Prof. B. Srinivasa Murty
Director, IIT Hyderabad.
“Your profession should be like a romance with your girlfriend, rather than a mundane activity.”
“Prof. B. Srinivasa Murty – Director, IIT Hyderabad. Prof. Murty started his journey with a Diploma in Metallurgy from Govt. Polytechnic College – Vijayawada. He obtained his Ph.D. from IISc Bangalore and went on to serve as a Professor at IIT Kharagpur for 12 years and later in 2004 joined IIT Madras. He is an adjunct professor at Ryerson University – Canada since 2011, and also an Associate faculty of the School of Engineering, University of British Columbia, Canada since 2016. He is a recipient of numerous awards and accolades which includes the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in 2007 and many more.
Prof. Murty, can you share your journey from then a young student of Metallurgy to a Director at IIT? What were your key turnarounds in your life so far?
Of course, a Long Journey! It started in 1979. After completing my formal schooling, my father who used to work for PWD back then thought I should be taking up Civil Engineering instead of anything else. Those days Civil Engineering was an in-thing. However, to secure a seat, there was a cut-off of 245 out of 300 for Maths, English, and Science. I could not secure that cutoff. That’s when many of our well-wishers, mentioned about Vizag Steel Plant which was emerging, and advised why don’t I look for Metallurgy as an option and you will have a lot of opportunities. That’s how I took up Metallurgy. Thanks to great teachers, starting from Diploma until my Ph.D., I started enjoying my journey. A major breakthrough was when I was moving from Diploma to B.Tech, I secured 2nd rank at the state level and was unsure of what’s next! I was offered a job opportunity as a Supervisor with Rs. 400/month. I thought, after all this, was this my destiny? But destiny had other plans for me. That’s when one of my Uncles sent an advertisement of REC – Nagpur, now VNIT Nagpur where it was allowing laterals to join the B.Tech Program. That’s where my journey had begun.
What is the most fascinating thing about modern-day engineers? And how different is the outlook of today's engineers from the engineers who studied at IIT some 10 or 20 years back during your days as a student?
The most fascinating thing about the present generation is the 'confidence level' that they possess. Students these days give responses so confidently that people actually believe that to be a correct answer, in spite of that being incorrect. That’s because of the availability of information. Information these days is available in abundance, back in those days the access to information was very limited. As an academician, even today, whenever I go to address a class, I refer to 5 to 6 books so that no question gets unanswered. The best way to remember and correct your understanding is to teach someone. One more observation is that the current generation is more inclined towards earning money than pursuing a subject based on interest. Many students these days choose subjects not based on interest but based on the market value. One thing I can say, whatever you do enjoy it thoroughly and give the best, everything else with follow.
Your views on online/virtual mode of education? Now the new normal is virtual study and work, how do you think that the students would benefit from this virtual study? Or is it hampering their growth?
Online education has two sides – the reach is beyond borders and goes to a large no. of students. An example is NPTEL – where the lectures are recorded and shared via YouTube -Subject wise. I get messages from students from different parts of the world stating they have had a deeper understanding through these courses. Renowned faculties from well-known universities can come online and teach students without any hassle of travel and other complications, which is a great boon for students. At the same time, there are few issues which online education lacks –
1. Getting inspired by the teacher, as there is no personal interaction, effects a lot.
2. Engineering and Medicine are such streams that require students to have hands-on experience.
These streams are not confined only to books. They go beyond and need a practical approach to it. Even if there is an online education, there needs to be more frequent face-to-face interactions. Education is more of an experiential learning, where face-to-face interactions are always necessary to learn, nurture, and grow.
Your thoughts on the newly implemented education policy; is it going to benefit the student in comparison with global standards?
IMMENSELY BENEFICIAL! In the forthcoming days, the level of changes it could bring in within a student is phenomenal. Great minds have been at work to bring up this policy. A methodology of continuous evaluation rather than just one exam deciding the future of the students. It also talks about cross & interdisciplinary learning. Once it has been implemented, Indian educational standards would surpass the global standards. One perspective that I would like to mention here, is the teaching preferences in the rural areas should be increased, by increasing the Dearness Allowance (DA) for teachers working in rural areas. Generally, what happens is good teachers do not wish to take up a teaching opportunity in rural areas as the Dearness allowance in these areas is very less. If given an opportunity to discuss with the decision-makers of the country, I would suggest to come up with a solution of introducing village compensation allowance and providing them the best of the facilities in there, this would encourage teachers to move to rural areas and transform students there. By doing so, it would strengthen the teacher’s community in rural areas and would encourage teachers from cities and metros to provide good & quality education across rural areas too.
Academic career or Corporate career? What should students pick up?
(Laughs…) It all depends on what one wants to pursue! Each person is different, and one should pursue what one’s heart says. The only difference I can mention here is, in corporates, you are required to achieve a target which is assigned to you. However, in the academic world, one has to set one’s own target. Academicians have the freedom to set their own targets giving them the leverage to excel in their field of research and interest. I always mention this line in my lectures that "there is no price tag for freedom"; academics comes with that freedom! Both Academics and Corporates go hand-in-hand, if there are no corporates how would the production, manufacturing, and services grow. If you look at developed countries like the US, China, Japan, Germany, they got developed through excellence in manufacturing. Gradually India will also be one amongst these countries with a strong focus on manufacturing. Thanks to our honorable PM and their team who are trying to make India resilient & a superpower. ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ – is one such initiative where there is a lot of emphasis on indigenization and making things locally rather than depending on imports. What’s more important is to generate corporates, who can make this dream of our country a reality. It's only academics that can generate a great technician, a skilled engineer, or for that matter, any professional. One needs to make a wise decision and should not be in the wrong place where one is not at his best. Contentment is important in life.
As a Professor what are you sensing to be the biggest future hurdle for your students?
(A long pause…) The main hurdle is the ‘lack of interest’ in what one has got or one is doing.
You have influenced so many students over the years, who was the most influential person in your life?
(Smiles…) Quite a number of people. Starting from my Mother there are so many. If I have to mention one in particular from my professional life, one of my faculty members Prof. Rama Rao during my B.Tech days. One of the reasons for me to pick up my current profession is because of this professor. I remember a profound statement which he used to say “I am not here to cover the syllabus; I am here to uncover a part of it so that you discover the rest of it”. It has changed my life to a larger extent. In fact, I dedicated my Ph.D. thesis to this professor. I am one of the many lives that this professor has changed.
Some interesting stories from your teaching experience.
What is important as an academician/teacher, is to care for every student. One such instance was when I was teaching at IIT Kharagpur, there was one student who mentioned that I teach very fast and he was unable to grasp. I requested for his notes, to my surprise this boy was writing his notes in Bengali, so he was basically trying to translate everything that was mentioned in the class from English to Bengali, and by the time he translates and writes he must have missed few sentences what I must have said as it takes some time to translate and write. That was because he was not familiar with English. From the next day until 3 months, every day I used to spend two hours with him at my home teaching him English. After 3 months, I was able to nurture and transform him. That gave me a lot of satisfaction and even today I remember. As a teacher, these experiences will always be cherished.
Apart from teaching and academics what are your other interests?
I try to pursue the toughest question in life – “To know who you are”. To find an answer to this question, I go within myself by practicing meditation and I also teach how to meditate to a few students. By following oneself within, one can find tranquility and peace. This gives me much more satisfaction than any of these awards or any of the professional recognition.
As our readers are millennials and Gen Z, can you provide some success tips to our readers?
One advice - Just follow your heart. That’s exactly what I did. I always say that “your profession should be like a romance with your girlfriend”. This is important. If you have found that profession where you can have that romance, nothing else matters. Pursue a profession with such passion. Enjoy your profession & Enjoy your life through that profession.
Can you share one important life lesson which you feel our readers can learn from you?
One has to have a habit of “never giving up”. This is a mantra that I have been following. There are multiple instances where I have failed. Like, as an Academician, we write projects, there are so many of my projects which were not successful and were not published, but I have never given up & it’s important that one should believe in oneself. Every one of us is capable of doing miracles, provided we believe in ourselves and pursue sincerely & with a lot of determination. If we start following that I have to succeed at any cost, pulling the other person & peers down, I would say even “Cancer is also a kind of growth”. But the question remains do we want such growth? It's not just the growth, but it’s an inclusive growth that truly matters. The values & ethics that one follows is the most important.
Students all over are facing extreme pressure and uncertainty due to this COVID Pandemic. What will be your message to them?
Simple advice – Long ago, I read a book with the title “Tough time never lasts, but tough people do”. This phase that we all are going through is a passing phase. I understand and acknowledge that this is a difficult phase and there are difficulties, but what’s more important is WE are much bigger than any of these difficulties that we have been facing.
By Uday Kanth.