“Good to do well, whatever you do” – An interview with Prof. Suraishkumar

“The best period of my life, in a sense”, says Prof Suraishkumar GK (name changed from Suresh to Suraish, credits going to mailing issues in IIT Bombay) while taking a bite of his Chilli Cheese Sandwich (which didn’t turn out to be as expected, CCD’s absence clearly felt) when asked about his stay in IIT Madras. GK( that was how people referred to him in insti, sadly no interesting funda, just initials) a man of great simplicity and clear thoughts is an Alumnus of IIT Madras who graduated with a Chemical Engineering degree in the year 1986.When asked why he chose to be an academician his answer was clear cut “I like the purity that comes with being a teacher/researcher, which I feel isn’t present in other professions may it be working in an industry or being an administrator. Also the independence with which you can work is unparalleled. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to facilitate learning.”

“I was a decent student. We had a minimum attendance but it wasn’t as strict as it is now (scoffs). The reason I got into engineering was because everyone in my family were more or less into medicine, so I wanted to do something different ,although it didn’t turn out to be that way as I’m now a professor in Biotech. One thing that I’m very fond of is our OAT. OAT has a very special place in my heart. In those days, come what may, 90% of the students would show up for the movie.That is one huge difference”.

The co curricular activities he was involved in IIT are a perfect reflection of his artistic mindset. He started a hand written tamil magazine along with two of his friends in his second year in Saras, for which he used to write stories and stuff. “I used to play cricket and I really wanted to learn swimming while I was studying but could not. Photography gives me a lot of satisfaction and I have been shooting since the early 90’s when I got my first SLR. My daughter is a classical dancer and she chose maths, physics and chemistry.  So we had a barter kind of agreement, you teach me dancing I teach you your subjects. I wasn’t such an active participant in Mardi Gras, but I did contribute to it by sketching stuff.”

Talking about change, came the topic of how different IITs were when he was studying. “ Surely IITs have changed a lot, and in my opinion, have got better both in terms of infrastructure and the mind-set. For example, the entrepreneurship scene wasn’t this vibrant when we were students. The opportunities and resources for people who want to get into entrepreneurship has increased manifold. Another change that I as a professor observed is the student quality. When I was a student there were many students whose natural orientation was engineering but now that number seems to have come down. I no longer find that bright spark of brilliance in as many students as I would expect to find in the 80’s. Apart from that everything is pretty much the same.”

Being a person who has been associated with biotech in IIT Madras since its initial days, he traces back its origin to the early 80’s when professors mostly from chemical engineering and chemistry with some kind of a centre concept, contributing. “There was a move from the ministry in 2001 to start a BTech programme in every IIT and the initial BioTechnology course was started in 2002 by the Chemical Engineering department and had a heavy chemical engineering base with applications to bio technology.” Prof GK continues to recall his first day as a professor IIT Madras. “I was hired for the job of a professor in Chemical Engineering but after half a day I shifted from chem to biotech because they needed someone with experience and I had 11 years of experience, teaching in IIT Bombay and I became the head of the department an year later. Given the fact that bio tech was a relatively new field, a field which did not even form its rules and guidelines (only in 2006 MIT had laid out some foundations) my experience of overseeing the building of the department was extremely satisfying. Developing a department which is good enough to make contributions with research right from the foundations was something very exciting.”

Prof GK Suraishkumar is always of the thought “good to do well, whatever you do”. When asked on how to zero down on interests, he gives a very detailed piece of advice “It is a very difficult thing to do for anyone in this world. There has to be a match between ones interests and ones abilities for them to do well and if neither one of them ties up with what you are doing then you are doomed. If one of them ties up with what you are doing then hard work can get you through. If both of them tie up with what you do, that is what one has to look for. To identify that given the options that are available is very difficult. As you journey through life you explore your interests, that is how you find out what is that you love to do.”

When asked if CGPA is a true measure of one’s potential, this is what he had to say, “Whatever you do, be it a job or starting a company, you will be asked for a resume and if they see a CG of 5.5 you are doomed. So whatever you do, the first doors get opened by how you have done and CGPA is a reflection. You might argue that it is just a number, personally I used to do that, but the more you gain experience the more you realise that  the individual grades are actually a reflection of how good you are in those respective subjects. Efforts to maintain a decent CGPA are worthwhile either through hard work or by your natural ability.” giving a last note to the interview.