Interview by Yash Panchal
Prof. Prabhat Ranjan is currently the Vice Chancellor of D Y Patil International University, Pune. He is a Nuclear Fusion Scientist, a Futurist, an Educator, an Innovator, an Entrepreneur, and a Science Communicator. From 2013-18, he was heading India's Technology Think Tank, TIFAC(Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council) in Delhi as its Executive Director. During his tenure, TIFAC developed Technology Vision 2035, which was released by Hon'ble PM in Jan 2016. PMO has directed all the Dept/Ministries to follow this document and take the agenda forward with the overall coordination being done by NITI Aayog.
Prof. Ranjan has worked on Nuclear Fusion in National and International Labs in India and USA and made major contributions to this field for nearly two decades. He was Project Leader of ADITYA Tokamak and SST-1 Tokamak Control Group at Institute for Plasma Research, Gandhinagar till 2002. After this, he served as Professor at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of ICT in Gandhinagar for 11 years. His remarkable innovative contributions include India’s Moon Mission, Wildlife and Agriculture sector. He is particularly known for his innovations in the field of assistive technology that has helped to put smiles on the faces of persons with severe disability.
He had obtained his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and did college education from IIT Kharagpur and the University of Delhi. He has received many awards and accolades for his contribution to Science, Technology, and Society. In December 2018, he received “Visionary Leader of the Year 2018” and “Bejod Bihar Ratna Award”.
Prof. Ranjan’s variegated experience in the education industry
My first interaction with students started in 1981 when I joined the Univ of California, Berkeley to do my Ph.D. To provide us financial support, we were appointed as Teaching Assistants(TA). It was a very valuable learning experience for me. I found that I was learning more than the students. I also found that I enjoyed interacting with a young mind and that continued throughout my life. While working as a full-time Nuclear Fusion Scientist also I used to encourage students from different educational institutions to join me as an intern so that I could try out different ideas. In fact, my involvement with the disability sector, later on, was helped by this.
When I was heading India’s Technology Think Tank, TIFAC, in Delhi from 2013-18, we were working on Technology Vision 2035 document. This document is a vision for India along with roadmaps to achieve this vision in 12 different sectors. I put the Education Sector on the top of all the roadmaps since I felt that at the base of India's development lies education. Thus when my 5-year tenure at TIFAC was getting over, I decided to move back to the education sector and to work in a University with multiple disciplines.
Leadership style of Prof. Ranjan
Being a futurist, I like to keep my head above the clouds but feet grounded. So while I am trying to push India's education system to future needs, I realize the fact that most of the students and parents are not aware of such possibilities. Thus I have to work at both levels. Creating awareness among stakeholders as well as preparing curriculum and grooming faculty members appropriately would be a key task. This would need to be backed by appropriate infrastructure.
Achieveing a dynamic approach towards both the student and faculty development
Having spent a considerable period of time in both research and academics, I am very aware of the fact that the only thing certain about the future is the fact that it is uncertain. The way I have practiced dynamic approach is to focus on research and development during the teaching process too. In research, I focus on real-life problems. Learning from research comes back into lectures and labs and that helps in research. To promote continuity, I suggest putting together senior and junior batches on projects.
While foundational core courses change slowly, electives change more dynamically. Breaking hard boundaries of disciplines would be extremely important. Use of digital technology has permeated every field. My plan is to bring these into every program on campus.
Prof. Ranjan on what keeps him going and motivated for his research endeavors
While I was in full-time research for nearly first 20 years of my career, it remained a major part of my activity during my university days as well as during my role as head of India’s technology think tank, TIFAC. In fact, one of the reasons, I moved to university from a national lab was to diversify my research activities into multiple domains.
My focus in life has always been on solving national and societal problems. For example, my involvement in assistive technology started with a student project. Since I found that it would help many people, I continued devoting a significant part of my time on this. In addition to developing technology, I also had to engage with the potential beneficiaries and continue to do that till today. Due to these efforts, I have been able to make significant improvements in many people’s quality of life.
Key to keep the mind focused and suggestions for the youth
My goal in life has been very clear. From the age of 11-12 years, I decided to go into the research field. I never had second thoughts about this. While most of the people around me including my family members, were focused on preparing for UPSC exams and to get into civil services, I never even looked at the UPSC form!
Having interacted with young students throughout my life, I have found significant changes in aspirations. We are connected globally and no longer look at what is happening in our neighborhood only. Due to all this, young students are not able to decide priorities in life. Hence, they remain confused and tend to keep their feet in too many boats. I always tell students that unlike a few decades back, when I was young, today opportunities have opened up in many fields. Thus what is important for students is to follow their passion. But whatever they do, they must strive to excel in that and be the best!
Ensuring best practices of the industry through the curriculum
As a futurist, I have been connected to global technological changes. These changes have permeated into each of the above fields. Even though students are right now in the first year, industry interaction has started to happen. In fact, it is starting to go beyond interaction to engagement. Students are about to start working on industrial projects.
Expected growth and development in the engineering landscape
Due to digital technology making strong inroads into each field, I decided to start with a strong program in computer science and technology. It would be a unique program in the country, where students would have the option of choosing from a large number of specialization tracks from 3rd year. These tracks have been chosen carefully to meet the industry demands when students start graduating in 2023. To make this possible, we are trying to attract faculty members from around the globe so that international experience can be offered in our programs. Details of these programs are available in my blog :
Prof. Prabhat Ranjan Blog: Click here
Goals in mind for the next few years
My management and I are very clear in our mind that we are moving DYPIU towards a university driven by research and innovation. Towards this, my goal is to build around the strong computer science and engineering program by offering more and more interdisciplinary programs. I have the advantage of having a large number of existing colleges on campus. So, I would use the strength of them by offering courses such as digital manufacturing, digital architecture, health informatics, agro informatics, digital arts etc.
Importance of time management in Prof. Ranjan’s life
All of us have the same time in our life. So, time management is basically setting priorities in life. Once we do that, time management is very simple. I stopped watching television long back and that saves plenty of time! I also do not go to movies except a few rare ones. The last movie, I watched in the hall was “Pokhran” since this was based on real scientific work and many people involved were personally known to me. I also watch a few sci-fi movies as they open up mind to future possibilities. A large number of these I have watched during long international flights.
While I am very socially connected, I keep a very good discipline in my life. I am well connected on social media too and it is needed to reach out to people for conveying my thought processes as well as reach out to those who may need my help.