Bidding Adieu to Prof. Animesh Biswas : Director's Desk
With the exuberant onset of yet another academic year in the new normal, i.e., online mode, it is also the conclusion of a glorious journey of Prof. Animesh Biswas, who joined NIT Rourkela as the Hon’ble Director back in 2016. Since then, he has transformed the institute on numerous fronts during his whole tenure.
As he ends his tenure on the ninth of October, Team Monday Morning got the opportunity to catch up with the Hon’ble Director of NIT Rourkela, Prof Animesh Biswas, for #OneLastTime, to recollect some of his glorious time at the institute, discuss some of the ongoing issues and bid him farewell.
Prof. Animesh Biswas's tenure of 5 years as Director of NIT Rourkela has completed on 10th October. Till a new Director is appointed, Prof. Simanchala Panigrahi will remain Director I/c.
Monday Morning: How did you see the institute develop in your tenure?
Director: I cannot say whether and how the institute developed, but I made sure such decisions helped the institute, whatever steps I took. All my actions and decisions were driven by my will to help the students. I focused majorly on academics, research, student activities and counselling of my students. Apart from this, I was involved in quality faculty recruitment to ensure quality education for my students. I have revamped the syllabus to make it flexible and introduced minor degree and branch changes provisions. After the introduction of the National Education Policy (NEP), it is quite a task to implement all its versatile programmes and policies. The Senate has already started looking into it.
During my tenure, I have always worked for the welfare of my students. I have done my part, and others might be able to tell you if I did it well.
A Few Updates:
MM: Can you update us about the current status of Vision 2025 and how far has it been accomplished?
Director: We have planned to introduce seven centres, out of which three have already been functional. The functional centres specialise in the fields of nanotechnology, bioinformatics and a centre that is IoT based. The vision is on track and the now the next Director will take it forward.
MM: The NIRF Ranking was released recently. NIT Rourkela has dropped in both the categories, i.e. Overall and Engineering category. According to you, what are the reasons behind it and how can we improve it in the coming years?
Director: The major reason for this year’s drop according to me was the drop in the number of research grants and publications this year. There was the fear of COVID, so many faculties were reluctant to take risks and carry out their research. We even lost one of our faculty to Covid. Hence, I felt it necessary to put life before all this. We will surely commence all the research work at full pace once the situation becomes stable and that will surely boost our rankings. Apart from this, we invited the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, this year to attend the 18th Annual Convocation. This brought the institution under the national spotlight. I was hoping that it will help us in the perception parameter but he came in January this year so the effect of this will be seen in the coming year’s rankings. So, I’m hopeful that we will start doing better in the perception parameter as well.
However, the drop in the NIRF rankings, I believe, is a temporary setback, and we will start to see the rewards of all our efforts.
MM: The Golden Jubilee Building was finally inaugurated in October 2020. It’s been a year since then. Can you update us on if and how far it has been functional?
Director: The departments which were supposed to move to the Golden Jubilee building have already been notified. However, the building cannot be functional until it is fully air-conditioned, which requires the construction of a chiller pad. This was not a part of the blueprint when the building was designed, and consequently, funds were not sanctioned for this. During my tenure, I got funding for the project to be completed. But owing to such problems, it might take a year or so for the Golden Jubliee building to be fully functional.
MM: How is the institute planning to organise the Global Alumni Meet scheduled at the end of December?
Director: I am not a part of the team in charge of the Global Alumni Meet. Moreover, since my tenure is coming to an end, the next Director will be the right person to answer this.
MM: How satisfied are you with the contribution from the alumni this year, especially after the washing machines and tea vending machines installed by NITRAA this year?
Director: When I joined the institute, the alumni relations were dormant. I tried to facilitate better connections with the alumni. With time, it has strengthened, and I hope it will be as good as the premier IITs one day. One important thing that I would like to bring to everyone’s attention is that the amount of funds that the alumni of other institutes contribute to their Corpus funds is many times higher than what we get from our alumni. I request all the students to stay in touch with the institution even after they graduate. It is your collective responsibility to rope in your peers to maintain relations and work towards the holistic development of the institute.
MM: The fees of the previous semester have not been collected till now & students are worried that it would be difficult for them to submit the expenses if the fees are asked cumulatively for more than one semester at a time. How are you planning for it?
Director: I feel the Registrar or the Dean Academics would best answer the question.
The notification for the fee portal will be out in a few days. The students will have to pay the fees of both the semester at the same time
- Prof. Pradip Kumar Das (Registrar)
Institute’s Upcoming Trajectories:
MM: National Education Policy (NEP) has multiple points; one was teaching in regional languages. How Is it possible to implement in an institute of national importance like NIT Rourkela?
Director: This can be possible in some selected subjects, and we have to explore it. We have to identify the topics and accordingly will try to deliver lectures on them. The process is yet to be started.
MM: Many IITs have solid relationships with industrial companies, which further helps their placements to a great extent. How have you seen the industry relationship grow in your tenure?
Director: As far as the placement is concerned, it has improved a lot. Even in the difficult times of the COVID pandemic, we have done a commendable job in the placement scenario where we have got almost 80-85% of students placed. I think the placement scenario is improving with time. I want the students to join hands with the Training and Placement Cell and proactively interact with the companies so that new companies come and recruit our students.
We plan to have an outreach activity centre at Bhubaneswar established soon; the board has approved it and has earmarked the money. The CPWD is soon going to start the construction of the Outreach Activity Centre. If the companies cannot come to the campus, they have an alternative option to go to Bhubaneswar. We are making a Guest House where our students can go and stay there to stay and take part in the company recruitment drives.
MM: When can we expect the Outreach Centre to be fully functional?
Director: The order has been given to CPWD for two years, but we sometimes know such things do take time to complete. The Golden Jubilee Building was supposed to be completed in two years, but it took more than eight years. So. constructions take their own time. But we will be keeping pressure on them to complete it within two years.
MM: Regarding the Six Months Internship, many students pursuing their Masters are facing a lot of issues with guides. What are your views on it?
Director: I don’t want to comment on this sensitive issue. This has to be dealt with by the students and guides. If anything extreme happens, then only we have to deal with it. The upcoming Director will be looking into the issue.
MM: Can there be a central system to handle the situation, because in general, almost no one is allowed by their guides for a six-month internship because, according to many Professors, academics and research are the only important things, and there is a lot of apprehension about Internships?
Director: It depends on people’s perception of whether an internship is good or bad. Some people, especially the old-timers, prefer the students to stay back and learn at the institute, but the younger generations feel that internships are essential for students’ growth. Ultimately, the students will be going to industries for their jobs, so it’s always better to have exposure. I believe there should be such internships, which is why I am always very vocal about it in the Senate as well. The amount of exposure that our students can get both in terms of quality of equipment and quality of work at companies like Qualcomm, Mediatek, Intel, etc. will add great value to such students. But again, if the Individual guides do not agree with this, then it has to be dealt with by the student and the guide amongst themselves.
MM: The Best Teachers Award is working well as it motivates the professors to a great extent. How has your experience been with this best teacher award initiative?
Director: I had introduced the Best Teaching Award four years back to motivate the teachers, and it has a long way to go. The response from students is not very good, which is quite unfortunate. This time out of the seven thousand odd students community, only one thousand three hundred responded, which is not even half the number. I request the students to take this evaluation process more seriously because the best teachers award is chosen based on these inputs. This year the number of awardees of the best professors award has been increased to five, and it will increase over the years for different categories, for example, department-wise, subject-wise, etc. The main idea is to motivate the faculty so that they can impart good knowledge to the students.
MM: The Institute recently started calling back PG Final year students. What is the current status of their return?
Director: We have called back the postgraduate students to complete their pending lab work, and we will be having a meeting on this issue soon. We faced the problem of calling back the Afghanistan students who have graduated but are unwilling to return and want to stay back due to the ongoing crisis in their country. But we have no rules and provisions to accommodate the students who have passed out. This is a dilemma we are facing, and we have to solve the issue. Since my term is ending, the next Director will probably take a call on that.
MM: When is the institute planning to call the UG students back, and what measures will be taken to ensure the safety of students once they are called back?
Director: We have been taking COVID precautions seriously from the start, and we have done an excellent job in dealing with the COVID situation so far. We have followed most safety precautions, like making isolation rooms and identifying wings in the hostel for isolation. When students come to the institute, they stay for seven days in the isolation rooms and then migrate to their original rooms. We have taken care of all the safety precautions to date.
So far, we are accommodating the PG students; we will be calling back the final year UG students soon. But my tenure is getting over; the people handling it will be the best people to ask about the plan of action.
One interesting thing is that the final year students are generally more reluctant to come back right now but the first and second-year B.Tech students want to be given priority because they have not seen the institute and have seen it only virtually. It’s pretty unfortunate, and I feel sorry for them because this is the time when they should interact with the student community and develop their personality. I have stayed in the hostels, and I know this life is very different because you come out from your parents’ comfortable homes for the first time and have a lot of freedom, but using the freedom judiciously is what you learn during your stay.
MM: There has been a decrease in the percentage of placements for various branches and PG programmes. What are your views on it?
Director: According to the information received from the TnP cell, the placements statistics has improved in recent times. I know there are issues with some of the core branches. But we are trying our best to bring in companies just as we managed to have Aditya Birla Group as one of our significant recruiters last year. The core branches are dominated mainly by PSUs which conduct their recruitment through GATE, so that is the problem where we cannot bring them through T&P for recruitment.
A Recce of the Campus:
MM: What is the situation of COVID on the campus?
Director: I won’t say it’s completely zero, but it’s not at all an alarming situation, and it’s very minimal in number.
MM: Due to covid, no offline fests were conducted, but various reputed institutes of our nation managed to complete online fests. Can we expect the SAC authorities to have a similar proposal to conduct online fests this academic year?
Director: I don’t know, you want to make everything virtual. There should be something left to be felt and enjoyed in real life; otherwise, the charm of festivity will be lost in the virtual model. I see no problems in the conduction of the fests online, but the pleasure of seeing them in an auditorium and on a computer screen is not comparable. In offline mode, you have a friend circle, you shout, enjoy, and it’s a whole different environment that can’t be felt on computers. You need to enjoy the natural world and not depend that much on computers.
However, you can conduct online fests by contacting the SAC authorities, and there is nothing wrong with that. I will be happy to see my students getting involved in extracurricular activities while sitting at home.
MM: How has your experience been with online exams this year?
Director: We had a lot of debates regarding the conduction of online exams; the faculties wanted to introduce proctoring based software to conduct the examinations. We did invite a company that claimed to have proctoring software, and our experts examined the things. But ultimately, No software can provide complete proctoring, and ultimately it will be up to the students only. So our experts recommended that Microsoft Teams are the best way to conduct examinations.
MM: There were some complaints about the online classes not running smoothly, even though the professors were provided devices for better conduction of the online academics. What are your views on this?
Director: The faculty community needed the devices. They were complaining about them not being able to hold exams and conduct classes properly. After receiving such strong representation, I passed the request to the board, and they approved and sanctioned it. I have noticed that even other NITs provided their faculty with devices for better conduction of the online academics.
MM: Is the Lecture Hall-II fully functional and ready for operation? If not, when can we expect it to be ready?
Director: The Lecture Complex is entirely prepared. We have allotted rooms for individual departments, and the respective lecturers will take classes whenever the students are back on campus. All the necessary electronic appliances have already been installed.
MM: What is the update on the new Sports Complex?
Director: The contract for the construction of the complex has already been awarded, and the excavation for the foundation of the building has already started. This project was one of my very first ideas as a director, but I may not see it being completed, but I hope it will be completed in the next two years.
A Vision of Life Ahead:
MM: What are your plans after leaving the institute?
Director: I will go back to IIT Kanpur and continue my research with my students there. I have another three and a half years to go, so in 2025 I will be retiring.
MM: Is there any update that you have on who will take up the position further?
Director: The interviews have not yet been taken. The ministry had asked me for the names of senior-most professors in the institute, and I have given their names, so it is the ministry’s decision now.
MM: As the recruitment of a director is a long process, many IIITs have only an interim/acting director, which restricts them and doesn’t allow them to take significant decisions. Do you think NIT Rourkela will also suffer if we do not have a permanent Director for a long time?
Director: Let’s see what decision the ministry takes. Even if they appoint an interim director, they will not have the executive powers as a regular director. The institute’s Director is appointed by the President of India himself, and the designated official acts on behalf of the President of India.
MM: What advice would you like to give to your successors as the Director?
Director: This position calls for individuality, and so I will not give any advice. Everyone is mature, everyone is different, and everyone will be acting according to their mindset. The new Director will be tackling problems in their own way, which might not overlap with my style. So, I cannot give any advice to them, and neither have I taken any advice from my predecessors. I just did what I thought was right and benefits the institute and its interests.
MM: How do you look back on your journey on a personal note?
Director: When I was in IIT Kanpur, I was primarily focused on academics because I love teaching. I can tell you with utter confidence that I have never been late to my classroom in my life, I always have been punctual, and I expected my students to be the same. Even if some student was only ten minutes late I didn’t allow them to attend the lecture because they shouldn’t disturb my focus while I was teaching, I am that serious with my teaching and academics. I never held an administrative post while I was at IIT Kanpur. Still, I felt that taking an executive position would make the whole of my academic career complete, and that’s why I applied for the Director post at NIT Rourkela.
MM: What will you miss the most once you leave the campus?
Director: This has been a significant opportunity in my life as an administrator. When I came to this institute, it was not in good condition; many chaotic situations were present. I took all these setbacks and tried to minimise them as much as possible, and I tried to streamline the process. It is a journey, and I believe I did a lot for the good of this institute. I recruited a lot of good faculty for our students. Only the future will tell if they are up to par, but I can tell you that I did a background check on each of the professors, and I hope they will do justice to the profession.
I enjoyed my stay here, I enjoyed interacting with the students here, and I am sure the institute will grow leaps and bounds in the future, and one day it will become a top-notch Technical Institute in the country.
I also definitely would miss the grilling of Monday Morning. The tough questions that I faced from Monday Morning will also be missed.
MM: Finally, what message would you like to give to the students and the readers of this article?
Try to maintain academic honesty and try to do good things. You may face many thornes, stones and boulders on the journey, but keep going till you achieve your goal. Your journey should never stop; you have to save yourself and complete your journey that god has bestowed you with, no matter what you encounter. You should keep going and strive for the country’s good.
Team MM extends their gratitude and bids adieu to Hon’ble Director, Prof Animesh Biswas and wishes him very successful and happy new innings of his life.