Dr. Ajay Kumar Sharma, director of the National Institute of Technology, Delhi, tells Education Post’s Tanay Kumar about why students should opt for engineering branches other than CSE/IT and why more and more research scholars should come forward to partake in the industry.
In 1986, electronic and electrical communication engineering was your stream when you completed your graduation. We would like to know your motivation behind opting for this subject.
Electronic communication in India was in its nascent stage of development in the early 1980s. The introduction of the new economic policy in early 1980s led to a significant growth in the electronics hardware industry. I’ve always been fascinated by how technology works and how it can solve real-world problems.
When I was considering different fields of study, computer science was not a standalone major. It was folded into the math major as dual major and computer science majors were merged into some degree with majors in electrical engineering. So, I was drawn towards Electronic and Electrical Communication Engineering, as this area was advancing rapidly and there were endless opportunities for innovation. I was particularly interested in the ways that Electronics and Communication can improve people’s lives in various sectors, viz. telecommunication, defence, etc. Throughout my education and work experience, I’ve developed strong skills in electronics, communication and computer science, including proficiency in solving real-world problems, and experience working on complex systems.
Please tell us about your transition to teaching computer science while your graduation and postgraduation were in electronics and electrical?
Being an intelligent creature on earth, a human being needs to discover the disparity between learning about technology versus using technology to learn. When I started my career as an engineer, there was no computer available in my institution. The first room-sized computer came to my institution when I was in B.Tech. final year. We used to see those big-sized computers through window screens only, as we were not allowed to work on those big machines, and these made me zealous to work on them. So, I started attaining the skills required to work on those big machines, and my decision of pursuing engineering turned out to be a passion. Over the past few years, there is a significant evolution in computer science engineering, and it’s not just about studying computers. Moreover, I did my PhD in Electronics Communication and Computer Engineering. My research area during PhD was Optical communication and optical networks. I have a thirst for knowledge. Being a learner, I fundamentally believe that one needs to learn new things to grow in their life and career, which is why I transited into the area of computer science engineering. Therefore, be amenable to constantly reinventing yourself.
Last year, former IIT Delhi director, Prof. V Ramgopal Rao felt sorry that many engineering aspirants are seeking only CSE/IT (computer science) over other core branches (electrical, mechanical, and civil), and this situation is almost the same in every engineering college. What do you think about this plight and possible solution for it?
Opting for CSE/IT field is due to the lack of knowledge and feedback that senior secondary students receive from the so-called educated society. Even many so-called educated ones create a hypothetical mindset in students that they will get good packages in CS/IT branch only. So, it’s not a matter of student’s interest rather, it’s a hypothetical talk created by some. Not every student is driven toward CS/IT field. Many opt for this field due to societal pressure.
Today, there are numerous things to explore. The students must look out for different fields like Automotive Engineering, Aeronautical Engineering, Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, Medical Engineering and Science, Materials Science and Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Marine Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Software Engineering, Biomedical Engineering etc, and set their career accordingly. So, proper career counselling should be there for the students.
Talking about NIT Delhi, the students of electrical engineering as well as electronics and communication engineering have done remarkably well in the placements compared to CSE. The maximum CTC procured by electrical engineering, electronics and communication engineering, and computer science engineering student is 82.6 lakhs, 55.7 lakhs, and 36 lakhs respectively. The placement and package do not depend upon the branch one opts for rather it’s about the skills that a student develops during their journey of graduation.
Ph.D. scholars hardly opt for industry jobs. What reasons do you think are behind this pattern as India has been facing the industry-academia gap?
Eventually, this trend is now changing, and PhD scholars are shifting towards industry jobs. Transitioning from academia to industry can be an exciting experience, but it comes with some challenges.
Comprehending Timelines: The research timeline in industries is crucial, whereas the scholars’ work with a certain degree of flexibility, when it comes to research timelines. Thus, extending the research timeline can have a cascading effect throughout a company, resulting in business losses and investor scepticism. Hence, industrialists prefer graduate students, who work swiftly on the problems.
Pursuing Projects That Are Not Directly Related to Company Goals: The industry focuses on manufacturing the products/delivering the services and company’s success, whereas in the academics the pursuit of exciting research topics is encouraged and rewarded. As a result, academics may find it difficult to let go of intriguing research topics that may not be directly related to the objectives of the company.
Lack of Training in Business and Soft Skills: Academic credentials such as a PhD or post-doctoral experience are rewarding, but they are not the only factor in determining one’s success in industry. Soft skills like adaptability, communication, and teamwork are comparably significant. Additionally, it is essential to acquire new abilities in areas like project management, marketing, and regulatory affairs that may not have been emphasized in academia. If adequate training regarding the business and soft skills is provided to the academic researchers, a lot of successful business ideas/ start-ups can be germinated, eventually will grow to revolutionize industries.
Lack of Experience Working in Highly Collaborative Settings: One might need to collaborate with people in business development, regulatory departments, computational science, biologists, customers, etc., depending on the size, structure, and objectives of your company. A significant number of these individuals will have totally different degrees of technical and scientific knowledge. The industry career advancement demands learning effective communication with people of different background.
To conclude, making a transition from academia to industry can be challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding.
The NIT Delhi’s website has an intuitive and elaborative interface about research projects. What are the institute’s future plans to galvanize its other research projects and motivate students for research?
NIT Delhi, though less than twodecade old Institute and represents the younger generation of NITs, has been able to garner the generous research funding of over Rs.10 crore so far. The institute has some other plans like:
Sponsored Research Policy: The Institute recently drafted and implemented its policy for the Sponsored research projects, which aims to provide the research-oriented environment with ample support from the Institute in terms of well-equipped laboratory, trained force, interns to a faculty to not only attract, but to successfully execute a sponsored project. Only in a year, the institute can attract a handsome grant of over 3 crore from various scientific organizations as grant for sponsored research projects.
Consultancy Projects: The Institute has recently drafted and implemented the policy for the consultancy projects. Through the said policy, the Institute can provide incentive to the faculty executing the consultancy projects. This has brought an instrumental change in the institute, and I would like to mention herewith, that the civil engineering department of the Institute has been proved focal in attracting impressive grant of about Rs 1 crore from the industries within a year.
Institute Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program: An Institute faculty who has been able to draw a funding of more than Rs 30 lakhs shall be eligible to get a post-doctoral fellow to boost his research and leverage the same to other heights. This way, the faculty shall not only be able to mentor the Post-Doctoral Fellow, but at the same time, can jointly plan, prepare, garner funding and execute newer research projects in his/her domain with the Post-Doctoral Fellow.
Opportunities for Sponsored Post-Doctoral Fellows from CSIR/ SERB/ INSPIRE etc.: The Institute is striving for extending support to the INSPIRE/CSIR/ SERB/ Project based etc. supported Post-Doctoral Fellows through active invite and proving the conducive environment for producing extensive research-based outcome in form of research publications, IPR, products, etc. The sponsored post-doctoral fellows are provided institutional support in terms of laboratory, supervision to the M.Tech./PhD scholars as well as BTech students/ Summer Interns.
Support to the Start-ups: The Institute has implemented policy for start-ups policy to provide a conducive environment for incubation of the start-ups by the Institute faculty/ students so that the startups can be granted space, laboratory usage, interns etc. for their further growth into full grown industries.
Galvanizing the students for Research & Developments: The Institute is striving to galvanize the students to excel in research and development-related activities such as publications, IPR, products, copyrights etc. Special emphasis is given for higher grades to the B.Tech. and M.Tech. dissertations in case a student has produced research outcome as a part of the same.
Internship for B.Tech., M.Tech. and PhD students: The Institute has provisioned for the Internship for the B.Tech., M.Tech. and PhD students at the Institute for duration of 3 months to 12 months for better exposure to the industrial practices, research and development practices as well as business and soft skills to the students for improving their contributions to the organizations serving after completion of the course enrolled.
The Institute is going to further revamp its website in a more interactive manner to showcase the significant research outcome over the same for wider publicity as well as dissemination.
You headed IKGPTU, Jalandhar (a tier-2 city) for three years and now you’re the director of a technical institute in a metropolitan city. In tier-2 cities, what are the key areas for institutions’ authorities to pay attention so that students don’t leave the city for study?
One of the foundations of any civilized society is a robust educational system. As the director of a technical institute, I have observed that the education sector is plagued by numerous infrastructure gaps. The case is particularly terrible in tier-2 cities, where students are generally underserved by the inaccessibility of essential educational resources. The pitfalls are:
Lack of quality education: In India, there are over 35,000 colleges that offer degrees. Apart from IITs and NITs, these institutes lack quality teachers, and fail to produce brilliant students. Therefore, to enhance quality education, these institutes can collaborate with subject experts from IITs, NITs, and industry for delivering lectures on weekends or any weekday after working hours.
Lack of innovation and research: A big majority of tier-2 institutes lack the research laboratories, and hardly encourage inquisitiveness. So, these institutes must provide research facilities like IITs/NITs, and should encourage entrepreneurs.
Lack of effective utilization of government funds: According to the required growth of the country and our huge population, we really need big budgetary allocation for research in higher education. And, tier-2 and tier-3 cities institutions hardly get the research fund from the allocated budget.
Thus, attentiveness towards aforementioned areas can lead to the uniformity in quality of education across the nation.