This year’s candidates for the post of Research Affairs Secretary (RAS) are Mr Kiran Prabhu, an M.S scholar from the Chemical Engineering department and Mr. Rohit Goyal, a Ph.D. scholar from the Mechanical Engineering department. The soapbox was moderated by Ms. Chaithra Navada, Chief Commissioner, Student Ethics and Constitutional Commission (SECC) and Ms. Swathi, Commissioner (SECC). Dr. Thyagaraj T, the Chief Election Officer and Dr. Anup Kumar Bhandari, the Deputy Election Officer, were also present to oversee the proceedings. Vasanth Kumar G reports. The video for the soapbox can be found on the SECC’s YouTube channel here.
The structure of the soapbox is as follows: each contestant is given 8 minutes to make a presentation, to be followed by cross-questioning where a candidate can ask the other 3 questions and 2 follow-up questions each. This is followed by questions from the Executive Council and finally, the General Student Body (GSB).
Presentation by Kiran Prabhu
With a vision “to ensure the overall development of scholars and timely redressal of their concerns,” Kiran Prabhu listed four categories to fulfil his vision: Academics and Research, Placement and Career Progression, Research Scholars’ Day (RSD) and research related events, and general initiatives.
He proposed to introduce an examination to assess soft skills of research scholars and based on their performance, scholars can opt for basic life skills course to improve their verbal and writing skills, with emphasis on communication and networking skills. As a way to utilise sophisticated instruments at IITM past the time (5:00PM) when project associates who currently operate are not available, Kiran proposed having TAs (Teaching Assistants) specifically trained for the instruments to help other scholars operate instruments after the working hours (9:00AM- 5:00PM). His proposal included proportional emoluments for TAs as per the existing Half-Time Research Assistantship (HTRA) norms for the hours they spend operating the instruments for other scholars, if it exceeds the stipulated 8 hours per week of TA work. Under Academics and Research, he also added ‘Purchase and Administrative procedures’ which would be made part of ID6020 course.
For Placement related work, the key points mentioned were – collection of exit data of research scholars and to use them for improving opportunity for placements; skill development of scholars interested in academic careers with the help of TLC, to groom them for better employability in academia; focused preparation sessions for non-core placements for scholars; compile a Common repository of funding opportunities for scholars, in a department/ area specific manner to enable better utilisation of opportunities; and a modified placement fee structure for the research scholars during Phase II of placement process.
Speaking on the topic of RSD and research related events, Kiran put up a proposal to have R&D lab visits in a department specific manner, all around the year, not just restricted to RSD; entrepreneurial lecture series as part of RSD; research connect event for all core branches; and institute wide research academic conferences to improve visibility of research at IITM and attract attention of industry to work with IITM scholars.
The general initiatives include a regular town hall meeting exclusive for research scholars, mandatory health & mental check-up for research scholars and branding MS with the help of IITM TV.
Presentation by Rohit Goyal
Rohit’s vision was “to create finest research environment in the institute and organise regular discussions and events to transform IIT Madras as research institute of eminence at global level” and “to create awareness of existing facilities, opportunities and improve participation of the research scholars to enhance their research experience with feedback system.” He presented four stages that, according to him, mirrored the life of a PhD scholar in the institute: 1) Initialization – start of research in insti 2) Set-up – problem identification and exploration of approaches towards solutions 3) Solving – producing results in the research area and seeking funding opportunities and 4) Post processing – general problems that may be faced in any of the previous stages. As an afterthought, he added 5) Presentation – looking for jobs and other opportunities.
The first point in his presentation was to have Research mentorship program to help newly joined scholars. This program would include, Comprehensive viva mentorship and research discussion with seniors. The second point was to include a program on awareness of resources. This would include library resources seminars and books recommendation for scholars; thesis repository system Rohit stated from his personal experience that he came to know about the available resource after three years of joining the insti and wanted to ensure research scholars are aware of the existing resources.
Going to the next phase of scholar life, or the ‘set-up’, the key points were to help scholars know about different software available in institute; awareness of Joint Doctoral Program/ Joint Supervision Program Foreign Exchange programmes; awareness of internship in industry/ research labs; and awareness of exchange inventory and online access of existing facilities. His next point was on steps during the “solving” phase of research scholar. This phase included an RSD/R-connect/Industry day to take the work of a scholar to a wider audience; start-up interaction sessions; creating awareness about IP; organising scientific and technical writing workshops to help scholars with technical publication; and policy advocacy and research consultancy with ICSR.
In the ‘post-processing’ section, Rohit covered issues related to guide-student relationships; basic amenities including PCs and general facilities; non-awareness of rules and regulation (MS/ PhD ordinances, grievance redressal body at department level, contingency grants,); others like mental health issues. He also proposed single accommodation for research scholars with recommendation from the Doctoral Committee/General Test Committee (DC/GTC). Finally, Rohit put forth an idea to conduct Employability Enhancement Program (EEP) to improve the soft skills of scholars and prepare them for job opportunities; updation of research scholars’ portal with career growth opportunities; MS programme branding; and off-campus fundae sessions for scholars unable to get on-campus offers. Rohit Goyal ended with a parting note that he had more than four years of experience as a Ph.D. scholar at the institute.
Note: the following is a near verbatim exchange, edited only for clarity where required.
Kiran Prabhu- 1st question to Rohit Goyal
Kiran Prabhu: In your manifesto you have some points about library resources seminars. Did you know that ID6020 already has a module on library resources which is handled by the professor in-charge, dealing extensively with library resources? Why do we need a separate department level module for library resources?
Rohit Goyal: I will say the answer is in your question. Every department is different and has different requirements. I am proposing a tailor made library resources seminar for departmental work and not general purposes.
Kiran Prabhu: There is only one central library in the institute. Why do you want to give it separately for the department? Even if you have a departmental session, how will you ensure participation?
Rohit Goyal: See, I know this is a problem (participation). At the start (of joining IITM), I am planning to give an orientation session which will include a 5 minute talk or a 10-minute talk about the resources.
Kiran Prabhu: We already have an 8 hour long comprehensive module in ID6020 about library resources by the Professor in charge of the library advisory committee. How will the 5-minute talk help research scholars (more than the 8 hours talk)?
Rohit Goyal: Okay, if you say 5-minutes is less, I will make it 10 minutes.
Rohit Goyal- 1st question to Kiran Prabhu
Rohit Goyal: About the medical and mental check-up, what do you mean by mental check-up?
Kiran Prabhu: When a scholar joins the institute, he asked to submit a medical fitness certificate. There is no follow-up medical check for the tenure of scholars – 2.5 years for MS scholars and 5 years for PhD scholars. Every year during registration, scholar has to submit medical certificate that will be done free of cost by institute hospital. He would get to know issues at preliminary stages and so scholar can take precautionary measures so that any existing issues may not aggravate further.
Rohit Goyal: You didn’t answer my question. I had specifically asked about mental health check-up. Fine. What will be the cost per student, to be borne by institute hospital (for the medical check-up)?
Kiran Prabhu: Cost per student is not going to… it’s not master or comprehensive health check-up, it’s going to be just the basic tests like blood check, urine check-up and it’s not going to cost so much. All that budget is borne by Gymkhana. We don’t have any cost-issues. If any other severe issues rise-up, we have medical provider- Vidal Health Third Party Administrator. So if any issue rise up, he will bear the cost. Students need not bear any cost in that.
Rohit Goyal: If it is not comprehensive, what is the use of it?
Kiran Prabhu: Comprehensive meaning… first you need to do some preliminary check-up and see if there are some symptoms there or not. It’s not like as soon as you go to hospital, they will do MRI scan, CT scan and do everything. First they go for basic check-up like blood check-up to do necessary evaluation. It’s not necessary for every scholar to go to MRI scan/CT scan. It’s just like B.P or some problems, yet to be identified at the initial stages. That is my point in that.
This answer by Kiran Prabhu was followed by clarification from former Speaker, SLC, Namburi Nikhil Bhardwaj: There is nothing called general blood check-up or general urine check-up. There will be certain prescribed ones. As far as I know, institute hospital is not capable of doing any check-up for 4000 scholars. Even for freshies, when there are 800 people, the tests are outsourced. Even for the scholars who do not submit the medical fitness certificate during orientation, tests are outsourced. You need to go through that (cost of check-up) again.
Moderator told Kiran Prabhu he need not reply to the clarification.
2nd question by Kiran Prabhu to Rohit Goyal
Kiran Prabhu: In your manifesto, there is a point about “single accommodation for scholars who completed stipulated time on a case-to-case basis with recommendation from DC/GTC”. This point has already been proposed in last two RAS manifestos- present RAS and the opponent. They proposed two mechanism- point-rating system and case-to-case basis. Both of them did not work out. What is your stance or how do you propose to implement it?
Rohit Goyal: There are two questions. Which one should I answer?
Kiran Prabhu: Second question. First one is background behind the question.
Moderator: Please can you phrase the question in single line?
Kiran Prabhu: What is your stance on single accommodation for scholars on a case-to-case basis?
Moderator: What is your opinion on single accommodation for research scholars on a case-to-case basis?
Rohit Goyal: I talked with the present RAS. They said they put it in manifesto but they did not try to implement it.
Moderator: Can you please repeat the answer. It’s not audible.
Rohit Goyal: They have not tried to implement it.
Moderator: The question is your stance on case-to-case basis.
Rohit Goyal: In this manifesto, I am proposing a structure of how it can be done. Not it will be done.
Kiran Prabhu: Can you elaborate what that structure is?
Rohit Goyal: DC/GTC members get to know the scholars. In the same recommendation, what is the reason for the delay [in graduating]…like medical reason. [sic]
Moderator: It is not the reason. It is the structure of the mechanism.
Rohit Goyal: DC/GTC members can give with recommendation, the reason of recommendation. It can be medical reason, it can be various reasons – like 4-5 reasons. The reason can be different for different scholars. According to priority, preference order may be arrived upon.
Clarification from Sudarshan, RAS: When you asked me about the last time (about accommodation), I told you that if we send a mail or tell students we are going to give case- to-case accommodation, it is not possible. That’s why we didn’t implement it. Every DC/ GTC will recommend saying that their scholars should get accommodation and it is not feasible.
Nihal K, Hostel Affairs Secretary (HAS): You made a point about accommodation committee. What was that point?
Rohit Goyal: The point is did the CCW, whoever is responsible for allotting the room, main authority…
Nihal K, HAS:: Very basic question – Who are the members of accommodation committee?
Rohit Goyal: Sorry …?
Moderator: We will come to this question later.
Kiran Prabhu: Every DC/GTC committee will recommend their scholars for accommodation more than 5 years or 3 years. There is going to 10% increase in intake this year. I don’t think that your point will get implemented.
Moderator: Please phrase the question.
Kiran Prabhu: Even with present strength of scholars, there is a problem with accommodations. With implementation of 10% quota from next year, it will be difficult to prolong the stay of scholars more than 5 years or 3 years. How will you deal with the situation?
Rohit Goyal: I am not saying that they will get single room accommodation. Case-to-case basis and with reason of recommendation and with the available possibility of giving accommodation, a list can be made. If not enough rooms are there for number of recommendations, then according to reasons stated, preference order/ waiting list can be made. I am not saying everybody will get. Guys having valid reason can request.
2nd question by Rohit Goyal to Kiran Prabhu
Rohit Goyal: How are you planning to buy software licence using Department Development Fund (DDF) after talking to Dean Academic Research (AR)?
Kiran Prabhu: To clarify the question, I didn’t say that I talked to Dean AR about using DDF. It like feasibility of using DDF. It is the Dean who formulates the policies. If he says there is no objection in it, I will contact the respective HODs to provide the funds. If there is obstruction in higher level, I cannot contact the HODs for utilizing the DDF. If the Dean says ok, everything goes well with the HODs.
Rohit Goyal: DDF is already scarce. How will you buy software?
Kiran Prabhu: Department can have a way. It’s not that each department has to buy certain number of equipment each year. In a department, there are both theoretical and experimental persons. One year if they allocate to theoretical faculty, next year they can allocate to experimental group. There are some software which are in high demand by the department and those needs are to be met by the department. I just gave a suggestion to use funds for increasing licences could come from DDF.
Moderator: There is no second follow-up?
Rohit Goyal: Is there any structure in department? Is there any feedback system? Does such system exist or not?
Kiran Prabhu: It is not already existing. It will be based on scholar feedback. If there is demand for a software, I can suggest to department about using DDF to buy the software.
3rd question by Kiran Prabhu to Rohit Goyal
Kiran Prabhu: In your manifesto, you were saying about information booklet on rules, regulations, PhD Ordinances, to be made available at Research Scholars’ Portal. Have you gone through research scholars’ portal?
Rohit Goyal: Yes
Kiran Prabhu: All the said documents are uploaded on research scholars’ portal on 2017 October. It is already there in the portal.
Rohit Goyal: Scholars can get information about conference funding from the portal.
2nd follow up
Kiran Prabhu: There is no mention about conference funding in your manifesto. You only mentioned rules, regulations, PhD ordinances etc.
Rohit Goyal: Regulations will include research funding details.
3rd question by Rohit Goyal to Kiran Prabhu
Rohit Goyal: In manifesto, you mentioned about the communication skills course. How will it be done?
Kiran Prabhu: Research Scholars will have to undergo a test. Based on the test, he would be made to undergo zero-level English course. This course will have more emphasis on networking, inter-personal development skills, rather than just grammatical skills.
Rohit Goyal: What is the purpose of disclosing the score?
Kiran Prabhu: Because, they should know their level of English. Then, they will be more serious in taking up the basic level English course.
Rohit Goyal: Scholars are coming from different background. If you disclose the scores, how will you ensure this will not cause any stress in the scholars (about their lack of proficiency in English language)?
Kiran Prabhu: The main focus on disclosing score is to improve their communication skills. If we don’t have assessments, how will we know their level of proficiency? I am not going to enforce anything on them – scores will be disclosed to them with tips on improvement.
Executive Council Questioning
Nihal K, HAS, asked the candidates to state their understanding of the Accommodation Committee, to name its members and student representatives, who the current chair of the Committee is, how often the Committee meets, its role, and finally, what the crisis with respect to accommodation this year is. Kiran Prabhu went first and replied that the accommodation committee meets once a month, and that the HAS, RAS and Students’ General Secretary (SGS) are student members of the accommodation committee along with some professors. In response to the question pertaining to the chairperson of the Committee, neither candidates had an answer. When asked about role of the Committee, Kiran Prabhu said the Committee allocates rooms for scholars. Nihal next chose to ask about the crisis that the Accommodation Committee was facing, at present. Kiran Prabhu quoted the government’s policy on reservation based on economic status, and the institute’s aim to increase number of scholars to point out that it would become difficult to provide single-room accommodation to Ph.D. /M.S. Scholars past their maximum allocated time of 5 years and 3 years respectively. He also mentioned the proposal of the current RAS to provide House Rent Allowance (HRA) for research scholars willing to stay outside campus; and that if that happens the situation can be mitigated to some extent.
The same questions by Nihal were directed towards Rohit Goyal. On the question of members of the committee, Rohit had same answer as Kiran, but incorrectly stated that the Dean of Students (DoST) was the Chair of the Accommodation Committee and was keen to take up the question related to crisis. According to Rohit, 5th year scholars were questioning the rationale behind their being asked to share rooms, and had suggested that 1st year scholars share their rooms instead. As a follow up to the crisis question, Nihal asked Rohit for an estimate of the room crunch, and for its reason. Rohit answered in terms of a demand and supply analogy for rooms and number of scholars. Not satisfied with the answer, Nihal asked both candidates for answers specific to this year, to which Rohit reiterated his point on the increase in intake. Finally, Nihal directed the question to Kiran once again, who recalled information about the demolition of a hostel which would result in a room crunch; which coupled with increased intake of students would create problems.
Sudharshan R, RAS, questioned both the candidates on their inexperience in the placements team, and their having to handle placements if there was to be no PG Placements Head. He asked them about the groundwork they had done, and if they thought that the UG team would thus have the upper hand. Kiran replied that while it is true that he doesn’t have experience with Placements, he had been a Super-Coordinator for Research Scholars Day and held other positions of responsibility at his undergraduate college. In the institute, he had taken sufficient fundaes from the RAS and the Placements team to have a sufficient overview of how it works. Furthermore, if there is no placement head, Kiran stated that he would use the help of the previous RAS for any information- notwithstanding the fact that Sudharshan and most other Placement cores would be graduating this year, as pointed out by Sudharshan. Kiran stated that he would be able to manage with his experience. Rohit said his answer was the same as Kiran’s, and that he would make full use of the few months left before the aforementioned people graduate.
Sudharshan’s next question was if the candidates had gone through the manifesto of the aspiring Academic Affairs Secretary (AAS). Kiran replied in the negative and Rohit said he didn’t go through it completely, given that they would be working with him for placements. He then informed the candidates about a point in the aspiring AAS’s Manifesto regarding the implementation of a common aptitude test for all students who are appearing for placements, before the end semester examinations. The question to contestants was that if scholars registered for placements after the test was conducted, they would be losing twenty to thirty opportunities- what was their stance on the issue? Kiran suggested he could request companies to take company specific test to scholars who missed common test. Rohit suggested he can have re-test for scholars who missed the exam, if scholars who missed the test are enough in number. This prompted Sudharshan to intervene: he questioned the phrase “enough in number” and added that even if one scholar missed test, it will be missed opportunity for that scholar, to which Rohit responded that he will do the same even for one scholar. Sudharshan then questioned the feasibility of this. Kiran Prabhu had a go at answering this question and suggested he can request concerned people to conduct test twice or three times a year so scholars can plan well in advance to sit for placements, given that scholars graduate at three different times in the year. Sudharshan pointed out this might be perceived as bias by students as there will be two sets of question paper with common scores of evaluation. Kiran Prabhu countered this point by citing the example of the CAT exam (Common Aptitude Test) which has different sets of question papers but has a normalised score, and pointed out people taking the CAT exam accepted this as the basis for evaluation. Rohit suggested that he would try to stop the AAS from implementing a test that might not be beneficial for scholars. Sudharshan concluded that expected answer was to talk to company concerned and allow scholars who missed test to appear for interview as walk-ins.
Sudharshan then questioned the candidates on their plan for working with the Career Development Cell (CDC) alongside the AAS. In the event that the SLC does not pass a resolution for the shifting of the CDC from the jurisdiction of the IAR secretary to the AAS and RAS, what would happen to these plans? Kiran responded that there is a provision in the RAS Rulebook that they can get selected members in the Research Affairs Council, which would spearhead all the initiatives with help from the International and Alumni Relations (I&AR) secretary. He mentioned that he had spoken with the aspiring I&AR secretary for the same. Rohit replied that his approach would be the same. When asked if they thought that the CDC was only about placements, Rohit responded in the affirmative in the case of research scholars. Sudharshan brought up the difficulty of finding team members to work for teams under the RAS. Considering that the candidates proposed to find more people for the Research Affairs Council (RAC), the proposal for a RAS Executive Committee, a workshop series and so on, how did they plan to find team members to implement these initiatives? Kiran replied that in his manifesto, he had proposed a departmental level award given for all rounder research scholars in the model of the Institute Blues award to incentivise them. Sudharshan questioned whether these would be incentive enough, given that PoRs and awards don’t hold much value for their placements, and also that these awards would be given after and not before placements. Kiran replied that scholars mustn’t focus only on research but must get to know about other avenues that are available. Rohit replied that research scholars would care about how they are contributing to the institute, which might prompt at least two people to join out of the ten he speaks to.
Sriram Kompella, SGS, had a question for Kiran Prabhu on his proposal regarding medical check-ups. He pointed out that the cost of routine tests and psychometric test would come out to be around ₹ 3800 and that there are approximately 4000 scholars in institute. This roughly amounted to 1.5 crore rupees for medical check-ups per year. Sriram asked for the source of funds for medical check-up. Kiran was not able to answer that question convincingly; conceding that he had not contacted anyone from Vidal but had contacted the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) regarding the logistics, and that he would speak with the Dean (did not specify which one) to arrange for the funds. The next question from Sriram was directed towards Rohit regarding his manifesto point on introductory course on mental health; he requested Rohit to comment on the ground work done till date, state who would organize the course, where he would obtain the funds to organize such an event, who would ensure that people attend it, and the areas of focus. Rohit recalled a workshop conducted during 2016’s Research Scholars Day on balancing research and personal life and said he planned to conduct the course along those lines. He then stated that he would take help from the current RAS, members of executive wing, Mitr and Saathi for organizing and developing such a course, despite not having spoken to anyone from the Mitr or Saathi teams. Sriram was not convinced, and asked Rohit to elaborate on the outcome of his stated meetings with the Dean regarding the feasibility of his manifesto points. Rohit just reiterated that the Dean had given a positive response, and admitted that he had not addressed this sufficiently in his Feasibility Report.
The first question from the GSB was to Kiran regarding his credentials to contest for the post of RAS. According to person who questioned Kiran, being an RAS is a tedious job and Kiran’s credential of being a Super Coordinator (Facilities and Requirements) in RSD 2019 might not be sufficient to handle the pressure of being RAS. Kiran replied that apart from his credentials at IITM, he was also the general secretary and a student president during his undergrad days and had taken sufficient inputs from the present RAS and other secretaries to help him understand and execute policies. The questioner was not entirely convinced and stated that help from the current RAS is open to Kiran’s opponent too, reiterating his lack of experience to execute his stated plans. Kiran Prabhu repeated that he believed his experience was sufficient.
The next question was directed to both contestants. The question was that mental health issues and stress were due to research progress (or lack thereof), relationship with one’s guide and/or DC members; with this being the case, how would the aspiring RAS candidates handle the same? She also stated that the evaluation of mental health without addressing its root cause would be pointless. Kiran quoted an ordinance in the Ph.D Manual which states that there would be half-yearly DC/GTC meetings to track progress of research scholars, and that there existed a grievance redressal mechanism to handle issues of research scholars. He also pointed out that he had proposed instituting a body at the institute level that will look into the non-academic issues of research scholars (The present RAS clarified there is a mid-term review not half-yearly). Rohit Goyal’s take on this question was that he had conversed with the aspiring Cultural Secretaries and they had discussed having a ‘bonding night’ for research scholars or any such activity that could bring scholars out of their rooms and spend some time with their friends. The questioner stated at this juncture that she was the captain of the swimming team and had seen the turn-out of research scholars at a PG summer camp conducted in the previous semester: three in total for swimming. She then asked how the aspiring RAS candidates were planning on increasing the number of participants in any such event. Rohit conceded he was not able to think of any new idea to bring scholars out of their lab but promised that if elected, he will make it his priority to help scholars handle pressure in an appropriate manner.
Moderators switched to questions from Executive Council members:
Rahul Reddy, AAS, questioned Rohit’s claim of finding increased career opportunities for scholars working in the field of theoretical research and enquired about the groundwork he had done for this. Rohit agreed that there were fewer opportunities for theoretical research but went on to add that he would help organize training sessions to get scholars trained in data analysis. Rahul then asked him which positions were available in specific fields or whether they existed; if they did, whether these positions were not already offered. Rohit mentioned that postdoctoral positions were available for such scholars. Rahul then concluded that the placement team tried all means to find such opportunities but such opportunity for theoretical scholars are scarce, and that the answer provided was not satisfactory.
Rahul then asked Kiran to elaborate on his proposal for a modified fee structure for research scholars. Kiran justified his modified fees structure by stating scholars generally tend to register for Phase II of placements, and thus have fewer companies that are available to recruit. Not convinced with this answer, Rahul stated that the fee structure and the number of companies appearing for interviewing do not have a direct correlation, and that the fee collected goes into the maintenance of the Placement Office, thus refuting Kiran’s claim that the fee varies according to the number of companies.
Back to GSB for questioning:
An MS scholar, who was worried about not getting accommodation after his two years of stay at IITM, addressed Kiran: on the one hand, Kiran rejected his opponent’s proposal on accommodation citing that the same had been rejected by authorities already; on the other hand, Kiran was not sure about the feasibility of his own manifesto points about the DDF being used to buy software licenses. Kiran said he had spoken to the Dean AR about DDF and that the Dean had approved. The scholar was not very convinced, which prompted the moderator to intervene and state that the candidate had done the basic feasibility check and cannot comment anything further on the issue.
The next question was for Kiran regarding the DC approval required for reimbursement for national conferences; the candidate was asked why he did not have any initiatives on this front in his manifesto. Kiran answered that he had mentioned in his manifesto a proposal for a common repository of funding opportunities that shall be made available for scholars. Even if the institute cannot fund scholars for national conferences, the scholar can obtain funds from these common repositories. Not convinced by the response, the next question posed by the same person was regarding the safety of women scholars and the lack of any point pertaining to this in Kiran’s manifesto. Kiran answered that equal opportunity for men and women was what he considered to be safety in this regard, and that the RAS was a member of Complaint Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CCASH) which addresses issues of safety.
The next question was from Ashok Kumar, the ex-RAS, who asked Kiran to comment on town hall meetings mentioned during his talk and asked for his thoughts on what the Speaker does in this respect. Kiran replied that he intended to have town hall meetings for research scholars exclusively, to voice concerns that their legislators do not bring up in the SLC. This prompted the SLC Speaker, Amar Jyoti, to comment that present town hall meeting has a track record of poor attendance, asking Kiran how he expects to garner more participation in an exclusive town hall meant for research scholars and further, why there was no mention of who (ie the DoST and other administrative officials) would be present at the same. Ex-Speaker Nikhil Namburi further asked Kiran when the last time was that an exclusive townhall for research scholars was held. The SGS Sriram Kompella attached one more query about whether he intended for the RAS alone to be present, seeing as he called it an RAS Town Hall. Kiran agreed that he had not thought about participation and he had formulated idea of a town hall meeting as a common platform for research scholars. .
The next question for Rohit was from the Ex-RAS, Ashok Kumar, regarding his manifesto point related to Research Affairs Policy, where he states he will provide clarification of monetary rewards for scholars for publication of papers and patents as per the Official Memorandum (OM) of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to the GSB. He was asked, what clarifications he would like to give to the GSB, about the recommendations of a committee to the DST, that they can’t give for themselves? It is merely a recommendation, that is pretty much self-explanatory, and whether or not and how that is implemented, is upto the DST. All necessary details that need to be divulged would be the responsibility of the DST, not of Rohit, as a RAS. Ashok Kumar concluded that there is no requirement of clarifications by Rohit as these are recommendations and scholars can get information for themselves based on recommendations.
The next question was to Rohit and related to his manifesto point about basic amenities for research scholars, wherein she requested him to clarify his definition of ‘basic amenities’. Rohit replied that amenities could be anything like chairs in labs, drinking water, and so on. He added that although these are not directly under his purview, he would make recommendations or efforts to address any concerns raised to him by scholars. He was then asked to provide a concrete solution to such a situation rather than merely stating that he would try, to which he responded that if the budget is not constrained, he believed such issues could be addressed. She ended with a comment that if there were funds, there would be no need for the RAS to get basic amenities for scholars and real issue would be when there are no funds.
As follow-up question, it was informed that the Central Government has cut short funds for IITs and hence there will be a lower budget to work with. This will result in not getting enough funds. How would the candidates tackle this issue? Kiran answered that he would contact other sources like alumni funding.
Another GSB member asked the candidates to expand the abbreviation of CCASH; to which Kiran’s answer was Committee Against Sexul Harassment. The GSB member corrected him and stated that it was Committee for Complaints Against Sexual Harassment. When asked to name the head of CCASH, Kiran could only recall that it was a female professor.
Next question for Kiran was regarding his point of using IITM TV to brand M.S. program. As per one of the heads of IITM TV in previous years, it represented the life of students and was not for branding purposes. The questioner thus wanted to know why IITM TV would do branding for the M.S. program. Kiran replied he wanted to make available resources to reach out to general audience/industries about the M.S. programme being a flagship program of IITM, which was involved with application oriented research. He explained that his intention was to use available resources at IITM TV to take his idea of branding and get industries interested in research, but not to release these videos under the IITM TV tag. He was then asked if he was aware that Immerse sufficiently covers this domain, to which he responded that the magazine was not distributed and that 2017’s issue was distributed at RSD 2019 (the current RAS corrected him saying that the 2019 magazine was released at RSD since Shaastra, who typically funds and releases the same, could not do it this year). Kiran thought that a video would be more helpful than a magazine.
T5E’s first question was as follows: industry and academics have different mindset for research. Industry-research is more towards economic feasibility and profit while academic research is freedom to pursue research for its own sake. How would the candidates plan to get industries interested in the research of research scholars? Kiran had a go at the question first and explained that he had a point in his manifesto on an institute wide academic conference. He said he would use this platform to showcase the research of IITM scholars and make industries take a look at the work of research scholars. Rohit took a different view of the question and explained that the nature of research now is different at IITM and scholars are working on industry-related problems. He added this shift in thinking of research scholars can be used to get industries interested in research at IITM and that we would see more collaborations in future.
The second and final question for the evening was as follows: what was one thing that, in your opinion, the previous RAS could not fulfil during his tenure and how did the candidates intend to address the same? Rohit answered first and praised the efforts of the previous RAS in executing many plans for scholars. He went on to add that there is some gap. He mentioned that during the stay in campus, there was a gap and that he wanted to fill it using better feedback systems. He further added that he would interact with students and convey their problems to the concerned authorities. Kiran followed suit in praising the efforts of the current RAS and added while he was able to fulfil short-term goals in his manifesto, the long-term goals needed attention. As an aspiring RAS, he assured that he would work in his capacity to take the long-term goals of the previous RAS further, if elected.
With that, the second session of the Day 1 soapboxes came to an end.[Update: A sentence from the section on Kiran Prabhu’s presentation was corrected from “He proposed to introduce an examination to assess soft skills of research scholars and based on their performance (which is confidential)…” to “He proposed to introduce an examination to assess soft skills of research scholars and based on their performance…”. The error is regretted.]