Know your Prof: In conversation with Prof. V.M. Gadre

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Starting off today, we kick off our new series, Know Your Prof, where we talk to various professors on campus to learn a little bit about their take on life in IIT Bombay​.

Our first interview is with Prof. V.M. Gadre from the Electrical Engineering Department. He joined the institute in 1994 and has been since a familiar face to many students on campus. Apart from being a popular teacher, he has also been the professor-in-charge of several initiatives and bodies, most recently the Institute Student Mentor Program (ISMP).

Watch on as he talks about how the campus has evolved over the years, life on both sides of the classroom and his advice to incoming batches.

When was it that you decided to become a prof?

I was always inclined towards academia. When I was doing my B.Tech I had a feeling that being a prof would give me the most satisfaction and would make me happy.

The best thing about your experience?

Being surrounded by talented and bright students like you. It is a pleasure to be supervise research projects…to have a wonderful community of student and colleagues where one can be creative and also contribute to the society.

It is a pleasure to be supervise research projects…to have a wonderful community of student and colleagues where one can be creative and also contribute to the society.

What prominent changes have you seen the campus go through during your stay?

Large number of new programs and academic units have come up. The campus has become busier than before. When I joined the campus there was much more open area now activities have increased very much and hence busy. One’s life has become more cluttered. Previously there was less time pressure. There was lots of open space around, where there are buildings now.

How do you think the life of a student at the campus compares to your own days as a UG student?

Students are much more stressed now due to several manifolds of competition these days. Students start preparing for JEE exam so early on. I wonder if I would even get into IIT if I gave the JEE now. Students in a way get exhausted while getting in and then, they have to compete with the very best. And with the level of competition today, the very best are really very competent. As a result. the mental peace and well-being of students gets affected. I sympathize with the current generation. Previously, life was calmer. It is much more difficult now.

Students start preparing for JEE exam so early on. I wonder if I would even get into IIT if I gave the JEE now.

Having been ISMP coordinator, what do you think have been ISMP’s successes?

Mentors act as a friend guide. I used to wish that I had one in my UG days. I think, during our early days at least we need a role-model and because they are students as well, mentors come off as people who young freshers can talk to. The feeling of having an identity in the whole system is also imparted. The personal side of students is given importance which is not looked into by the system.

What do you think, is a professor’s role as a mentor to students?

IITs and NITs have a co-habitation system which makes both the communities feel near to each other. The student community benefits, having the “older, and therefore wiser” professors in the campus. We also benefit from the energy and enthusiasm of the young students living in our proximity. I do believe it is very important that as professors be open to interacting with the students. Otherwise, the purpose of co-inhabiting the campus is not really fulfilled.

Being at both sides of the classroom, how is life different?

As a professor, I believe, it is very important that one remembers one’s student life. I try to recount my UG days often, and keep in mind, what it feels like to sit there in one those benches. I have spent more time being a teacher and continuously warn myself to not become inconsiderate and insensitive. But I also believe that there are some aspects as to which, the two perspectives must be different. This is important so that we do not make the same mistakes that we made in our days as students.

What is a general day in your life like?

It definitely depends on what day it is… I mean, if I have a lecture that day, it’s just the same things… getting up and running through the personal routine… some yoga or exercise in
the morning. The rest of the day is just about trying to fit in all the work, as a teacher, as a research-supervisor, and as an administrator together so that at the end of the day, something of value comes together. As I had said, life is more about managing time and finding time to do everything.

What is your vision for IITs as an institution?

I hope that IITs become a place, where the student and professor community can truly collaborate in innovation. I hope that we move from excelling in individual fields to excelling as a whole.

If you were to give one piece of advice to a fresher, who just got into the IIT-system, what would it be?

Collaborate when you are to excel as a whole, and compete when you’re supposed to excel as individuals.

Collaborate when you are to excel as a whole, and compete when you’re supposed to excel as individuals.

What are your hobbies?

I like to read… like to read a lot. Not just about research, but also a lot of philosophy. Sometimes, I feel like I don’t get enough time to read. I also like to read about mathematics, in general, recreational mathematics or about some concept. I was also an active writer in my colege days. I do miss creative writing. (On being asked which language he wrote in) I wrote in English and Hindi mostly… I spent my childhood outside Maharashtra, so I was never formally educated in Marathi. English and Hindi came more naturally to me. Of course, I know Marathi, but for the most, and I do use it, but I wrote in English and Hindi.

I also like to take long walks in the institute whenever I find the time. So yeah, that too. A better question would be, when am I free?

How would you explain your current research to a 17 year old, fresh out of school?

It is about, using mathematical analysis to process signals.

Any books that you read recently that you’d recommend?

There was a very interesting book… one that I’d actually recommend, “The laws of the spirit world”. I wouldn’t like to reveal about the content. I found it intriguing. Among other books, “Mars on ice and Venus on fire”, by John Gray was also quite intersting. It goes into the differences between the ways ladies and gentlemen react to situations. I believe as genders, we both have our own strengths and limitations, and that’s explored in a very amusing way in the book. I believe both genders, though equal have certain differences in which they react to certain situations and I found that interesting.

Any movies that you saw that had a lasting impact on you?

Well, I am criticised for it a lot by my family, but I rarely watch any movies. Either it has to be recommended to me very highly or, I must be really free. But there have been a handful of movie that have had an impact on me. I think yeah… back in my school days, in one of those Sunday movies at my house, I saw “Gandhi”. That had a significant impact on me. Well, in recent times, I saw the movie “3 idiots” and found that quite amusing. Even though I do not agree with the premise entirely, I did find it interesting. Besides, there is a Marathi movie that I saw recently, called “Kaakan”. That had an impact on me. Of course, that too, my wife had to make me sit down and watch the movie. We saw it together. It was about a poor fisherman, who is deeply fond of a girl in his village. But then the girl moves away to another place, and they don’t see each other for a long time, except for one final meeting. That was, emotional and touching as well.

Is there any incident you’d like to share from your UG days that you hold very dear to you?

I wouldn’t describe it in too much detail, but there is one incident where I had made a mistake in not following a procedure in the correct manner due to which I had to face a penalty which would have been unpleasant. It could have deprived me of an opportunity. For making that mistake my classmates chided me, but also stood by me and said that they would make sure together that I don’t lose out on the opportunity by casting their choices in a favourable way. I was very touched at that moment and realized the warmth in relationships in a batch. It was an unintended mistake, but that could have cost me. At that moment I realised that there is a “heart” in the batch, even amidst all the competition. On the whole, most people want the whole batch to do well, rather than just doing well for themselves.