“Research is not a job; it is a passion. It is a twenty-four-hour thing and you’re never on vacation”, says Dr. Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay, an internationally recognized researcher in Computer science, specializing in computational biology and now a director of the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. She completed her M. Tech in Computer science from IIT Kharagpur in 1993 with Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma Gold medal and Institute silver medal and then obtained her Ph.D. from the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata in 1998.
She was awarded the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize in Engineering Science in 2010, Infosys Prize 2017 and Third World Academy of Science Prize, 2018. Awaaz got a chance to interact with her and in this edition of our series “JEWELS OF KGP”, we present an insight into her life of passion, responsibility and energy.
ROLE OF IIT KHARAGPUR
Dr. Sanghamitra had obtained two bachelor’s Degrees – B.Sc. in Physics from Presidency College, Kolkata followed by B. Tech in Computer science from Calcutta University in 1992 before she joined IIT Kharagpur.
She believes that it was at IIT Kharagpur where she was first exposed to true hard work. During her course, she had to work until midnight in research laboratories and then attend classes next morning. This tedious work culture though, she admits, helped her grow leaps and bounds in terms of enjoying her work.
SHAPING UP OF CAREER – LOVE FOR ACADEMIA
Dr. Sanghamitra says that she never really had set targets or career goals from teenage. She has rather believed in giving her best in the moment and grab opportunities as they come to her. She recalls how she had plenty of job options after she completed her masters from KGP but as things turned out, she happened to be conversant with professors of the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata and decided to pursue research therein. Thereafter, there was no looking back for her.
She found the research work stimulating enough to keep her going. Dr. Sanghamitra says that it is the intellectual challenges posed by the academic problems that she cherishes being absorbed in. She has hence never felt the need of external motivation.
However, during her PhD, like most of the other people, she too got concerned about whether or not she would be offered a job based on her credentials after completion of her PhD. However, once a few companies accepted her applications and made job offers, she was affirmed of her stature in the industry. She then turned those offers down and decided to stick to Academia.
VIEWS ON RESEARCH IN INDIA
Dr. Sanghamitra has worked in various Universities and Institutes worldwide including USA, Australia, Germany, China. She has authored/co-authored more than 300 research article in international journals, conferences and book chapters, and published six authored and edited books.
When asked about the reasons why India lags in research despite several steps being taken every now and then, Dr. Sanghamitra believes that the major chunk of institutions does not have complete infrastructure to produce significant research output, especially in basic sciences. She affirms that the existence of world-class facilities only in a creamy layer of elite institutions does not imply the development of research in India as a whole.
Dr. Sanghamitra isn’t too amused by the work culture of research scholars here, as she feels a large part of the students here perform research as a job and not out of passion for the subject. She says that due to this, the Indian scholars are focused on only a narrow topic while the students abroad have in-depth knowledge of the whole field of their research.
Another significant factor is mathematical strength. She has observed that the students pursuing research abroad have an edge over the students here when it comes to Mathematical aptitude, which is an indispensable need for almost all quality research.
PROFESSIONAL CAREER- FLOURISHING FIELD OF COMPUTATIONAL BIOLOGY
Dr. Sanghamitra has edited journals in the area of soft computing, data mining, and bioinformatics. Her research interests include computational biology and bioinformatics, soft and evolutionary computation, pattern recognition and data mining.
She confidently asserts that the computation in biology would flourish as time progresses. She believes that with more challenging problems being posed by biological data, the algorithms are going from strength to strength. She explains that biology and computation would enrich each other in a coherent manner. While on one hand, the analysts would continue to infer path breaking conclusions out of data being fed in through biological experiment; at the same time, computers would also feed data to those in biological domains on what experiments to conduct or how to conduct certain experiments so as to extract sufficient data. Thus the process as a whole, will continue to reach new heights.
ADMINISTRATIVE DUTIES- CHALLENGES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Dr. Sanghamitra has been the director of the Indian Statistical Institute since August 1, 2015. She believes that although it was a conscious decision to take up the role of Director, it has robbed her of almost all her time as it is a demanding responsibility. She says that her interests apart from academics lie in reading light stuff, vocal music, watching movies and in sports. She, however, admits that she doesn’t get a lot of opportunities lately to be doing these things. She tells that her students carry forward her research work under her direction as she hasn’t been able to devote much time to research during her tenure.
She has, however, been quite focused on her target points as the director. A primary target for her, she believes, has been to streamline the institution’s administration with the national norms and set a few wrong things in accordance with the modern needs. She has also focused on increasing industrial collaborations, in order to provide more platforms for research to be applied, apart from making sure that the traditional quality in basic research is maintained. She has also worked in the direction of increasing the utility of the Institute for the government and assess the growth of the new centres in Tezpur and Chennai.
VIEWS ON GIRL EDUCATION AND INTRODUCTION OF QUOTA
When asked to express herself on the introduction of a girl quota in the joint entrance examination for IITs, Dr. Sanghamitra believes that this step would serve the purpose of changing the social mindset and hence is a move to be taken forward. However, she clearly states that the multi-dimensional, generations-long problem of girl discrimination requires to be tackled at the root, right from the birth of the girl child.
She is happy to share that how even men have now started active discussions on empowering the education of the girl child. At the same time though, she believes that the parents need to ensure, during the upbringing of their daughter, that she is given enough freedom and opportunities to pursue the career and life that goes along with her natural inclination. Only then the steps being taken at the administrative helm would prove to be useful.
AWARDS AND HONORS
Dr. Sanghamitra is the recipient of several prestigious fellowships and awards, in both science and engineering. She is the first recipient of Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma Gold Medal and also the Institute Silver Medal from IIT Kharagpur. Although she has never been ambitious of any of the awards, she believes that such awards signify that one’s success is not one’s alone. Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma gold medal, Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar prize in Engineering Science in 2010 and Infosys prize in 2017 are three of the awards she feels boosted her confidence, though she never gets too exhilarated on being nominated for such recognitions.
MESSAGE FOR THE STUDENTS
Dr. Sanghamitra always has visits lined up for KGP but her administrative constraints haven’t made it possible of late. She has an emphatic message for all the students in KGP. She believes that there is “absolutely no alternative to hard work” and asks the students to work their heart out as merit can do wonders only when coupled with quality hard work. She adds that research and entrepreneurship are the need of the hour when it comes to the bright minds present herein. Without quality research work and creation of enough jobs, it would be difficult for the nation to develop.
However, she feels that the retention of human values is equally necessary. Having put in tremendous hard work to get in, she believes students in IIT face a burn-out and tend to lose the habits which a good human being should possess. She finally asserts that once the students give the right direction to their talent, they can make a huge difference for the country.