Words of advice from Dr. Govind Swarup

Professor Govind Swarup, of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), is an internationally renowned radio astronomer and one of the pioneers of radio astronomy.

While working on the media lab India initiative related efforts, I had a chance to have a one on one discussion with Dr. Govind Swarup today.  It was a magnificent experience to listen to such words of wisdom from a researcher like him  just before the commencement of my MIT life. Previously, I had been in touch with him regarding my capstone project, but unfortunately I did not work under his guidance since my interests were more inclined towards computer science than radio astronomy. However, it has always been an enlightening experience whenever he talked to us. I felt compelled to log in and write about his words from today’s discussion on my blog, so that I can come back to this text later and remind myself about what he said. I am sure others will also find his words useful. I have tried to reproduce the gyst of the discussion from what I remember. “As you get ready for your studies at MIT, be aware of why you are going there, and also about what you are looking forward to do after that. Do not keep yourself restricted to work that you are doing. Go visit other labs around and ask your friends there, “Hey what are you working on?” Try and get a decent understanding of what others are working on even if they are working in totally different academic areas. Try developing a vision about where technology is heading and what society and even the country needs. Born in 1929 and currently 80 years old now, I still go back to NCRA and TIFR today to work on some of the top class problems. I am fortunate in the sense that I am still called for work at this age. I like to work because I am passionate about working on things that I can visualize, thereby making a greater impact on the technological scene here. I finished my PhD from Stanford in 3 years and 4 months. After that, I was a professor at Stanford. However, I returned to India in order to join TIFR. I had written to Bhabha and he called me saying ‘You can always join, you certainly have the caliber we require. It is not just about returning to your country; it is also more about grooming yourself as an individual who has a vision and passion to bring upon a change in the scene around. You can do this only when you have a very broad knowledge base and the attitude to look at it and think about it from a broader and bigger perspective. [He also talked about his associations with Dr. V. G . Bhide, Dr. Mashelkar and other Indian national figures and how all of them are trying to realize their vision through initiatives like a launch of IISERs. The idea was that, India had IITs for world class engineering, IIMs for world class management education, but no such chain of institutes existed for pure sciences. India being the third largest education system in the world, has only 4 nobels to its credit- probably an indicator of the same.]. Money is never going to be an issue. If you are good enough, it will come by as a byproduct of your work. In our days it was a different case, but your generation is lucky to be in a period of time when research is generously acknowledged and rewarded. So look at work from a holistic perspective than other trivialities like monetary gains and cushy job profiles. Wish you all the best.”’ There were many other important points he talked about during the otherwise random discussion, which I have not covered here. While I am not sure about where I will be working in 5 years and which profession I will be taking up, these words are certainly inspiring and an impetus for thinking on a grand scale. What I admired the most was his way of looking at careers with a bigger vision and wider impact rather than coming up with research outputs in specific research areas. Though he has already been credited for a lot of influential research results in radioastronomy and related areas, his hallmark has been the contribution he has made in bringing India on the global radio astronomy map – improving the country wide radio astronomy scenario and motivating people around him as well. He keeps on inspiring researchers from his labs, professors from the institute, industry leaders, and students to think on this line of thought. Truly inspiring. His profile from TIFR if you want to know more about him: http://www.ncra.tifr.res.in/gs/


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