Forty years of teaching has made Professor Madhusudan Chakraborty, director, IIT-Bhubaneswar, realise that only a teacher can uncover the subject, stimulate thinking and excite students to probe and innovate through research. Chakraborty, a BTech (Hons) in metallurgical engineering (1971), completed his MTech in 1973 and PhD in 1978 from IIT-Kharagpur. He was a professor of metallurgical and materials engineering at IIT-Kharagpur before being assigned the challenging work of setting up an IIT in Bhubaneswar in 2009. Four years later, Chakraborty is content as the institute’s first batch of BTech students get ready to graduate, even though planning of epic proportions lay ahead. Excerpts from an interview...
How tough was it to set up a new IIT that would be at par with existing ones?
When I was assigned this job I never knew what lay ahead and the first batch was already attending classes at IIT-Kharagpur. I was the one to shift the first-batch students, all of 94 who had completed the first year and 100 more who were enrolled for the second batch. There were no classrooms, furniture, labs or any infrastructure. I had two months to put things in place. It was a herculean task but I had the support of many including the Odisha Government. Initially I had to manage with faculty from various institutes. But in a year or two we had a good team of teachers with academic excellence. Moreover, my stint as deputy director, Dean of Alumni Affairs and International Affairs in IIT-Kharagpur fetched me many academic friends who helped me develop new methodologies of teaching, devising curriculum, bringing up different schools of education and many other academic and non-academic issues.
The campus is scattered all around. When are you going to have a campus of your own?
Yes, we have to make do with eight campuses spread all over the city and travel is a major issue but we have sufficient buses to cater to everyone’s needs. Construction work at Argul, 20 km from Bhubaneswar, is on full swing. However, costs have escalated from the time funds were sanctioned. The `332 crore estimate has gone up to `1,000 crore now.
Where do you see IIT-Bhubaneswar today?
We have made ourselves visible to the rest of the world. From our first batch, 93 students have been absorbed into the industry and one has joined IIT-Gandhinagar as a professor. We are attracting the best faculty. Our faculty members have earned laurels for their research papers. We have signed MoUs with many foreign universities like Stanford, Illinois, Cornell, Massachusetts, North Texas and Ohio. At present we have 590 students and 72 research scholars under the supervision of 70 faculty members. In 10 to 12 years, this IIT will have a name for itself and the growth will be much faster than the rest of the new IITs.
What are your plans for the institute?
There are many but to say in a nutshell, I aim to provide an interdisciplinary approach to the courses here which will also benefit the state for which we need to have a borderless academic atmosphere. We have already got some schools where we have integrated courses from two or three disciplines. The School of Earth, Ocean and Climate Sciences has been set up to provide education and research in earth system sciences. This would be guided by an integrated systemic view of earth-ocean-atmospheric interaction processes. Though rich in natural resources, Odisha is also prone to natural calamities like flood, drought, tropical storms and cyclones. The region also faces massive problems of pollution due to large mining operations and coal combustion, costal erosions, mangrove depletions etc. Even though these appear as local and regional problems, they have far reaching global implications. It is the school’s aim to create well-trained, educated and competent human resource to address various issues like protection of water and air, development of renewable energy, hydrocarbons, disaster prediction and many more. The school shall offer both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes besides doctoral research avenues.
What is the difference between the present education system and yesteryear’s?
When we were students, learning was what the teacher taught us from textbooks and their research. But now the teacher and student learn jointly. It is through mutual experimentation and research that new innovations evolve and make learning more fruitful because textbook knowledge is now available online. To be honest, I have learnt a lot from my students. These days students should be treated as co-workers or junior engineers and scientists.
How do you relax and unwind after a day’s work?
My students are the source of my encouragement. Despite facing problems, they give me strength. I read a lot of books particularly science fictions and books by Stephen Hawking, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. I also listen to classical songs from movies of ’60s and ’70s and Rabindra Sangeet as well.