Interview by Yash Panchal
Brig Abhay A Bhat is currently the Director of AIT. He is an alumnus of National Defence Academy (NDA). He has done his B.Tech. in Electronics and Telecommunications from Military College of Telecommunications Engineering (MCTE). He has graduated from the prestigious Defense Services Staff College, Wellington, where Army officers are trained in the nuances of staff function of various operations. Due to his professional caliber, he was sponsored by the Army to attain M.Tech in Computer Science and Engineering from IIT, Kanpur. He has also acquired a Master's degree in Personnel Management from Pune University.
Brig Bhat has served in counterinsurgency areas of Assam and J&K. He commanded an Armoured Division Signal Regiment during op PARAKRAM and has served on the staff of MS Branch, (which is responsible for career management of officers) of the Integrated HQ of MoD. He was also involved in implementing IT projects for developing Information Technology Infrastructure in remote areas of North East. Brig Abhay A Bhat has been awarded the Chief of Army Staff Commendation Card in 2011, for outstanding work in the field of Signal Intelligence in support of the operations in J & K.
Brig. Bhat’s journey from National Defence Academy to being the director of Army Institute of Technology
I joined NDA in January 1979, after my 11th standard at a tender age of 16. After a grueling military training of 3 years in NDA and 1 year at IMA, I was commissioned in Corps of Signals, a Corps known for its selfless service and technical competence. Though, before joining NDA, I was not physically strong, neither anyone from my family had ever joined the Armed force, the training at NDA and IMA made me physically and more importantly mentally very strong and determined to serve the country with total commitment. During my 34 years of service, I served in various corners of the country and held different appointments, giving me invaluable experience in a variety of fields.
Being in the Corps of Signals, I did B.Tech. from our own Military College of Telecommunications Engineering, and the Army also gave me the opportunity to do M.Tech. from IIT Kanpur. Apart from other interesting tenures, my two tenures at MCTE gave me the necessary experience and insight into academics and managing Engineering courses. I retired as a Brigadier early as I was selected for this appointment of Director AIT. My entire carrier in the Army has taught me many lessons; about leadership, team spirit, passion in your work, the importance of maintaining life balance, treating your colleagues and subordinates as a family, dealing with adversities with courage and dignity, etc.
A Unique Situational leadership style
I cannot classify my leadership style into a particular category. It is more of a situational leadership. I am normally democratic during the process of decision making, encouraging debate, dissent, and discussion. Once a decision is taken, I do not get into unwanted deliberations which can cause delays in execution.
I believe in leading with passion, commitment, taking along every team member and ensure that every member contributes to his or her maximum capability
I believe in allowing each team member adequate space and liberty, while at the same time I am very sensitive to casual, lethargic and “status quo-ist” attitude. I like to experiment with new ideas and expect my team also to continuously adapt to changing times. Above all, I always like to keep the long-term interest of the main stakeholder, that is the “student”.
Impact of serving in counter-insurgency areas of Assam and J&K, and commanding an Armoured Division Signal Regiment during operation PARAKRAM
All these tenures had their own challenges. When I served in Assam and NE, I always wondered as to why the country is not able to integrate such talented, innocent people in the mainstream. During OP PARAKRAM, I was commanding a unit in a formation about to be launched in for an offensive action. The mental, psychological, technical and physical preparation of the regiment, its men and even the families was my responsibility and that really tested my leadership and managerial skills. One thing I learned and followed: to be assured for success in operations, you must prepare and train hard during peacetime.
Views on the Project-Based Learning and whether it can be integrated with the mainstream education system in India
I strongly believe in Practical project-based learning for Engineering students.
In the Army system of education, such learning has nearly 70% weightage. It is my experience and conviction that without real-time practical exposure, engineering education cannot be complete. Unfortunately, University affiliated system cannot cater for this requirement, and Industry has a very little contribution in curriculum design and delivery. AIT is presently affiliated to SPPU and we are bound by the curriculum of the University. We are seeking to get autonomy soon, essentially to have freedom and flexibility to align with the requirements of Industry and new advancements. Till then, we are taking many initiatives, even beyond the curriculum to ensure project-based and experiential learning. Some of these are as follows:
- We have set-up a robust system of collecting and analyzing the industry requirements with the feedback of senior technical and HR personalities as well as our alumni. With a constant support of leading industries in every domain, we have chalked out a number of interactive sessions to make them aware about industry expectations. With the help of industry-sponsored labs, hands-on workshops and methodical orientation from First Year, AIT has produced a very bright engineering talent.
- Practical learning can be enhanced with strong mentorship by industry. For e.g., Dassault Systemes has established a Product Innovation Centre at AIT. With the help of the tools and hardware in this lab, students are exposed to new challenges in the areas like Robotics, 3D printing, and Embedded Systems. Specific modules and workshops at the Departmental level are planned in new industry 4.0 technologies such as AI, Machine learning and IoT. AIT students are encouraged and guided to take part in all India innovation contests, hackathons, robocons, etc. AIT has been winning many national level prizes in these events. SAE India, BAJA, John Deere Techno-Champ, Barclays Innovation, 3DPLM Aakruti, NSE Hackathon are our success stories in recent past.
- Summer & winter internships and sponsored projects are very carefully selected and closely monitored. These are the keys to practical knowledge. 70% of AIT BE and ME projects are sponsored. Well-experienced faculty gives valuable guidance to every project group. I personally take reviews of all final year projects and interact with the students. We also arrange regular visits from industry and domain experts who also spark new ideas in the students. The institute has budgeted funding for the students’ projects at every department level to encourage innovation.
Impeccable placement opportunities at Army Institute of Technology
Placement record of AIT is impeccable. In the last few years, we have been able to place over 90% of our students through campus placement. Our TPO and placement cell work overtime to get the best companies and prepare the students for placements. The average CTC of our students last year was Rs. 6 Lakh and some of the students were placed in a very high pay bracket. Microsoft took four of our students last year, probably one of the highest numbers outside IITs, IIITs and Govt. Engineering colleges. While CTC is important, we also select companies and guide our students to go for those which will give them a professional head start in the long run.
Brig. Bhat on his experience of being the commander at MCTE from 2011 to 2014
Of course, the experience at MCTE was very enriching. I was responsible for each activity of engineering education and associated military training. I was involved in curriculum design at Degree, Diploma, PG and specialized short-term course level. As the course was specially designed for field requirements of the Army, the training was fully realistic and experiential as the officers trained hard to immediately apply their knowledge in operational situations. I also had a good exposure on administrative aspects of a training institute at MCTE, in my earlier tenure, which prepared me for my current job.
Plans to expand the PG course of M.Tech
AIT had launched its first PG program i.e. ME in Machine design, a mechanical engineering specialty in 2016. A PG program provides for maturity and better research focus to an institution. The ME program is not yet popular and may take a year or two more. Going forward, we would also like to expand the ME program in other streams such as E&TC and Computer Engineering. But before that, we would like to attain academic autonomy, so that we can design modern, progressive industry-specific courses.
Views on an ideal school environment
I am reminded of a humorous quote of Mark Twain. He writes “I have never let Schools interfere with my education”. A telling comment about schooling which is being generally followed today. An ideal school environment is where there is enough opportunity for a student to learn freely, learn what he likes, in the best manner which suits his/her temperament. Actually, learning has to be a very personalized experience.
A child has many fold more leaning abilities and desire to learn than an adult and has no fear or apprehension
But many schools end up curbing his/her natural learning instincts. In AIT, we try to encourage students to participate in various technical competitions, hackathons, robo-cons etc. and also encourage them to take up online self-learning lessons. It is very important for students to “learn to learn”.
Top qualities that an aspiring engineer must possess and how AIT is helping its students to become budding Entrepreneurs
An engineer is the one who provides solutions to the problems faced by society. Top qualities required would be as follows:
- Problem-solving abilities
- Curiosity and observant nature
- Hands-on approach
- Out of the box thinking
- Passion and commitment to your professio n
- Positive attitude
- Entrepreneurial spirit
AIT has established an innovation center recently, to allow students to tinker and work on projects in collaboration with alumni and enthusiastic industry experts. A large segment of AIT alumni is established entrepreneurs, who visit their alma mater regularly to inspire and guide the students. Actually taking a cue, some students have launched startups while doing the engineering course itself. I still feel that we at AIT can do much more to build this spirit and unleash the creative energies of the students.
Goals in mind for AIT for the next few years
We have an approved roadmap for the next few years. This includes attainment of academic autonomy, expanding horizontally by increasing intake at UG level. Starting new programs such as Civil and electrical engineering. We will plan to launch PG programs in E&TC and computer subjects. But trends keep changing and we may have to do some course corrections. One important goal for us is to reach top 50 in NIRF national rankings.
Suggestions for the current youth
For the students and the youth, I would only say that follow your passion to the hilt and do something for the society. Today’s youth is extremely energetic, confident and impatient. All they need is a little focus and discipline.