A word with the Director, Prof. V. Ramgopal Rao
The institute underwent a major change this year, when Prof. V. Ramgopal Rao took over the post of the director here at IIT Delhi from the interim director Prof. K. Thyagarajan. We all have heard from him on some dedicated topics on particular events, but we bring you an elaborate interview with the new director. Some of our journalists and a technical editor had the opportunity to talk to him on a fateful afternoon. While his answers to our questions follow, there is one aspect about him that we all adored: he is extremely polite and soft-spoken. Although he is one of the most celebrated professors in the country, his words never sound haughty or egotistical.
However, it’s not his nature alone that would define how he manages the institute; his policies are much more important. In this interview, we talk about his experience so far at IIT Delhi and his policies for shaping the future of the same.
How would you compare the atmosphere at IIT Bombay with your first impression of life at IIT Delhi?
There are positives and negatives at both the places. I have actually seen many positive aspects of IIT Delhi. As Director I have had a chance to meet with many students at the Director’s dinner and interacted with a lot students. At the hostel valedictory functions, I was happy to see students exchanging gifts with the hostel workers and treating them with respect. I have had so many dinner invitations since I joined IIT Delhi, I hardly needed to eat at home. There is a vibrant social life on the campus. As far as the physical infrastructure is concerned, IIT Delhi is definitely lagging behind IIT Bombay. We need to construct more hostels and upgrade our sports and other facilities here. It is indeed going to be my focus this year.
How do you envision the academic environment at the institute a few years down the line?
I would like to see more interdisciplinary activities, a much higher level of research collaborations between the faculty and departments, a much better faculty-student ratio, and I would also like to see IITD research directly benefiting the society. Departments cannot work in silos and our research needs to be intimately connected to the societal problems. I would like to see IIT Delhi in the #1 spot in the country and way ahead of any other institution. IIT Delhi has certain inherent strengths and a strong tradition of teaching and research excellence. We need to build on these. You will see many new measures on all fronts and a more vibrant academic atmosphere on the campus, in the very near future.
What are your plans regarding the upcoming research park?
IITs need to play a vital role in product innovation in the country. We need to make high technologies affordable to the common man. One of our core efforts at IITD needs to be to use technology as a vehicle to improve the quality of life. However, everyone expects academic institutions to develop products and industries to do cutting edge research. These are not the inherent strengths of these organizations. A close collaboration between academia and industry is the key. Through the science and technology parks on the campus, we hope to bridge this gap between the aforementioned towers and use our partnerships with the industry to develop products for the society and make our research relevant to the society.
What is your take on the dwindling interests of many students in academics?
I never understood why there is a dwindling interest in academics. This is all a result of misinformation and because of a lack of awareness. A good career in academics will open up many more avenues for the students. A specialized domain knowledge leading to a Ph.D. will not close any options, rather it helps open up many more opportunities. Many problems facing the society often require a deeper understanding of the technology in order to solve it. With a B.Tech, MBA kind of degrees, it is easier to create an E-commerce company, but you will not gain the deeper insights required for a technology startup. With a Ph.D., one can come up with innovative technology based solution for the problems faced by the society and can still pursue entrepreneurship as an option. Technologies create wealth, and innovation is not just about creating an App. Boosting agricultural productivity in the country through precision farming, solving the security issues faced at the airports, solving the healthcare issues using point of care diagnostic devices or solving the environmental issues, all of them require higher academic degrees. It is a pity that students take the option which looks easier at a given point of time, and tend to be short sighted. A good academic degree with a good CPI must be the goal of any student. Never neglect academics, learn as much as you can, and keep an open mind. You do not know what is in store for you. Always aim high in life. Life will be boring otherwise.
How do you plan to encourage students to find and pursue their passion instead of simply pursuing a job with a high pay?
This is all a result short sighted attitude and a lack of awareness among students. A good teacher needs to inspire them to aim high. We need to also create role models for students. Networking with successful alumni is indeed one of the ways we can achieve this. One of my priorities is ‘alumni connect’. IITD has not done well with respect to establishing linkages with alumni. This is something we are changing. We must have our successful alumni talk to the students on a regular basis. You should see this happening soon.
How would you recommend students to manage their time?
Always remember, life is short. Before you even realize, it is all over. Make use of your time in the best possible way. Make use of the opportunities a place like IIT offers, but your focus needs to be learning. Real happiness is when you do what you are supposed to be doing. At all other times, we only pretend to be happy. Use your time responsibly.
Interviewed by Nayantara Mudur, Niitesh Chaudhary, Aditi Jha, Aman Singal.