Interview by Sakshi Aggarwal
Dr. Vladimir Kulish is an established academician with a focused interest in ThermoMolecular Physics, Applied Mathematics, and Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Kulish has a Dr. Sc. in Physics and Mathematics from the Russian Academy of Sciences, a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, Texas), and M. A. in German Language and Literature from the Goethe Institute (Luxembourg).
Before Avantika, Professor Kulish was associated with the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) as a regular faculty member for over 17 years. An ardent academician and researcher, Dr. Kulish's primary research interests are in the area of mathematical modeling of energy-informational transport processes, including transport phenomena in biological systems.
Professor Kulish has been instrumental in developing a mathematical method (nowadays known as the method of Kulish). It allows solving complex problems in the areas of energy transport processes (e.g., ultra-fast heat transfer, start-up flows in nano-channels) and signal processing (e.g., biological signals such as electroencephalograms, electrocardiograms, and forecasting the behavior of multifractal time series).
A celebrated author of six books and more than hundred publications in professional journals and peer-reviewed conference proceedings, Dr. Kulish is a holder of several prestigious awards for his scientific achievements. Currently, Dr. Kulish is Distinguished Professor and Vice-Chancellor of Avantika University.
Dr. Vladimir Kulish’s experience in the education industry
1966, the year I was born, belongs to the epoch when sciences and engineering were in high esteem in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Born again as a phoenix from the ashes of the World War II, the country dreamed of a prosperous future, in which every citizen would be rewarded in accord with his or her contribution to society. In order to realize that future, scientists and engineers were needed. All studies in Physics, Mathematics, other natural sciences, and engineering were encouraged and well-rewarded. The exploration of space with sputniks and orbital stations was on the move… I was born into a family with a long academic tradition. Both of my parents were university professors. My parental grand-father and grand-grand-father were university professors, too. The academician Vitaly Ginzburg, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2003, was our distant relative on the paternal line.
My early childhood memories are a kaleidoscope of scenes from academic life. Now and then, I recall my Mother coming home between her morning and afternoon classes, to warm up lunch for me. When I was six years of age, my Father, grading students’ scripts at the desk in his studio, entrusted me with writing final grades on front pages of each script, for which purpose a red-colored pencil was given to me. Probably, the first book, which I opened on my own, was a handbook on higher mathematics found on my Father’s desk. I remember it very well, how mesmerized I was looking through its old yellow pages covered by the mysterious symbols, graphs, and diagrams. Our home was often visited by scientists, inventors, and teachers of all kinds. It happened quite often that my father brought me to his university, where I attended his lectures. Of course, at that time, I barely understood what he was saying, but the atmosphere of academy was there. Such was the environment, in which I grew up.
In fact, I had virtually no choice but to become an academician. Believe it or not, but I conducted my first class still being in the last grade of high school. Our astronomy teacher noticed that my knowledge of the subject in some topics exceeds her own and she offered me to conduct a class to my classmates. It was my first success in delivering a lecture. At the same time, I realized how great I enjoy teaching. Since then I always have that feeling with me – the sheer joy of teaching. Being a student of Moscow Power Engineering University, I was, at the same time, a teaching assistant at the Department of Thermal and Molecular Physics, where my task was to tutor junior students. At that time, I well realized that teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin – in order to be able to explain something in such a way that students understand it very well, one has to possess a very deep 1 knowledge of the subject, and for that, one has to learn continuously. Since then, teaching for me is nothing else, but a life-long learning. Upon getting my Master in Engineering in 1989, I was offered to work towards my Doctor of Science degree in Physics and Mathematics at the Russian Academy of Sciences. While there, I was appointed as a mentor to talented university students, who were thought all over the country and brought to the Academy of Sciences for advanced training. Later on, some international students, for instance, from the Delft University in Holland, joined our training center, too.
By the time I got my D. Sc., the USSR was in the state of falling apart. The demand for scientists and engineers practically reduced to null. As many others during the turbulent epoch of perestroika, I tried myself in business but soon realized that I had to restore my academic life. For that purpose, I left Russia to join Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. There I spent three years working towards my Ph. D. degree in Mechanical Engineering and, at the same time, being a teaching assistant for two courses – physics and heat transfer. Upon completing my Ph. D. in 1999, I was invited to become an Assistant Professor with the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. In January 2001, after less than fifteen months since joining NTU, I was promoted to Associate Professor, based on the excellence of my teaching and research performance. By 2007, I got a tenured faculty position at NTU – a privilege bestowed upon less than 25 percent of regular faculty members. While in NTU, I developed and introduced into the curriculum a number of courses; among them: Advanced Engineering Mathematics, Heat Transfer, Engineering Methods for Bio-Medical Engineering, Life Support Engineering, Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer for Designers, History of Great Inventions, and some others. Over the period of time between 2003 and 2014, I wrote seven books, four of which are now used as textbooks internationally. In September 2016, one good Indian friend and colleague of mine showed me an advertisement by Avantika University. In these advertisements, it was said that Avantika was to become the first design-centered university in India and to pursue a novel academic model, based on design thinking and project-based learning. After reading this, I immediately saw a great opportunity for me. I decided that taking part in building such a new university should become the culmination of my academic career. I applied and, by December 2016, was offered a position of Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering. I joined Avantika on June 1, 2017, and, since then, function as its First Vice Chancellor.
Dr. Vladimir Kulish’s philosophy of leadership and his leadership style
In general, I broadly divide leaders into two categories. To the first one belongs those leaders, who attempt to control everybody and everything on their own. The second category of leaders is those, who delegate tasks to trusted professionals so that an organization functions in the most efficient manner and interference becomes necessary only when something unusual or extraordinary happens. I make every effort to be a leader of the second kind.
In addition, I strongly believe that a true leader should show a personal example to those whom he leads. If one demands a high-quality performance from his colleagues, he himself should be an example of a high-quality delivery. I think this is the best way to become a true highly esteemed leader. A person, who blames others for poor performance, unable to deliver the same himself, does not qualify to be a true leader.
Significant challenges faced by Dr. Vladimir Kulish as the Vice-Chancellor and Distinguished Professor of Avantika University
Avantika is a brand-new university. We opened the doors to our first students on September 9, 2017. Building a university from scratch is already a significant challenge by default. Aside of infrastructural issues – construction works are still going on – the most significant challenge I am facing right now is recruiting and retaining high-quality faculty members, who can fit or be trained to work according to the Avantika vision and philosophy. For that purpose, we are going to establish our Faculty Development Centre in January 2018.
Dr. Vladimir Kulish on importance of time management in his life
Time management plays a very important role in my life. I strongly believe that planning things well in advance and allocating time slots, within which tasks to be performed, is the basis for producing high-quality outcomes. Of course, in real life, it is not always easy or even possible to plan everything. However, I try my best to make my life and the life in Avantika as organized as possible. I make every effort to allocate balanced amounts of time for various tasks: teaching, research, administrative duties, personal life, and rest. By the word ‘rest’ I often mean changing between different activities. It is nowadays known from neuroscience that our brain works in the most efficient way when and also relaxes better while switching between tasks from time to time.
Curriculum at Avantika University
Our curriculum arises from the Avantika’s vision and its unique academic model. The Avantika vision is to nurture and cultivate young minds, who will serve as enlightened citizens, bringing a positive change in society. To achieve this goal, we employ design thinking, by which we understand parallel or non-linear thinking, merely accepting the fact that a given issue, concern, or problem can be tackled in different ways. Hence, understanding the context becomes extremely important. By ‘context’, we mean the necessity to develop a holistic understanding of the present scenario, relate things that seem unrelated, or thinking by analogy. Only then choosing the best option to tackle the issue, concern, or problem under a given set of conditions or constraints becomes possible. By following this ideology, we become clearly distinct from the majority of conventional educational institutions. Project-based learning is the main educational tool employed in Avantika.
Growth of students through placement opportunities available at Avantika University
Avantika is a brand-new university and our undergraduate students have almost four years from now on until their graduation. However, we do have a number of M. Des. students, whose course of studies is two years. For this reason, we are already working with a career management team, to provide our postgraduate students with proper coaching and connections with industries. At the same time, in accord with the Avantika philosophy and academic model, our graduates are to become job creators rather than job seekers. In the course of the entire educational process, we prepare our students to become real problem solvers and cultivate their abilities to create new ways rather than follow given directions. Hence, our ideal graduate should be a person, who creates jobs in an attempt to implement his ideas through establishing a start-up company or a new enterprise.
Dr. Vladimir Kulish’s relationship with the students
I am quite an unusual Vice-Chancellor. I spend a significant part of my time in classrooms or for informal interactions with our students. For example, this semester I teach mathematics to our freshmen and History of the Man-Made World (History of Great Inventions) to our M. Des. students. Next semester, I shall be involved in teaching Engineering Sciences (the parts of mathematics and modern physics) and History of the Man-Made World to our freshmen. Thus, all the students in Avantika meet me and interact with me during the class sessions. However, I strongly believe that much of learning happens outside of classrooms. A true teacher has to be a role model and a source of inspiration for students. Our 4-weekly schedule has two-timed slots for students to meet their Vice-Chancellor on any matters they wish – these sessions are called Meet Your Vice-Chancellor. Avantika Seminar Series is open to all – faculty, students, and visitors. I conduct some seminars within this series. Furthermore, the Avantika campus is fully residential, where all faculty members and students live in neighboring buildings and share the same mess and canteen for their meals. All this makes student-faculty interaction virtually 24/7.
Ideal school environment according to Dr. Vladimir Kulish
I was always fascinated by Plato’s Academy and the Socratic way of teaching there. Indeed, the best learning happens not through information provided by someone, but through doing things. Even better, if a student discovers necessary knowledge on his own. The latter can be achieved by the Socratic teaching when the teacher guides the student in such a way – usually by asking the student a series of questions – that the student starts to believe that he discovered everything on his own. The knowledge, obtained in this way, is not easily lost or forgotten in comparison with the knowledge obtained through conventional teaching mostly based on lecturing. Avantika now has all components necessary to follow the way of teaching and learning in the way I have just described. It is my strong hope that eventually – and quite soon – Avantika can become a new Academy in the Platonic sense of this word.
Goals in mind for Avantika University for the next few years
I have a very clear plan for what Avantika University is to become in the future. Within next two years, we are going to launch our flagship program, which will make Avantika very distinct – I would even say – unique in the industry. The flagship program will be in System Design, but due to obvious reasons, I cannot disclose its details at this point in time. Through this program, Avantika is to gain national recognition within five years from now and a very solid international standing within five more years from then on. Moreover, once the Avantika philosophy and unique academic model will be fully practically implemented and deeply rooted in the minds of students and faculty members, our university will grow into an educational institution as no one existing in India nowadays. It is my strong hope that Avantika will, one day, become a role model for many national and international educational institutions.
Suggestions for the current youth and the aspiring students
Youth is a precious period of our life when the brain is most malleable to absorb or generate new knowledge. Hence, I would like to encourage all young people to use their youth in order to learn as much as possible and by whatever means available to them.
I also would like to encourage young people to cultivate their creativity. The world around us is ever changing. Our living conditions are very dynamic: climate changes, population grows, resources are limited, and so on. To adapt to these ever-changing conditions most often means to be able to change the world around us in such a way that external conditions do not affect our life harshly.
Hence, being creative, being able to invent new things and generate new ideas is essential for the very survival of the human species. But, in order to create something new, one has to possess a very solid knowledge and deep understanding of the laws of nature and the ways these laws manifest themselves in the processes going on around us. I would like to tell the young people that the future belongs to them. They are those who will live in the future and those who will shape that future. And, in order to become active creators of the future, they have to possess a solid foundation, upon which their future will be based. This foundation is their hard work or learning right now.