“ ‘Mama, come and play’, they used to repeat time and again”, he said taking his memories to that age, about 30 years back. Among the several incidents surrounding his time at IIT Madras as an undergraduate student, he still vividly recollects the initial hurdles he had to undergo during his transformation from home to college life.
This came in the form of severe water scarcity, leading to collecting water in buckets, from taps outside the toilet and walking distances with these “heavy weights”. Well, even as you might say that this could have been a good exercise for the biceps, our protagonist is not too keen to repeat it again! 31 years later, he is a much-loved professor in the department of mechanical engineering at IIT Madras. He is Professor Chandramouli.
“Well, I could keep bragging a lot about my institute life”, he says, clearly reliving those pleasant memories, “but to keep it short, the highlights would be a closed swimming pool for 4 whole years, depriving us of a fundamental right, made up for by the inauguration of a new building, we come to call today as SAC”. “Judging by my appearance today, it would be hard to conceive that I was a part of the institute B team for cricket, but that remains a fact indeed, and I was also an important part of the team that won the shroeter for Jamuna in 1987.” When asked as to what the evident difference between the hostel atmosphere of then and now is, he recollected the closeness of the various students in the same batch of those days, due to the concept of everyone from the same department being in the same hostel. “We were indeed closely-knit mechies…”
“My journey in IIT Madras wasn’t complete with just the undergraduate degree”, he continued. “I wrote GATE, and did my M.Tech here in Machine Dynamics which had a batch size of just 4 students! I completed a year, and was scheduled to start my second, which would also include the M.Tech project under the guidance of Professor Narayanan, when fate decided to turn the tide a bit. I got assistantship in the Ohio State University from the application I had sent the previous year. With the grant requiring me to join immediately, I was left with no choice but to terminate my M.Tech midway, and make travel for the West. I wouldn’t say that I wasted a year, for besides the technical gain, I was also able to transfer some courses, and complete my Masters+PhD in about 5 years”, he said, his face clearly indicating that he had no regrets.
“And then came that mighty step from being a student to choosing your career path. I chose to work first, clearly aimed at getting some industry exposure. I began to work at Emerson Climate Technologies, in the area of refrigeration, noise and vibration, in the year 1994. But I left after 2 years, when I was slowly being transformed into a managerial role. I knew my interests lay elsewhere” , he said, with that look which comes when you know that you have made up your mind on who to be. “In April 1997, I joined the department of Applied Mechanics at IIT Madras and in 2004, changed to the section of Machine Design, where I continue to be…”
When enquired as to what he feels is good about the IIT system, he didn’t have to think twice before answering. “From an experience of more than 20 years on the campus, I know what makes IITs world-class both from the view point of a student and as a faculty. As a student the learning and personality development environment which you get exposed to here is unparalleled. The flexibility in terms of schedules, and the resources and projects which one can delve into add to the flavour of the dish called IITM. And as a faculty, you get everything which you value most,, namely freedom and inquisitive students.”
Just as every conversation had to conclude, it was once again time for the customary question, “What is it about research, and your advice for junior students.” His answer though was inspirational. “Research is not one-dimensional, nor is it an alien to the money-minting world outside. We have as much if not more industry connections than we have university connections, primarily because our topic of interest, ‘Vibrations and noise’, is quintessential to many industries. You get a lot of grants, and it may be true that you are not earning as much as say in a non-core job, but you are earning more than enough to live a decent life, and that too in a work environment which exposes you to the challenges of computation, experimentation and analytics all packaged in one, sealed with the highlight of ‘teaching the future’. And as for advice, I have to say that research doesn’t call out to you. It didn’t to me. Go into a company, experience the industry frenzy. If you like it, live it. If you don’t , come here. The inspiration and joy you are bound to get then, is enough to make you stay, enough to make you happy indeed…”