Interview with Bandana Singha and Yeshwanth Reddy

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Chief Editors: Anubhav Mangal, Suman Rao
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InsIghT is swollen with joy to announce its advance into the Post Graduate spectrum of affairs with the advent of InsIghT’s very own Post graduate council, a first ever attempt to integrate the news generated on the PG side of things to InsIghT. We officially begin with an interview of the outgoing and newly elected General Secretaries of the Post Graduate Academic Affairs, Bandana Singha and Yeshwant Reddy. We present to you a sneak peek into the past tenure and also a glimpse into what lies ahead for the post graduate fraternity.

Four years have passed since the inception of the Post Graduate council and although significant achievements have been recorded, we reckon that there is still is a massive amount of work and restructuring to be done. Apart from the GSec-AA who heads the teams, the PG Council also consists of the Institute Masters Representative(IMR) ,Institute Doctors Representative(IDR), Executive Council members and departmental AURAA(Academic Unit Representative of Academic Affairs)members. The PG council is at the apex in the handling of all PG issues on campus. InsIghT talks to Bandana and Yeshwanth about the has been, the is, and the what is yet to come.

Yeshwanth Reddy, the current GSAA-Pg alongside Bandana Singha, the former GSAA-Pg

Yeshwanth Reddy, the current GSAA-Pg alongside Bandana Singha, the former GSAA-Pg

Insight: Could you apprise us of how the Post Graduate Council came into being and how it evolved over the years? How do you both foresee the PG council playing a dominant role in the master’s and doctoral academia?

Bandana: Even before the Post Graduate Council was formed, there existed the Research Scholar Forum (RSF) which looked into issues that the Post Graduate students faced. An independently governed student body, the RSF had no firm representation at the institute level with regards to policy framing & grievance-redressal. Following the pattern prevalent among the Undergraduates, a council for the Post Graduates had been fashioned in 2009 to spearhead the ever increasing masters and doctoral student population at IIT Bombay. Now in its fifth year, the council has come a long way in terms of implementing meaningful initiatives (Student Companion Programme, Alumni Database, Enhancement of Central facilities etc.) and has also pushed for PG participation /membership in all institute related events & activities.

Yeshwant: Every PG student is high on expectations before he/she sets foot on campus and the same was with me. Given their not-so-vibrant participation in various events on campus, my vision and goal is to create an environment that will enable Postgraduate students to equally contribute to the brand name of IIT Bombay and to be stakeholders and partners, just like our fellow UG’s.

Insight: Bandana, what have been your noteworthy accomplishments? Also where do you think your team and you missed the mark?

Bandana: My team and I had successfully implemented a host of initiatives both for the doctoral and masters students uniformly. Of them, the provision to award the PhD degree twice in a year, increase in travel grants for overseas conferences, increase in the Housing Rental allowance for married research scholars and the enhancement of central facilities were quite significant for the doctoral students.
The Institute Student Companion Program is by and large the most successful scheme and under this program various supportive initiatives like the Study Group, Research Promotion Program, Buddy Talks, Resourceful Orientations, workshops on IPR issues and entrepreneurship etc took flight.
As per the 210th Senate meeting, the additional learning scheme and course tagging system was introduced for Postgraduates and a plagiarism checker has been made available to students doing their project/research work. During the fag end of my term, I finalized the schedules for the Research Scholar Confluence & Industry Academia meet- a three day event where research, academia and industry collide. I had also revived the PG R&D magazine – Pulse that was latent and commissioned a team of doctoral students to bring in articles for the same which will be launched very soon.
On the other hand, certain consequential initiatives had been proposed but owing to official and logistical hurdles, I could not see them blossom in my tenure. I had conceptualized the Inter IIT Research Summit and submitted a proposal after consultations with the PG representatives from other IIT’s. We also proposed the initiation of PG-TECH on the lines of PG CULT & PG SPORTS. Proposals were also submitted for the NSO, rewards and recognition for the Best TA & outstanding PhD.

Insight: Yeshwant, what according to you are some of the challenges that the Post Graduates face and how do you plan to tackle them?

Yeshwant: The master’s and doctoral students at IIT Bombay are no doubt the best minds of the country cut out for research. However, there are certain issues that they grapple with. To begin with, due to the non-uniformity in various undergraduate curricula across the country, most master’s students mostly land here with insufficient software applicative knowledge, for example most of them won’t be able to confidently run a code in MATLAB or perform a simulation in ABAQUS etc. Therefore, to bring them onto common ground, I intend to initiate the Bridge Course for various software packages. These will be run and taught by senior and experienced PhD students in the institute.
Another crucial aspect is the lack of communication and presentation skills. This has to be addressed right from the day they step onto campus and should not be deferred until placement period.

Insight: Postgraduate students are usually under immense stress and pressure. The heat really gets turned on at the confluence of the MTP 1st stage presentation and placement period. Even PhD students are known to suffer in silence if they don’t achieve results after the 4th year. What measures can be taken to reinforce confidence in themselves?

Bandana: I totally agree that the stress levels can shoot up through the roof at times and succumbing to this pressure some break down and quit midway. To address this issue, I had intensified the Institute Student Companion Program and introduced a host of workshops and help sessions for the freshers. I also fostered an ambience where the juniors could seek the advice and help of their seniors anytime before making crucial choices. We also introduced the Companion program for the PhD students for the first time during my tenure. Most PhD students need motivation and advice during times when a lot of efforts are put in but results are not achieved and when at the end of four years they still do not have a single publication under their belt.

Yeshwant: I am of the view that a professional counseling centre should be set up in the institute, like the one’s in IIT Kharagpur & St.Xavier’s,Mumbai. We are already in talks with the Institute Alumni and have zeroed in on a professional psychotherapy expert.
Counseling as such is definitely considered as a social stigma in our country. Therefore this will be a scheme to encourage, mentor and motivate students who are experiencing high stress and distress and not portray it as professional psychological treatment. Needless to say that this setup will have no strings attached to the institute/management and confidentiality will be maintained. This proposal is in the pipeline and should be implemented early next month.

Insight: Bandana,PhD degrees are now being awarded twice annually. Why did you come up with this initiative?

Bandana: In the case of doctoral students, they can submit their thesis at any point of time and after successfully defending it, he/she can be referred to as a Doctor of Phil. The setback that arises is, that, for further career moves like a Postdoctoral Fellowship etc. original certificates of the doctoral degree are required. In order to simplify this, the senate has approved the certification of doctoral degrees twice a year, once in February and the other in August.

Insight: Yeshwant, what is the essence of a bi-annual progress seminar after the fourth year of PhD?

Yeshwant: The average duration of study for the doctoral student is about five years, the first year meant for coursework completion and the second year for problem-definition. It is only in the third, fourth year that the student in point of fact begins to dedicatedly research on his/her topic. In the final year, the PhD student typically spends most of the time in compiling information and writing a thesis. In view of the above mentioned scenario, it would benefit the student greatly if a bi-annual progress seminar is held to assess and evaluate the student’s progress. Biannual seminars help the student stay focused, provide a swifter path for detecting any anomalies & deviations and accelerates the entire process

Insight: So why not hold the Bi-annual progress seminar after the third year itself?

Bandana: This was proposed and discussed extensively but was later shelved because, having a bi-annual progress seminar would put a lot of pressure on the academic office and faculty members. Hopefully, this term, it should be approved to be held after the fourth year.

Insight: The initiative of PG Internships was a strategic point on the manifestos of most of the General Secretaries. But as of now, no such initiative has been officially implemented. What went wrong? Is there a solution to this in the offing?

Bandana: Well, the PG Internship initiative was proposed by my predecessor Surender Pal and I followed suit. There have been a number discussions and negotiations with the management but unfortunately it was rejected on the grounds that Master’s students barely spend 24 months on campus and to permit them to further take two months off their course duration does not actually serve the true purpose of a PG degree. Further, Dean AP mentioned that our institute is well equipped with research capabilities and the PG students should focus on utilizing them and thus solidify IITB’s commitment to research.

Insight: Yeshwant, do you see this as a stalemate? You still think you can tweak with the parameters and work something out?

Yeshwant: The concept of PG internships is not ruled out completely. There are number of cases where M.Tech students have gone on a two month internship with approval from their respective project guides.

Bandana: Reiterating what Yeshwant said, PG Internships are possible if and only if the student has the approval and permission of the faculty Advisor/Project Guide. Therefore such a subjective trend cannot be made a policy at the institute level since the mind-set of various departments varies. If something has to be done, it should be implemented at the department level under the supervision of the HOD & Faculty members.

Yeshwant: My plan is to formulate a mechanism, where, through a liaison with the placement cell, an information-dissemination portal will be established and department specific ‘Core Internship’ opportunities will be floated here. All said and done, the student must seek the approval of the guide in order to go for the internship.

Insight: The Housing Rental Allowance (HRA) came as a breather for married research scholars. Could you tell us more about it?

Bandana: I had several meetings with the married research scholars who were facing financial problems due to the non- availability of married accommodation on campus. I acted on this immediately and requests were made to the DD FEA to provide HRA for them. It was promptly approved and all Research Scholars staying outside the campus now avail an allowance amounting to 30% of their fellowship amount.

Insight: However, the allowance provided doesn’t really compensate for the expenditure involved in residing out of IIT Bombay. Yeshwant, what could be done to alleviate this situation?

Yeshwant: I agree that it is the shortcoming on part of the Institute for not accommodating married research scholars. But, the maximum permissible allowance granted by the MHRD ministry as per Govt norms is 30 % of the fellowship amount and there are no two ways about it.
However, we could push for an increase in the stipend allotted and if this is approved, it will invariably translate into an increase in the number of students pursuing a PhD and this will further guarantee the nation’s progress in research and development. We intend to consult with the student bodies of the other IIT’s, conduct surveys, prepare a report and submit it to the Ministry of Human Resource. An increase in the fellowship amount at least for the Doctoral students if not for the masters students is definitely the need of the hour. I am not quite certain about when this move will come into action but we are definitely going to push hard.