An erudite of chemical engineering, Dr. A.B. Soni, director at National Institute of Technology, Raipur, shared some feasible solutions with Tanay Kumar on how female participation can increase in engineering & technical study.
Right from graduation to PhD, your education has been in chemical engineering. We would like to know the motivation behind choosing this stream.
My parents were engaged in the teaching profession throughout their lives. My father was a school principal and my mother worked as a headmistress of government schools. Since my childhood, I found them rewarded by many organizations because of their sincerity and quality teaching. And so, teaching became my passion also. I completed my graduation, post-graduation and PhD in chemical engineering. In my opinion, a teacher should be an expert in his/her area. Further, during my graduation, only three to four female students were in engineering, studying either electrical or chemical. I opted to be a chemical engineer because of my interest for analytical, design and control aspects of chemical industries.
Thus, motivation can be either: your family, your likes to work in this field or your choices to go for teaching or industry in chemical engineering. So, one can find your motivation in chemical engineering based on above aspects.
Wastewater treatment, biofuels, and solid fuels have been your area of interests. Please tell us about the potential of these branches for female students in the future.
A lot of waste, both in solid and liquid form is generated and there is utmost need for treatment of these wastes for which effort is needed both on research level as well as largescale so that a sustainable solution is obtained for the treatment of these wastes. In the fuel sector, alternative fuels have been the need for the hour. A few female candidates are in this stream, though it is definite that research does not bifurcate between a male or a female candidate and hence both find equal suitability in this area.
On an industrial level there is equal potential of female candidates in terms of testing, R&D and control room modelling and simulation activities. Waste generation collection, analysis, procedural treatment strategy and ultimately the scale-up can be done equally well by a female candidate. Hence it’s the matter of more of interest of a student (male or female) and not any lapse of not permitting a female candidature in these areas of work.
Applied geology, metallurgical and materials engineering, mining engineering are some very unconventional courses that NIT Raipur has introduced as a separate graduation course. In your views, how can Indian academia attract students in vocational branches, e.g. these aforementioned ones?
The vocational courses have been focused highly by the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 to impart specific industrial skills to the students so that their expertise in the specific area of the industries is utilized. The unconventional courses like applied geology, metallurgical and material engineering, mining engineering, have curriculum developed in such a way that they may not need to be going for Master’s and PhDs since their curriculum itself is preparing them to be masters and doctorates in these special areas. Many industries have job options for these specific vocational courses as they are specialized to these areas only.
So, a student whose focus is to work in those specific areas can go for these courses to be knowledgeable in the stream. Similar courses are prevalent in various higher education institutes like aeronautical engineering, biomedical engineering, paper and pulp etc., which are meant to attract students to get their expertise in the specific areas so that their candidature for those streams could become strong during interviews and selection procedures.
NIT Raipur has signed many MoUs with different organizations, e.g. with Taylor Made Renewable Limited or National Institute of Hydrology in Roorkee. What are some of the achievements these MOUs have brought about?
Many research projects both on Master’s and Doctorate levels have been on product development, design and technology transfers/innovations pertaining to the MoUs signed by NIT Raipur. Some testing and consultancy is also going on between the organizations with which NIT Raipur had signed the MoUs. NIT Raipur is also providing solutions to the problems raised by the experts besides students and faculty members are motivated to extend their contribution to the solution of these problems through various mini projects.
Through the exchange programs in institutes, students and faculty members are having opportunities to work in the organization with which MoUs are signed. NIT Raipur and its MoU-allies have been conducting a few training/short-term courses also. The organizations are also assisting in providing training to the students of NIT Raipur.
It is a delight to see a woman being the head of a technical institute, but often, a large number of females are not in the engineering and technical field, even today. What reasons do you see behind it?
There is a misconception in the minds of female candidates about their suitability in the field of engineering and technology sector. However, this gap has been diminishing in the last few decades. Earlier, there were no female candidates in the mechanical engineering stream, but today, there are 20-40% female candidates in these engineering professions. Even in research areas more female candidates are now seen in interviews, owing to the research potential of female candidates.
By your experience, what must all of us as a society do so that more girls opt for technical and engineering courses?
- Make female candidates aware of the potential of engineering and technology and their role in engineering education.
- Have a reservation for female candidates in the engineering education sector.
- Financial support to female candidate
- Reducing the partiality among genders, both in terms of safety, potential and working culture (hours) in the engineering profession.
- All female candidates should be provided in house campus accommodation, so that their safety aspects are taken at top priority
- Placements to offer reservation for female candidates for on campus interviews
What things should students keep in mind if they choose chemical engineering as a formal education and their career?
The mindset of a student shall have to be clear before choosing chemical engineering as a career. If the liking of a student is in the field of computation sector specially gaming, programming, coding etc., his choice should definitely be computer science or IT.
However, if the mindset is for society and environment, may it be computation; there are a wide range of areas where a student with a mindset of computer science, can see his role in chemical engineering. Chemical engineering itself has a wide aura of applications and potential that a student of any field in any time of life could see his role in the field of chemical engineering and hence contribute to the profession.