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The bright sparks

Meet blogger and rock-climber Niloy J Mitra, 32, an Outstanding Young Faculty Fellow at the IIT, Delhi. By Rahat Bano

education Updated: May 29, 2009 12:49 IST
Rahat Bano

Niloy J Mitra, 32
Job: Assistant researcher

When hunting around for a young, bright, motivated and happening college or university teacher, it appeared as if the phrase is an oxymoron. The ‘young’ ones, two senior pedagogues suggested, were almost pushing 40. But fortunately, we weren't headed to a dead-end. There are young and sparkling academics lending some freshness to the system. One such professional is blogger and rock-climber Niloy J Mitra, an Outstanding Young Faculty Fellow at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, since October 2007.

After Masters and PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford University, Mitra was a postdoctoral fellow at TU Vienna and visiting scholar at ETH Zurich. Today, the 32-year-old is an assistant professor of computer science. His role is more of a researcher. His work? Mitra's team he collaborates with people abroad develops procedures and algorithms to make cost-effective architectural designs.

The Calcutta-born, IIT-Kharagpur alumnus gravitated from electronics to computer science as “it's more about science”, says Mitra, sitting at his work-station at IIT-D. He says he settled for research over a job in the industry “for the space”. “In research, there's a huge amount of flexibility, travel opportunities, freedom in selecting the topic. Unlike in the industry, it's not that it has to go out into the market in six months.” He lists the advantages of being in research: “You stay updated and work on what I consider the challenging aspect of the topics, work and collaborate at the highest international level.” And when it comes to teaching, which is “very exciting”, he adds, “as we present, we understand better. Fresh thoughts come in during discussions in class but that depends on class size and topic…It's part of our responsibility to pass on the knowledge.”

However, Mitra notes that fewer IIT graduates are continuing the discipline at Masters and PhD in India. Also, the number of IITians applying for Masters in the same discipline at Stanford has dropped while the requests from China and Korea have risen. Interest from Europe is “stable.” “They say why this drop from India. This is a trend. The effects will be visible in 5-10 years. Institute-wise we'll suffer. Our international standing depends on research output and Indian graduates going to other places and shining. In both ways, it hurts. What is harder to measure is its impact on society.”

“In India the total number of people in research is very low – 80-100 PhDs per year and that's being very optimistic. In the US, it's 1,000 PhDs per year and 2,000 in China. All engineering (branches) are suffering like this.” Therefore, he adds, “IITD is actively looking for ways to encourage students to go on for Masters and PhD programmes in various disciplines. It is going to be very important for the students, and for the community, helping to sustain the growing IT industry and creating better equipped entrepreneurs for tomorrow.”

Coming to his non-professional life, he likes to read, cook and travel. Mitra's YouTube videos show him rock-climbing at Indian Mountaineering Foundation, South Campus and performing yogic climbing moves at Backerstrasse, Austria.

Career Ladder

Professor
An AP completing three years of service in the AGP of Rs. 9000 and possessing a PhD degree in the relevant discipline will be eligible for the post of professor, subject to other conditions.
Pay: Rs 37400 to 67,000 with AGP of Rs. 10000per month

Associate professor (AP)
Assistant Professors after three years of teaching in the AGP of Rs. 8000 will be eligible, subject to other conditions, to move to this band and be designated as AP.
Pay: Rs 37,4000 to 67,000 with AGP of Rs.9000 per month

Assistant Professor
After four years' service, s/he with a relevant doctorate will be eligible for moving to the AGP of Rs. 7000. After five years, s/he at the AGP of Rs. 7000 will be eligible to move up to the AGP of Rs. 8000. (Conditions apply)
Pay: Rs 15,600 to 39,100 with Academic Grade Pay (AGP) of Rs. 6000 per month


Pluses and Minuses
Intellectually stimulating
It's not a 9-to-5 routine
In research, freedom to can pick your topic
Travel opportunities for conferences, seminars, research and so on
Summer holidays, autumn break, winter vacations…
No rat race and tension of meeting deadlines or targets
As you teach, you understand better.
You create and pass on knowledge
Money is no match to what the industry pays
Red tape, institutional rigidity
Politics (in government institutes)