Biostandups: Can you describe how you go about solving a problem? Please give us some examples?
Manoj: It is a very general question which is asked by interviewers very frequently and I also came across such questions during my final year of graduation. First you should know the problem or define a problem. In case of our field, the problem should generate from the industry & the end users. The technology or product in which you are working should be demand driven. If the product is not viable in the market or the work you are doing is going to be absolute until you complete your project, then who will be taker of your product. We should remember the investment done by the funding agencies which ultimately comes from the taxpayers of the country. Once the problem is defined, analyse it by applying your basic and fundamental knowledge. Here, the basic and fundamental knowledge plays a very important role that has been learnt during the early days of education/career.
After completing this phase, next is go for a solution. Solutions may be numerous for a particular problem, however every solution has its own limitations, good and bad points. In the case of technology developmental work, it requires multidisciplinary knowledge of science and engineering both. Once the solution is over, go for implementation. Let me put some example to clear my point. Though the scenario is changing very fast, still we are lacking to give a finishing touch to our products. What we do, we develop a prototype and do some sort of testing and validation and also use to publish it (90% of the work) and leave the target at final stage; we jump to other projects. Let me tell you, you have not yet achieved anything with this 90% of the work. The remaining 10% efforts will make you great and what is that, the technology must reach to the end user, to whom you were working for the past many years. Evaluation and key learnings must be acquired from the completed work even if it is a failure before switching to new tasks/projects.
Biostandups: Describe a situation in which you did all the right things and were still unsuccessful. What did you learn from the experience?
Manoj: Though my professional career is very sort however, it happened in many occasions. Especially in scientific profession, it happens very frequently. Most of the eminent personalities and scholars have seen failures and they are successful because they have learnt from failures. Truth is that, failures give you more learnings than success. If someone wants to be successful in the life, one should go through the failures of the successful personalities. Learning from failures requires patience. In my personal opinion, scientific profession is not a routine job which can be accomplished within working hours only. One should devote more time depending upon the field of work. The work should be output oriented rather than deadline based working style, of course time management is very important. But the truth is that we always wait for deadline to work and this losses the creativity and innovativeness.
Biostandups: What new skills have you learned over the past year?
Manoj: Since my graduation was in electronic and communication engineering and post-graduation in instrumentation so entering into a new field was bit challenging. However, I took this challenge as an opportunity and started my research career in Agri-instrumentation i.e. charged particulate technology, charging of liquid sprays for pesticides spraying, environmental pollution abatement and precision farming and completed my PhD work in agricultural instrumentation. Initially, I have learnt the basics of agricultural engineering, algorithms, computational and optimisation techniques etc. Later on, I have concentrated myself on information retrieval, scientific reading, listening and observing, collecting, recording and interpreting the data, data representation, scientific writing and knowledge presentation. It is very necessary to communicate and convey the message to the audience therefore, communication skill should be strong. Teaching has helped me a lot in this direction. A good researcher achieves the excellence as scientist and academician both.
Biostandups: Have you ever had a great idea but been told that you could not implement it? How did you react? What did you do?
Manoj: Yes, I have faced this situation at the beginning of my career only. In scientific career, such situations occur very frequently. I have taken that comment and advice positively and started working with the facilities. I have made it a success and I feel proud of that. I am never influenced by results, believes in keep trying, patience pays you ultimately.
Biostandups: What pedagogical changes do you see on the horizon in your discipline?
Manoj: Since, I am from engineering background, so let me address this question in that perspective. Grass root innovations and technological interventions are playing a key role in improving the life of farmers and developing rural societies especially country like India where more than 60% of the people are associated with agriculture and relied upon farming industry. There should be a multidisciplinary approach which leads to a product or a process. The dependency on other countries, to import costly equipment or machine which is not even affordable to Indian farmers, must be minimised by engaging R&D activities in niche areas of agricultural instrumentation, to promote the industry towards indigenously developed products.
The agricultural scenario has been witnessing a sea change for last decade. An entirely new set of issues has been arisen such as natural resources depletion and degradation due to excessive use, human labour scarcity and increased costs for agriculture due to urbanisation and change in living style, household nutritional insecurity, slowed growth in farm profitability, food safety and trade competition. These issues offer very exciting challenges and opportunities that require frontier technologies and innovations in sustainable agriculture development and that too must be cost effective, affordable to Indian farmers. Some of the exciting areas are: use of machines and equipment to efficiently carryout farming tasks and activities, soil and water engineering aspects to efficiently use limited resources like land, water, drip irrigation and sprinkler systems, mechanical harvesting of crops, value addition and storage, transportation, agro energy in particular bio energy, biomass conversion, wind and solar energy for farm machines and on farm use to reduce energy costs. The next green revolution has to be achieved through technological interventions.
Biostandups: Think about a co-worker from the present or past whom you admire. Why?
Manoj: I read about life stories of many eminent and great personalities and the most prominent among those are Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, Prof. Stephen Hawking and Prof. R A Mashelkar. I am a big fan of Prof. R A Mashelkar whose scientific contributions took the country to new heights. Prof. Mashelkar is one of India’s most respected, eminent and global thought leaders. I am always inspired by his speeches and thoughts. He is an outstanding scientist, an inspiring speaker, an accomplished author, a visionary leader and above all a very fine and simple living human being. He is an eternal optimist and passionate believer in the future glory of India. I remember the words he spoke about me when I received the GYTI award 2016 at Rastrapati Bhawan. Nothing is great in the world when someone receives such appreciation from the person to whom he admires. I really feel great and honoured to receive the award at his hands.