Interview by Bhawna Rawat


Dr. Surinder Jaswal is currently working as the Deputy Director (Research) at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. She holds a doctorate degree in Public Health from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London and an M.A. degree in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Her research interests focus on Social Work Education, Public Health, Public Mental Health, Disaster studies and Social Science Research.

Reasons why the Education industry is the best industry to work in

Education is not an industry, but a sector that has its own mission and vision. Here, we interface with students, young and exploratory minds, who bring in curiosity, enthusiasm, and energy. We get a chance to learn and draw on their energy and to explore, create and innovate knowledge in areas related to people and society. Education has to be relevant. At TISS, teachers look for opportunities to help young minds to discover themselves and to excel in their areas of interest. It gives satisfaction to contribute to society with young students through research and action.

Leadership means having a passion for contributing to the society by fostering social change

Leadership is an ongoing process of leading by engaging in critical thinking, fostering social change, having a passion for contributing to society through knowledge production and by creating human power and local change, rooted in the local but thinking global. 

I have observed and learnt from the stalwarts who have led this institute. Each had unique qualities, which helped to anchor the institute and its vision. Prof. Gore, Prof. Desai, Prof. Parasuraman, Prof. Mathew, Prof. Apte, Prof Hebsur and Prof Chitnis are some of the educators and leaders who demonstrated the passion and intellectual depth and humility for both contributing to knowledge building as well as social change.

Every Institute needs to factor the needs of the country in which it is located

Needs of every country are different. Institutions echo the local reality and needs. An institute needs to factor the needs and respond accordingly. TISS is comparable with the best universities in Social Work and Social Sciences in the world. My education, both at TISS and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, have prepared me to find necessary resources and to be confident in leading people and responding to changing contextual realities and needs. TISS believes in bringing change in students by learning, reflecting, and engaging with people. It creates future leaders and doers who can bring change based on the local realities and needs. The TISS model, with enhanced access to resources, such as better infrastructure for students and faculty as well as improved can convert capacities into opportunities, which will make it one of the best universities in the world.

Internships and fellowships through the campus mould students into leaders and thinkers

The institute create thinkers and doers whose preparation starts in the class, then the field and then the internship programmes. We have internship programmes that place students with various government and non-government agencies, public and private sector organisations and social movements. We have fellowships for students to explore new arenas of interest and work. Students collaborate and work with leaders in their respective fields, where they learn, reflect, and engage. Growth is enhanced during the stay at TISS in various dimensions, which prepares students not only for the market but also to be leaders in their respective field. After completing Ph. D., they move into various research organisations and academia where they contribute leaders and thinkers.

Factors making the Tata Institute of Social Sciences different from others

Teaching and engaging here is labour intensive. Faculty puts in the effort to recognise the potential of students and push the envelope, thereby encourageing students to understand their range of capabilities, generate ideas, do things differently, and engage in critical thinking. We train students to be both leaders and doers in their respective fields.

We make sure that with our continuous efforts the students from diverse cultures get along

Diversity is our strength. Students come from every corner of the country and from other countries too. We continuously learn from each other in the classroom, in research, in fieldwork, and in the field action projects (FAPs). It helps to keep us grounded in the real world. On the other hand, it is challenging too. Teachers and supervisors need to be alert, observant and responsive. There are different support structures such as the Equal opportunities cell, SC, ST cell and Women development cell that work towards ensuring sensitisation and awareness amongst all members of the TISS community regarding diversity and gender orientations.

There are class representatives who discuss academic and personal concerns of the students, and student mentors who mentor them through individual and group conferences. Counselling centre and Health centre on the campus help students in their day-to-day concerns and enhances their overall functioning. Several committees ensure the effective implementation of the policies and programmes of the GoI, UGC and State Governments with regard to backward castes, classes and differently abled. An on-going effort is also made to create and enhance scholarships and fellowships to provide financial security to the students coming from less privileged backgrounds.

Our curriculum establishes linkage between students and industry

The institute invites young thinkers, change makers, and resource persons who bring in new ideas and practices to enhance education, research and practice. Workshops and seminars help in the cross-fertilization of ideas that not only impart knowledge but provide opportunities to engage on emerging debates, methods, practices in their respective fields as well as in different disciplines. The institute actively works towards establishing linkages between students, industry, and the government through research, field practice and documentation to work towards social change.

Establishing a relationship with the students being the Deputy Director

The institute has its own organisational structure for the M.A. and M.Phil./Ph. D. students and scholars. There are different schools and independent centres and off campuses which are headed by their respective Deputy Directors/Deans/ Chairpersons. School secretariats in each school/ off campus, facilitate the organisation of classes, seminars and workshops for students and listen to the students' requirements and concerns. The curriculum is shaped to deepen their journey at TISS. In case of M. Phil./Ph.D. scholars, the Doctoral Students Office (DSO) at Mumbai in consultation with each of the off-campus DSO’s provides administrative support to research scholars in Mumbai and the off campuses in Hyderabad, Tuljapur, and Guwahati. The institute has an open door policy to encourage and facilitate communication and dialogue with scholars. In addition, there are written evaluations at the end of every semester.

Plans and goals framed for the Institute for the next few years

A university has great potential to shape people and society and it can be done through education, research, and engagement.
  • To deepen the existing academic and research programmes. To deepen academic programmes, consolidate the master programmes- today, we have 53+ relevant and cutting-edge master programmes. Making them more relevant is an on-going process - based on current social, economic, political, and cultural scenario or realities.
  • To enhance research by making the existing 18 M. Phil./Ph. D. programmes more rigorous, adding new contemporary programmes in research methodology, enhancing choice in basic and advanced research method courses, moving towards networking with other Indian and foreign universities by jointly offering programmes/ courses in Research, to prepare new age researchers address challenging interdisciplinary research. Change the format of the doctoral thesis to a manuscript which documents/ collates papers published in peer-reviewed indexed journals to help in the wider dissemination of knowledge through publication of the scholars’ research as well as enforce minimum research standards.
  • Enhance publications by initiating a TISS University Press, to encourage and support publication of both faculty and student research as well as practice based knowledge from field action projects and incubation centres to disseminate local knowledge.

Suggestions for the current youth and the aspiring students

Be confident in your unique capacities- and deepen your understanding by questioning, exploring, reflecting, discussing and being open.

Engage with the world around you and enjoy your journey as students as it is your opportunity to explore freely and grow- it is the best period of your life.

Have the courage to inculcate your beliefs and follow your dreams. All that you do inside and outside the class will help you grow both personally and professionally. And lastly, never compromise on rigour in whatever you do.