Instigating a Research Revolution
Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s largest organisation of computing professionals, recently started the ACM India Council and one of the torch bearers was Dr.Venkatesh Raman. A professor at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, he is also the elected Vice President of the ACM India Council. ACM’s numero uno aim is to help more and more students get exposed to the sea of opportunities in mathematical and computational research. Some of their events include the IRISS (Inter Research Institute Student Seminar), which is a platform for students to showcase their published work to an audience comprising of researchers and scholars with a position of influence, and the very famous ACM India Summer Schools, conducted by experienced faculty from top colleges of the nation and industry.
An extremely humble person, we had the pleasure of interacting with Dr.Raman last year on his views on the future of research. Here are the excerpts of our conversation.
As the Vice President of ACM India, what steps have been taken to promote research?
Have been the Vice President only for 6 months now, but I have been a council member for almost a year. ACM does a lot of activities to promote research, for example, there is a distinguished Doctoral Dissertation Award given annually for the best thesis in the country. Getting one isn’t easy for there is a nomination process and a group of qualified jury to select the best thesis in the country. There is also the IRIS (Inter Research Institute Seminar series), also an annual event, where PhD students present their work to peers. The event used to be for a day, but now it has been extended to two. It is a great platform for the student to present their thesis, for students from various institutes and faculty members will be present. These were the forums for PhD students, but the main question is, how do we even get students to come to research? We started the summer schools two years back to this very purpose. They are targeted for bright undergrad and masters students to expose them to advanced topics and also tell them about some interesting research happenings in the country. We feel that undergrad students, mostly don’t have much idea about what research is, what sort of careers are in research and what kind of research happens in the country. These summer schools, happen all over the country. In fact, there was one in PSG Tech last year on ‘Graph Algorithms’. So, this is another of our ever-expanding activity.
Speaking in terms of research, how is India faring compared to other countries?
One main issue faced in India is the numbers. The volume of people doing reasonably serious research is relatively small compared to the size of the country. But in terms of quality, it is quite discrete. Some areas, we are doing really well and on par with the rest of the world and in some others, well, we are getting there. But given the population of youth in our country, I would say that the numbers are quite small. The community of active researchers is quite small compared to the rest of the world. There are a lot of universities and institutes where something in the name of research keeps taking place. A few of them are good, and the others, you can’t quite measure how good they are.
Do you think these levels of disparity are because of people being more job-oriented in general?
This happens all over the country and I wouldn’t blame the people for this. In India, there is a general variety of colleges and institutes unlike in countries like the US or in Europe, where they follow a unified university set up. Here, we’ve got the IITs, NITs, IIITs, and various other colleges. The difference in quality is vast. Because of this, there is a lack of awareness among students. In the western world, if you wanted to find what research was happening, you could just go to a university and find out. But here, the major bulk of research doesn’t happen in universities, but only in these specialised institutes. The IIITs, for instance, specialise in only IT and Electrical Engineering whereas the IITs have a whole variety of departments and there are other institutes having even more variety. Although many students end up in companies, there are also some who are really interested in higher studies and research. We are not targeting, motivating and inspiring them enough. To do just that, we have the summer schools.
Please give us your views on how PSG Tech is faring in research.
PSG has a very old tradition of being very academic oriented and so attracts good students. The MSc integrated programs, in particular, are very well run. There is a strong focus on quality, there is absolute sincerity in the way they do things, the student-faculty bond is a good. I do not know about the research being done here, but I do know that there is a strong research culture here.
Could you suggest some steps to be followed by aspiring research candidates?
Firstly, do your courses well. The most important thing is to ask questions and I know for a fact that PSG encourages that! Go beyond your courses. Problem solving is another important thing. Try a lot of problems, get into the habit of enjoying the problems and solving them. That would trigger the curiosity in you. The why’s, when’s and how’s are really important while solving any new problem. And thanks to internet, you are not limited to just the teacher’s notes. The Sky’s the limit! Also, it is not enough to just ask questions, you must also pursue them.
Any last thoughts that you would like to share with our readers from your experience?
Being in PSG, you guys are quite lucky to be an environment that is really student oriented. It is one of the best in terms of culture. Complaints about the student quality, the teacher quality is universal. It is there in the IITs also. But what is important is the academic culture, the focus on quality, focus on what’s important. These things are present here at PSG and it’s up to you to make the best out of it. In terms of research, I wouldn’t say that everyone should do it. Find your passion and excel at it. Be ambitious and pursue your goals!
Team Bridge would like to express its gratitude to Dr.Venkatesh Raman for having agreed to the interview and spending his valuable time for the benefit our readers.