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Professor Vikram Singh

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Department of Chemical Engineering

“Don’t let anyone impose anything on you. Try to explore what IIT offers you. Follow what interests you because work would constitute a major chunk of your life. And make the best use of your time at IIT because this will be the most cherished time of your life.”

 

On his journey to teaching at IIT Delhi:
After finishing my undergraduate here, I went to the US for my Masters and PhD. It was during the time of my BTech Project that I realized that the environment in a Research Lab was what I was really comfortable with. That is when I realized that I wished to pursue further studies. After I finished my PhD I worked in an Oil and Gas company in the US. The work environment there was encouraging and stress-free but taking up a career in teaching had always been at the back of my mind. But I wasn’t sure about it. The job just provided me the required push.

On his decision to dedicate entire life to Chemical Engineering:
I didn’t really know what Chemical Engineering was until I actually came here and started studying it. Just like most of the students, my JEE rank decided my branch. Besides I wanted to stay in Delhi. So these factors influenced my decision to take up Chemical Engineering at IIT Delhi. However, at the end of the first year I had the chance of a department change and as far as I remember I could have perhaps opted for any branch of my choice. I had already done the course in Transport Phenomenon with Professor SK Gupta as it was taught in the second semester then and I found the subject extremely intriguing and insightful. I was a Dual-Degree student when I came here and switched to the BTech program. I was sure that Chemical Engineering was the thing for me. With time we were taught many more subjects like Fluid mechanics, Heat Transfer, Mass Transfer and I started loving these subjects. And I am sure that if students take up these courses with the right spirit they’ll find these subjects extremely interesting.

Life as a Professor:

I enjoy every time I go for a lecture although it can be very demanding sometimes, particularly teaching the students in the first and second year. As a student I never realized this but professors have to spend as many as 15 hours sometimes to prepare for a single one hour lecture. I myself have spent long hours preparing for the lectures in the past and even now sometimes. And that is why I love this component of my job. Every time I take a lecture I see an opportunity to improve, and more often than not do I find more novel methods of solving the same problem. When you think about teaching any topic to others you find out there are loopholes and eliminating them can be very challenging but exciting at the same time. The research part is a bit more challenging, but IIT provides a very good platform and atmosphere to carry out research activities. And discussion with peers and students can get very informative and encouraging.

On Student-Teacher Interaction and how it has changed over the years:

When I was myself a student here, the class strength was comparatively low. There was a much better one on one interaction between students and teachers which has unfortunately decreased now. I myself feel guilty sometimes due to my inability to remember the names of students. I tried a lot but have almost given up on it. I think we should also try to include more time for student-teacher interaction. I can recall when I was in my high school, and had started preparing for JEE I had started missing some classes in school. So my Physics Professor Mr. Anil Kumar inquired as to why I had been missing my classes. I told him that I was preparing for JEE and sometimes stood back at home to solve problems. He told me that that was pretty much the last year of my life when my teachers were going to remember me by my name and that after school I would be just another roll number. Fortunately in my case that wasn’t the case. But this statement is applicable to a large chunk of students. Now the only good opportunity where we get to interact with the students on a personal level is during their BTech Projects.

His life at Cornell and the common misconception about PhD:

I remember when I was a student here I probably would have gone to SDA only 4-5 times in my entire time of 4 years. On the other hand, I was much more independent and a much better social life at Cornell. This may surprise many because generally students tend to interpret PhD as an extremely gruesome and tough program.  Most of the students think that every now and then they would have to mug up for exams-this exam-centric approach. On the contrary, in a PhD, you end up defining the set of problems you want to solve and the day-to-day things you want to do in a lot of courses. You don’t have any commitments, any boss over you to instruct you to do things you may not wish to. You do get a PhD adviser, but in time you end up making a very good relation with them, so you ultimately get to do what you want. You are not answerable to anyone, get paid enough to have a decent life, have a good social life and a lot less stress because you have no exams. A lot of time we associate PhD with a lot of stress, but it is not true. I am sure that many more students would opt for a PhD if they are made aware of the atmosphere they’ll be getting. In a PhD Program you get to select what you want to do depending on your interests. You can follow your interests and work upon them. 

Hobbies outside the classroom:

I enjoyed playing cricket in my student life here. I am an avid follower of Sports. I loved flying kites as a kid. I used to play squash during my days at Cornell. I am smitten by the art of theatre as well.  I love to follow T.V. series like West Wing, Seinfeld whenever I get the time.

-Interviewed by Kiran Jain