Interview by Bhawna Rawat
Dr. Atul Thakur is currently working as a Professor and Director at Amity University, Gurugram. A Postdoctorate from France and Taiwan, Dr. Thakur is an alumnus of Himachal Pradesh University Shimla. Research is his passion and his fields of interest for research are Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. With his vast international exposure as a Visiting Scientist and as a post-doctorate researcher, has more than seventeen years of research and teaching experience in the field of nanotechnology and materials science.
Dr. Thakur has published over hundred research papers in international journals of repute; he has been a resource person in various national and international conferences. Earlier, he has worked as a Professor at Shoolini University, Himachal Pradesh for 6 years and established Himalayan Center of Nanotechnology.
Things which led to my decision of choosing academics as my career
Well, all my education is from Himachal Pradesh University Shimla, and then for M.Phil. and Ph.D. collaborated with IIT-Delhi. My first research article on nanotechnology was published in a famous International Journal of Elsevier: Ceramics International in 2002. This publication got attention and I was interviewed in The Tribune and many other daily newspapers and Radio Channel. I was not aware of the impact of my research at that time. Things came in the way, and I kept on exploring.
After Ph. D., I got selected for a European Union project in France for two years and got a chance to work in world-class laboratories for materials synthesis and characterization. There I worked with Prof. Patrick Queffelec and Prof Jean Luc Mattei. This was the biggest exposure and international experience that added to my research career. From France, I travelled many countries for research related work like USA, UK, Italy, Switzerland etc. Thereafter, again I got selected to work in one of the Top One Hundred universities of the world, National Taiwan University, Taiwan. I got a chance to perform research with one of the leading scientists in spintronic, Prof Jen Hwa Hsu. Work culture in Taiwan is very focused, industry-oriented and channelized. After international research exposure in France and then Taiwan, I felt a need to build an ecosystem of innovative research in India.
Therefore, I decided to come back and work on building educational as well as research programs in India. Amity University Haryana is a research and innovation-driven university. Here, a lot of emphases is given to research projects influencing societal benefits. Students are motivated to undertake research projects at the very beginning of their undergraduate courses. Study Abroad Programme of Amity University is also a booster to provide international exposure to the students. In this programme, students get a chance to study at a foreign university.
Managing the responsibilities of both Director and Professor at the same time
I enjoy both the responsibilities equally. Academics and administration go hand-in-hand. Both are complementary to each other. While my engagement with the students keeps me afresh with the latest research and gives me enthusiasm; my administrative duties as the Director of Centre of Nanotechnology helps me to shape the program in the best possible way to help the students.
For being a successful administrator, one should have a good teamwork, sharing responsibilities and motivating younger faculties/ researchers. An administrator needs to be persuasive as he has to influence and motivate his employees to follow his vision. Leading people does not mean trying to control them, rather it means gaining their trust through your integrity. So, to be trustworthy, persuasive and credible at the same time is quite challenging in itself. Both the professions require patience, dedication, passion, and ability to do more. One who is committed to the profession can manage both.
The most challenging phase of my career was to set up a new nanotechnology research center
Adjustment, in the beginning, to start a new nanotechnology research center, making a group of like-minded researchers has been the most challenging phase. Setting milestones, achieving objectives and targeting new goals is a continuous process in a researcher’s life. One has to update the knowledge every day. A lot of new research, inventions and discoveries are taking place all around the globe. If you are not updated you are outdated.
Once you have a good team, things become easier. The work is divided and the progress is multiplied.
Never give up in life, keep working and struggling, the success will naturally come. It can be delayed but not denied.
Importance of the research in the field of Nanoscience and nanotechnology
Nanoscience and nanotechnology are science fields which are growing extremely dynamically.
Nanotechnology promises significant improvements in advanced materials and manufacturing techniques, which are critical for the future competitiveness of national industries. Nanotechnology is creating a wealth of new materials and manufacturing possibilities, which in turn will profoundly impact our economy, our environment, and our society. Using nanotechnology, researchers and manufacturers can fabricate materials literally molecule-by-molecule.
My different areas of research include Microwave applications, High k materials, Antenna miniaturization, Radar absorbing materials, high-density memory storage devices, Sensor applications, Metamaterials, High-frequency applications, Water purification, and Agriculture applications.
I have worked on projects funded by the different government agencies such as the Department of Science and Technology, Department of Atomic Energy, DRDO, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. Recently, received an international grant from the Royal Academy of Engineering, UK. Research is my passion.
Major differences between Indian universities and the Western-world universities
The major difference between our universities and the western ones relates to both the concept of teaching and defining the research problems. In India, teaching and research are seen as two separate activities. Here, for example, engineering students spend about 80 % of their time in classrooms and 20 % in practical labs. After getting a degree, students have to struggle for jobs. In international universities, it is a reverse process. The focus is more on practical based learning.
Students are exposed to a real-time situation in the western-world universities, attached with industries and that is how they learn the things and become problem solvers.
Most of the students get jobs in the same company. Research is seen as an inquiry to solve problems as well as to induct the young into a community of inquiries.
Recognition of talent, promotion of innovation, better utilization of available resources has been the driving force for developed countries.
We need to foster these skills in our society to build a good scientific ecosystem. Blending real-world problem-solving skills into your curriculum is need of the hour. Have your students write out solutions to the problem and discuss their ideas as a class or in small groups.
The linkage between Academia and Industry is the need of the hour
It is an important issue. There is a lot of gap in industry and academia. Both are not open to each other. In foreign universities, it is mandatory for industries to spend a part of their profit on research. Whatever problems are faced by industries are the projects for students and research problems for a scientist. That is how the profit is made on a win-win situation. Industries get the solution to their problem or update their products and scientists know about the real-time problem, and come up with the solution.
I believe the overall goal of any student is to build a career of his/her dream. Students after getting graduation degree are either underpaid or unemployed. The numbers of skilled unemployed are increasing day by day which is resulting in frustrations among the new graduates. Equipping students with industry-ready skills are essential not only to meet the aspirations of students but also to foster the culture of innovation in the country. The curriculum for the individual course should be designed by a perfect blend of inputs from renowned academicians and industry experts for each university. This will bridge the gap between the industry and institutions and will enable the students to become industry ready. This will also reduce the time, effort and resources spent on the students in industries before they will take up the real projects.
There are immense possibilities of linkages between industry and academia in several areas including placements, curriculum redesign, teacher re-orientation, affiliated science and technology parks, joint research, and taking the outcome of research to the market. Recently in India also skill India, digital India, make in India programs are the initiatives in the same directions. Employment at international level is also a key focus area.
Suggestions for the students to improve their skills and achieve success in life
Along with hard work, time management is the key to gain skills of the future. A lot of exposure through the internet is available these days. Students can increase their understanding by seeing how the material connects with their life. Students should set their own reading goals. This can help them take action in building reading skills and students will be more mindful of how they are improving.
Students have to do multiple things so the time management is very crucial to achieve the set targets and goals.
Learning is a continuous and lifelong process. No matter what your age is, you must be learning throughout your life. Another important factor is yoga. It is very helpful for improving the concentration. You will not be distracted and learn the things very quickly. Try to begin your day with yoga exercise. Your life will be changed.