AuthorCafé Connect: From academia to administration

“I consider myself an accidental academician but an intentional entrepreneur and administrator,” quips Dr Raja Pappu, Director – Research & Development at Gandhi Institute of Technology and Management (GITAM).

Dr Raja Pappu is an entrepreneur-educationist by passion and a professor/administrator by profession. Post his undergraduate training in engineering, he went on to pursue a Masters degree in Telecommunications Technology and then a PhD in optical fibre sensing at Aston University, UK. He always had an entrepreneurial spirit, which led him to start several companies before pursuing an MBA at Aston University. Currently, he is doing a second PhD in Entrepreneurial Education at Loughborough University School of Business and Economics.

In his interview with AuthorCafé, he shed light on his journey and interest in research administration and policy making, the revamping of GITAM’s PhD programme with a focus on the overall development of researchers, and how he sees AuthorCafé supporting GITAM with their goal.

Accidental academician to administrator

With a blend of academic and business experience, Dr Pappu moved back to India in 2018 and joined GITAM as a Professor. In due course of time, he had an opportunity to work for the research community at GITAM and empower them.

Administrative work involves the creation and implementation of policies. Dr Pappu developed an interest in policy-making as he started reading the conventions while executing them. Backed by considerable support from GITAM’s leadership, he has been developing several exciting new action plans for GITAM.

Research at GITAM

GITAM is a 42-year-old institution, and it became a University in 2007, which is also when its PhD programme was started. At present, GITAM has three campuses, twelve schools, 100+ academic programs, and 28,000+ students.

GITAM is envisioned to become a global university among the top 100 by 2040. From the policy and administration aspects, they are striding towards this goal by creating an ecosystem wherein researchers and research can flourish.

“It is the responsibility of the university to create ample learning and career opportunities and support for scholars, which is what we are striving for at GITAM.” Dr Pappu

GITAM is heavily investing in developing new laboratories and infrastructure and building interdisciplinary research. “At GITAM, with multiple disciplines such as pharmacy, medicine, sciences, engineering, law, nursing, humanities, physiotherapy, and paramedical, the scope for doing interdisciplinary research is truly great,” he says.

GITAM Centres—the Centre for Autonomous Systems (CAS), Centre for Biomedical Devices (CBD), and Centre for Health and Wellness Innovation (CHWI)—have been developed recently with the primary motive of enabling the research-to-commercialisation continuum. For example, CBD involves knowledge and research in medicine, mechanical engineering, and electronics. “The aim of these centres is to encourage academicians and PhD research scholars to get hands-on experience in creating something, instilling confidence in them and inculcating entrepreneurial spirit,” says Dr Pappu.

Developing research at the graduate level

Owing to its progressive leadership, GITAM is making headway in ensuring the overall development of PhD research scholars and faculty. The focus of the university now includes both fundamental academic research as well as applied research in collaboration with industry. Unlike in earlier years, a full-time PhD programme is now becoming more prominent at the University.

GITAM encourages research clubs such as the infrastructure club, ideate-and-innovate club, and careers club, which are primarily driven by scholars. Speakers from prestigious Indian institutions such as IIT and IIM, as well as top overseas universities, are invited to address two-week-long induction programmes for scholars, where they cover a wide range of themes including the philosophy of research. This programme has been successful in instilling confidence and clarity in research scholars to take up research work.

Another step in propelling scholars’ development is the annual symposia conducted by the university wherein scholars submit their work and get the opportunity to present it before a large audience and a committee of experts, who assess the work. The benefit of this has been multifold—students get enough confidence to defend their research; they receive feedback and suggestions that help improve their work; they are also likely to get employment offers if the assessors (professors from renowned universities or industry experts) are hiring.

Apart from standard PhD research coursework, GITAM offers courses in entrepreneurship, creative writing, and critical thinking to first-year PhD scholars to ensure their overall growth as future professionals. The scholars are also exposed to a structured pre-incubation programme that supports them in nurturing their ideas. 

“The first step to creating entrepreneurs is not setting up incubators but bringing entrepreneurial education into the curriculum; setting up incubators is an outcome.” Dr Pappu
Partnering with AuthorCafé

One of the biggest challenges at large-scale universities is the lack of visibility into the progress of scholars and that of the PhD research programme, which could give rise to malpractices and delays. It becomes imperative to ensure there are no gaps, lags, or glitches in the administrative pipeline.

“We acknowledge the importance of the right tools to bring structure and transparency in PhD programme management, which will be a huge contributor towards building an impactful ethical research ecosystem.” Dr Pappu

He envisions this goal for GITAM through the ongoing partnership with AuthorCafé. See the announcement here.

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