Research in Civil Engineering


Hello, So, today we have with us Prof. Gettu
Prof. Ravindra Gettu, he is professor in the Department of Civil Engineering here at IIT,
Madras. He has a PhD from Northwestern University
in Evanston in the United States of America and he works on concrete technology. He is also the associate Dean for Industrial
Consultancy and Sponsored Research at IIT, Madras. So, he has a lot of experience working with
you know various funding agencies, working with various sponsoring agencies and so on
and as a very good in sight into what are the kinds of you know activities that go on
as in the institute as a whole and certainly with respect to civil engineering. So first of all welcome. Thank you. To this interview. We just like to start with civil engineering,
I mean most of us realize that it is been along for a long time and in fact wherever
I go think that comes to my mind is that the first people who arrived here were civil engineers
because the road is already there and the building is already there. So what are traditional areas of civil engineering
that people do research on, but have been around for a very long time as areas of research? Well, first of all thank you for having me
here. It’s good that people are interested in
civil engineering. Lot of time, we think that people take civil
engineering for granted and they don’t think any research goes on. Well, at least in our department in most of
the places we would have say 4 or 5 major areas of civil engineering. Structural engineering, which deals with the
construction of facilities like building, bridges and so on. And then we have Geotechnical engineering
which deals with foundation, how these structures are built on? The mechanics of soils and how safe should
the foundation be. Then we have Environmental engineering, which
deals with how people and constructed facilities effect and interact with the environment. We have Water Resources or what can be also
called Hydraulic engineering, which deals with facilities like canals, dams and water
supply as well as say sewage networks and sanitary networks. Then we have Transportation engineering, which
I am sure anybody who has used any road or any system of transportation in our country
understands the intricacy and the complications. So, they deal with how to make traffic flow
better, viability of different systems and they also look into the future to see how
planning should be done. Then we have a group such as ours, where I
come from which deals with construction management and management of projects and to make them
more efficient, safer, cost effective and delivered on time. We also deal with materials, materials technologies
that are particularly what I do. I work on concrete and other construction
materials. Then we also have a group which works on building
Physics, like to make sure that our buildings are more comfortable ventilation, thermal,
comfort and lighting. So, these are the different aspects. So in each of these areas there is lot of
research which goes out. So, I am sure that any one who is interested
in research in civil engineering would find an area that is suitable for him. In these range of activities that you are
mentioning is there something that’s relatively recent that has come on that people have gotten
on to in let say, in last 10, 15 years as supposed to something that is been around
for a much longer period of time? Well, Civil engineering research like you
said in the introduction as being around, there are lot of new things coming in. I works in materials, so the first thing that
comes to mind is the new type of materials which are coming in. Polymers are being used extensively in civil
engineering. Civil engineering materials where traditionally
stone and brick and cement, motor and so on. So but the polymers are coming in very big. Then other technologies, for example, Information
technology is affecting a lot, how we model and how we predict anything going from traffic
flow to how a structure behaves and what are the interactions of environmental on a structure. Environmental engineering has become very
big now. This boom in environmental engineering I would
say started of long back in other countries, in India may be much later, but in the past
decade we have seen so much of research in environmental engineering within the realm
of civil engineering. So, there is a lot of lot of studies being
done on how to make a water supply safer and how to make sure that the waste that we generate
is treated well and disposed off in safe conditions. Ok
So, there are a lot of things coming up. When students come to your department for
their post graduate degree. So, they all typically would have some kind
of a you know under graduate degree on I mean related to civil engineering and they come,
most of them I will assume may be you do take students from other backgrounds to. Are some common issues that they face in settling
in into a research environment coming from, I mean a course related environment which
is what they would have done during under grad or even otherwise just settling into
the kind of research activities that go on you know in advanced civil engineering department
are there these specific issues that they tend to face? Well generally they do not face any major
problems. One thing that comes up often is the way that
they have studied in the bachelors or some times even in the masters, is not really amenable
to how we expect research to be done. To give an example, lot of students have studied
answers for specific questions. And then what we find out is they are not
able to analyze new situations or when we have them to do research, they expect or they
seem to feel that it would be a series of steps, where the guide tells them to do this
and they come back. But when we expect them to analyze the results
we find that to be lacking and this comes back to the fact that when they have studied
they always being told to study a certain set of answers, for certain set of questions
that out of those questions they are examined. So we find out that sometimes that analysis
or the ability to handle new type of questions, new type of problems is lacking. So, we spend say better part of the first
year bringing the students up to this level that we required and I would say most of the
students who finish say the PhD or their masters now go out with a ability that we expect in
a good research. Okay so, in general as things as they leave
the institution with the degree in other ways that you feel are the appropriate ways to
measure success in their research activity, of course, they are getting a degrees so they
have succeeded in some way, but is there something more suttle that you look at and you say this
person was a successful researcher? Well, how I would judge researcher say, PhD
students still at IIT is, if that person has the ability to analyze and decide, reach decisions
based on their results or their research I think they are good researchers. Ok. The proof of the pudding is when they graduate
and go out, and they if we follow the career I would expect that say in 5, 10 years they
should be one of the top researches in India then we are successful. Ok. In our work in bringing them out as research. So, I think in fact, talking about you know
what happens when students live the degree program, I mean in after they graduate, so
of course civil engineering is very well connected with the industry I mean just direct link
between what you do and may be what very large fraction of industry or that construction
industry looks for. So, that link I think most of us understand. Other other industries which pick ups civil
engineers where maybe the general public maybe not as aware of it, is there some unique situations
like that you can tell us about? Well in our country most of our PhD students
go into teaching. Ok. We have, I think I would say about 90 percent
or more of our PhD students would go into teaching. Lot of our masters students, those who do
MS as well as M. Tech go into the industry. So, they have been people going from chemical
manufactures up to structural designers. The whole range in whatever we deal with,
there are people who go into the industry and in terms of PhD as I mentioned the openings
that they get into are mostly in teaching, but we have had students who go into administration. We have people who go into the IAS, IES; we
have students who have gone into the IFS, Indian Forest Service. So, some how civil engineering seems to give
them the holistic view, which they hope will be useful them when they go into administration. Okay very nice. So, may be some away bit of a mundane questions
now coming of this more philosophical question. Students come in and they become graduate
students here for may be say 2 years, 3 years, 5 years depending on their degree program. They go through various phases of learning
courses doing research and so on. What do you think is a frequency with which
students should meet their advisers and what can you give some input into the kind of interaction
that guide and a student should have through the course their PhD? Well it is sort of a difficult question to
give a generic answer. Ok. I would say they should meet the guide as
often as necessary. Ok. Now, as a thumb rule I think once a week is
good enough. Ok. Once a week is good enough. I do not like students to come in every day
and ask what they should be doing. Ok. And I think that does not show their independance
and I think the guide also should not be doing this. But once a week at least is a good frequency
and towards the end of thesis when the thesis has to be corrected, I think more often would
be good. Ok. Now this interaction could be in groups. I know research groups like mind, where we
have a research meeting of the whole group every week. So the interaction could be in a group or
could be one on one. Ok. Depending on the students and I would say
the guide. So, may we close with this question, what
advice would you give to an aspiring research student in your department? Well, I think the most important thing that
I would say and this is something that I ask students say in their comprehensive exam or
research proposal. I ask students, how is your thesis going to
make the world a better place? This often we do not think how is the thesis
going to important. So, I expects students to believe in themselves,
believe in the problem and believe in the solution and know what we are going to solve. So, this is something that sometimes students
are caught by surprise. Ok. And this comes back when I was doing my masters. I was working in a problem I thought I was
very exciting and when I was applying for a PhD somebody ask me, what is the use of
what you are doing? And that made me think I went back to my adviser
and said, why I am doing this? Where can I apply this? So, I always ask my students and I tell them,
pick up a problem or work on something that is going to have some effect in some way and
understand that and work towards it and that I think makes it more pleasant and I think
holistically that is the better way. Ok. Certainly. So, thank you Prof. Gettu. Sure. Thank you for joining us. Ok. Pleasure. Thanks Prathap. Thank you.

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