research work that you are pursuing.
PMM: My field of research is mainly surface engineering, which is the combination of mechanical engineering and metallurgy engineering, apart from that, some advanced machinery and manufacturing methods are also in my interest. Recently with the application of surface cladding, we are trying to incorporate it for additive manufacturing also.
MM: What do you feel about the present scope of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at NIT Rourkela? What, according to you, are some of the fascinating fields of research at this point in time?
PMM: Mechanical engineering is always the core department, and I feel it is an evergreen department. It is required for any type of engineering. NITR is obviously in a position in this field. At the same time, I can say lots of improvement or up-gradation is required in the department in terms of its basic infrastructure. Recently we are shifting from our old building to new building. For almost the last 2years, under the pandemic situation, it was also challenging for all the faculties, as you have to do the classes in a new mode and shift the department to a new building. Other departments don't have big equipment that the mechanical department has, which has to be shifted, and the process has not been completed yet it is still going on. So that point, the mechanical department is doing well as well as we have a lot of scopes that can be done and obviously we can do it when we are in normal condition.
MM: Being an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and the present faculty staff of NIT Rourkela, what differences in research practices do you find in both these places?
PMM: There are a lot of differences that exist. Their culture is totally different from here. They have two distinct parts: One is the class or the academics part, which is mainly concentrated to the B.Tech students, and the other for integrated and PhD students, they are more concentrated on the research work as well as some project-related work parallelly.
Initially, when I joined NITR, faculty used to go home after working hours, and students did the same. But the thing is changed faculties and students are staying in the laboratory beyond office hours. Initially, there was some difference, but now, the culture has at least changed, and we are at least doing parallelly with premier institutes like the IITs.
MM: Apart from your obvious interest in research and academics, what are some other things that you like doing? How do you manage to have a work-life balance?
PMM: Now I'm not very much involved in some other activities. Apart from spending some time with other faculty colleagues, when I'm free, I go to my hometown, where I spend some time with my other friends. I spent some time in sports activities earlier, but now in this pandemic situation, we have to stick within our homes, so I spend time with my family.
MM: Keeping aside your academic and professional career for a while, how would you describe yourself as a person?
PMM: I can say I'm a little bit introverted and not quickly adapt to everything, which may be my drawback. Within that, I also try to do new things that may also benefit my students and me.
MM: On a final concluding note, what word of advice would you like to give to the students?
Most of the students who have taken admissions here have an ambition of getting good job or learn something. Firstly, they are coming to learn something, and on that, they are preparing to get a good job. But sometimes, students deviate themeslves from thier main goal with what is happening in the surrounding, so I think they should have some fixed goals. Obviously, they should do some other work: extra-curricular activities, but they shouldn't deviate from their actual goal what they are thinking.
Team Monday Morning congratulates Prof. Manoj Masanta for his success so far and wishes him all the luck for his future endeavours ahead.
Designs by – Saksham Devkota