Professor Tiwari’s gurukul
If you happen to take a midnight stroll across the academic complex of IIT Kharagpur, somewhere close to the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, you are likely to come across a group of students in deep conversation with a professor. Classes at odd hours of the day, and even night, are not something unusual in IIT Kharagpur. But hardly any class continues till the wee hours of the morning, except perhaps this particular one in this particular department.
The most amazing part is that this is a class of students who willingly subject themselves to the rigour day after day. If there is anything common among this class, made of students of diverse ages, seniority and disciplines, it is their teacher – Professor Manoj Kumar Tiwari – and their belief that no matter how arduous this after-class class, they stand to gain from it.
This class has produced scholars who often get funded internships, usually in top academic institutions abroad or corporate houses, or offers for fully funded doctoral research, or ultimately land top notch jobs.
So what is the alchemy behind all this?
Prof. Tiwari gives a simple answer. “I help them learn to research. They get into a mould where they can systematically present their ideas and can critically analyse things. Even the most ordinary students can learn to do that. Remember, the problem is not with toppers. They will any way make their mark, but with those who are not.”
Akhilesh Kumar, Assistant Professor in the Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering at IIT Kharagpur, who was part of Prof. Tiwari’s ‘gurukul’ since his college days in the National Institute of Foundry and Forge (NIFFT), says that other than the ‘willingness to engage’ (which Prof. Tiwari often deduces if a student comes back to ask questions), there is nothing that bars entry into the late night classes. Shubham Aggarwal, who has Dual Degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering from IIT Kharagpur and is now with Schlumberger, in fact, says that he joined the classes in his sophomore year, dropped out when his enthusiasm fizzled out, and joined back again in his fourth year.
What happens in these classes and makes students go back to it?
Ankit Gandhi, 2008 BTech in Industrial and Systems Engineering, says, “I was expected to do literature survey, formulate the problem, develop algorithms and related programming, and generate analytical reports… We worked for very long hours at a stretch, often breaking past midnight but we all left motivated by the accomplishments of the day. Having almost 10 years of industry experience since then, I haven’t found any comparable project where incentives and efforts are so well aligned.”
Ankit started his career as a Manufacturing Engineer with Schlumberger and after studying Management and Strategy at the London School of Economics on a full scholarship, is now with A.T. Kearney, where he is Senior Manager specializing in Supply Chain Analytics and Digital Transformation.
Abhijieet Ghadge, who did his MTech in the Industrial Engineering and Management (now known as Industrial and Systems Engineering) Department in 2009, draws attention to another facet. “Under the mentorship of Prof. Tiwari, you are expected to multi-task on different sets of activities, along with a primary focus on conducting research… Since several students are mentored by Prof. Tiwari during a given time, you are encouraged to work in collaboration to overcome some of the individual weaknesses and learn from such experiences.” Abhijeet joined Loughborough University in the Spring of 2009 to conduct funded research on supply chain risk management, a work that was recognized by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), UK as the ‘Best PhD thesis’ across all UK universities (2014). He is currently Associate Professor, School of Management, Cranfield University, UK.
Prof. Tiwari too emphasises on “collaborative strength”. He says, “I have BTech students, some may be doing their Masters, Dual Degree, some PhD. Some of them may do programming well but not be able to write. Others may be doing some other thing better. It is a collaborative class.”
What he does not mention is what can be called the ‘Tiwari factor’.
Ankit says, “Pursuing international internships and high-paying MNC jobs was a la mode, but the energy and inspiration provided by Prof. Tiwari truly changed the way I looked at career planning and breakthrough research.”
Shubham says, “Once you have figured out your area of interest, Prof. Tiwari makes you go through an extensive body of literature, and then, with his guidance, you are able to reach the bottom of a problem… Once you have done that, he will guide you to formulate the problem, get you in touch with leading researchers in that area working for leading organizations and universities around the world. Now, you will able to publish quality papers in leading journals. It will put you on the global map, opening up various avenues to pursue your cause and goals.”
Rahul Rai, an Associate Professor of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at the University at Buffalo, who was mentored by Prof. Tiwari when he was student at the National Institute of Foundry and Forge (NIFFT), where Prof. Tiwari was previously tenured, says, “His mentoring changed my life for good. Because of his support, I was able to secure research assistantship to pursue my graduate studies and that jump-started my academic career in the US.”
Abhijeet seconds this opinion. He says, “This ability to conduct and disseminate research, indoctrinated by Prof. Tiwari, has helped multiple students to be successful in achieving funded PhDs across reputed universities in UK, USA, and Canada.”
Prof. Tiwari himself says, “If someone is applying to Harvard for example, and has a paper in a reputed journal, then the evaluating body which is analysing the papers gives more attention.”
The point is perhaps best exemplified by Prof. Akhilesh Kumar’s experience. Prof. Kumar confesses that his GRE score was nothing to write home about and he had almost given up hope of being able to continue in academics. And yet, he got offers from foreign universities for pursuing doctoral research. He thanks his papers in international journals for the breakthrough. “Nobody expects a BTech student to write a paper in an international journal. When we joined [research], you are expected to search for papers, read the literature and so on. But we had already done that. That helped all of us,” says Prof. Kumar.
Shubham is in the industry. But he argues, “I can take on a problem from a research point of view, figuring out, working out a solution for it with patience… and bringing it into practice.”
Prof. Tiwari has become known as a ‘foreign internship professor’, but his motivation does not end with procuring foreign offers alone. He is in regular touch with his students, long after they reach foreign shores. In the case of Prof. Kumar, he was instrumental in his decision to come back to India and teach in IIT Kharagpur.
“Although he is a tough task master, he is a funny person, and keeps cracking jokes. It was not all limited to academics,” says Prof. Kumar.
“Firstly, understanding that sound logic backed by good data can be a powerful tool in changing business and society. Secondly, appreciating the role of mentorship and team work in channeling raw talent and energy into constructive outcomes. Finally, recognizing the impact of hard work and perseverance in delivering success.” These are Ankit Gandhi’s takeaways from Prof. Tiwari’s classes. Prof. Tiwari’s other students would, undoubtedly, concur with Ankit’s observations.
Prof. Tiwari is world renowned for his research contribution to the field of Operations and Supply Chain Management, with over 300+ publications and multiple research and industrial funded projects. He is an INAE Fellow, and rated second among researchers working in Logistics and Supply Chain Management in India (White paper published in TU Dortmund University, Dortmund Germany in 2012 on researchers working in Logistics and Supply Chain Management in India)