Conversation with a Theoretical Physicist

A couple of days ago, I had the honour of meeting Mr. Prince Ganai, a Kashmiri theoretical physicist who is a member of the faculty at NIT Srinagar. He’s a really cool guy! Must be in his late thirties. When I told him about Phoenix, he was very interested, and he said he would like to get some boxes to use in the labs at NIT Srinagar. I told him to get in touch with Ajith sir when he returned.

I was previleged to spend enough time with him to talk about a variety of topics. We talked about the problem with the education system in India, specifically Engineering. He was of the opinion that with the current system, BTech was a waste of time! He stressed on the importance of the need for flexibility and academic freedom in the curriculum.

When I told him about my bitter academic experiences at NIT Calicut, he wasn’t surprised. He agreed with me that too much importance is given to exams – first interim, second interim, tutorials, end semesters – he said it’s nonsense! He also felt that the semester system doesn’t help learning, because re-learning is an important part of learning. In the present system, you just end up with scraps here and there, while preparing for the exams, and you soon forget whatever little you learnt because you have to get on with the next semester. The truth is that at this level, you have to spend some time reflecting on what you have learnt, to savour its beauty and enjoy the whole learning process. The rigid and hectic schedule of BTech doesn’t provide for that.

Well, apart from education, he talked about food, customs, society, philosophy… just name it! It was great to listen to him – such a dynamic person. He talked about the need for our society to rid itself of its rigid outlook and adopt the scientific approach to life. “We hear people complaining about Westernisation of India. Actually, the truth is that India is becoming Scientific, and rational.”

Mr.Ganai told me about his passion for Theoretical Physics. That it is an exciting intellectual adventure. He is at IUAC to carry out some computations for some project in Theoretical Physics that they are carrying out here. He said that when he had some work to do in Theoretical Physics, he usually did it during late night/early morning, because “you need solitude, as you sometimes have to talk to someone who is not there!” It must indeed be an exciting journey to explore deep into the laws of Nature. It’s a pity that we don’t have many such people in our country. Why should the Europeans and Americans have all the fun?

10 thoughts on “Conversation with a Theoretical Physicist

  1. Not only engineering. Starting from primary education, exams are given more importance than anything else. Little bit of flexibility in the system can immensely motivate the students to make their learnings meaningful.

  2. I think the problem is not just with education. But it is there everywhere where we have opted for “mass manufacturing” as our means of production. It surely adds to efficiency and scalability, but produces identical and predictable products.

    So I’m not surprised when i see students without identity and with predictable world view being kicked out of this supply chain into back offices of corporates year after year.

    Kishore, let us have a meeting over a cup of tea when you are back. Let us see if we can do something to make learning interesting at NITC. (Or atleast in my course;-)

  3. As I always say, if the system stinks and you are sure that you cant do anything about it (at least at this age/stage you are in), then find ways to “fool” the system. The fact that the system stinks itself would mean that there are ways to get around it. If whoever evaluates the answer sheets is happy with a long “essay” on a brain dead topic, just give it to him/her. If someone is happy with “figures”, give it to him/her .. If someone is happy with fancy looking equations followed by a fancy name of its inventor, just write it down! If you think that your “assignment” on some useless repetitive topic is just a waste of time, just flick it from some place !!

    I know I will draw some flak for these seemingly “unethical” suggestions above .. But the question is this – if you know that you have absolutely no power/ability to change the “system”, do you want to me a “martyr” fighting the system or do you want to be smart and get around the system with minimal/no heartburn and try to change the “system” when you reach a stage where you feel that you have enough power/ability to make some change ? I know that the opinions will be conflicting on this matter and you are far ahead of those days when you would just listen to me and believe whatever I say, now you are capable of thinking for yourselves (which is good and I am happy :-), but if I were you, I would just work around the system making sure that the “system” harms me as less as possible and work towards building the “ability/power” (some day) to correct the system!

    Gopa.

  4. By the way, I “accidentally” signed off as “Gopa” in the above post (instead of Gopu) 🙂 .. “Gopa” is how I signoff at work 🙂

  5. When I told him about my bitter academic experiences at NIT Calicut, he wasn’t surprised. He agreed with me that too much importance is given to exams – first interim, second interim, tutorials, end semesters

    Exams are important because you consider them to be. Its perfectly possible to get through exams with starting the day before.

  6. @Gopu

    Of course, I know there are methods to “fool” the system, and I have been using them. But that is not the point. The thing is, the fruits of “fooling” the system are rather illusionary. A good GPA might get me a good job or admission to a reputed university, but the fact remains that after four years, I’m no better than I was when I joined the college. I’d much rather gain some genuine knowledge forsaking any previleges obtained by getting around the system.

    And as for working for “ability/power” to change the system “someday”, that simply doesn’t appeal to me. It’s not about “power” to change the system. It’s about changing people’s mindsets. It has to be done bottom up and not top down.

    @Girish

    I know very well that it is perfectly possible to get through the exams starting the day before! I got through the last semester exams that way only! What I’m trying to say that the whole procedure is pointless – exams do not aid learning in any manner.

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