Several topics were discussed in the interview with the newly appointed head of IIT Madras, Kamakoti Veezhinathan. The most prominent of these topics was a discussion on joint patents with farmers and how the new IIT Madras director hopes to make the institute great.
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Kamakoti Veezhinathan, the recently appointed head of IIT Madras, envisions the institute registering patents in collaboration with Indian farmers during his term.
“What would make IIT Madras great? In my tenure of five years, I’d like IIT Madras and a farmer to jointly file a patent — and give all the licensing rights to the farmer,” Kamakoti said in an interview.
He went on to say that he intends to use IIT Madras’ incubation cells and rural technology centers to make information available in India’s premier institutes accessible to the rural populace. “We have set up two rural technology centres in the Tiruvallur district (Tamil Nadu) using CSR funds,” he said.
The institute will set up 3D printers at these locations and educate fundamental coding, electronic development, and mechanical development abilities, all of which will aid in the construction of modest systems and tests.
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“In Tamil Nadu, we want to put up 50 centres, and then eventually expand to other states. There are so many ideas from the farming sector. But farmers do not know the concept of intellectual property rights,” Kamakoti added.
IIT Madras is also collaborating with the Tamil Nadu government to establish rural interaction centers, where professional volunteers will electronically communicate with students from rural areas on a daily basis to discuss technology topics, according to Kamakoti. “This will help build confidence among students in rural India,” he added.
“I have a network of 50,000 alumni, hundreds of whom are willing to participate in such interactions. These are simple ways in which we are aiming to end the digital divide,” said Kamakoti.
‘Will take allegations of caste bias very seriously’
In response to charges of caste bias on campuses, Kamakoti, who took over as head of IIT Madras in January, stated that he intended to take such concerns extremely seriously.
“If there is a caste bias complaint, we are going to handle it very seriously. We have also sensitised our faculty. There will be no tinge of caste bias at IIT Madras,” he added.
“I think bringing rural India into the tech ecosystem will go a long way in ensuring inclusivity too,” he said.
The institute has “internal complaint committees in place to look at caste bias allegations with full transparency,” according to Kamakoti.
When asked about his plans to increase the number of women in the faculty, Kamakoti noted that he and colleagues at other IITs are attempting to establish centers to promote women to seek for faculty posts after finishing their PhDs.
“The main issue is that in the Indian system, the time for someone to complete the PhD is somehow not very agreeable with the marriageable age,” he explained, emphasizing that in traditional environments, a woman is expected to marry by the age of 25, but the average age to acquire a PhD is 26-27.
“As a result, women end up not applying for faculty positions. Men on the other hand have a longer period of time in hand before they are expected to marry,” the director said.
Women are also favoring experimental, high-paying positions that provide them more flexibility in regards of employment hours and the ability to operate from home, according to Kamakoti. “However, of late, we are seeing an increase in women applying for faculty positions,” he said.
“There are larger social issues at play, but we will enable as many things as possible to ensure that women choose faculty positions more often,” he added.
How ‘brain drain’ is helping
In response to the prior pattern of prominent Indian scientists preferring to work for multinational firms rather than take up teaching positions in India, Kamakoti stated that “the knowledge is still with India.”
“Brain drain from the past decades, where Indian talent chose to work abroad, has increased the knowledge pool access for India at present,” Kamakoti added.
He said that IIT Madras now has a system of alumni who have gone abroad and are now giving back in the form of donations, mentorships, and industry interconnections, and that there is a strong push toward entrepreneurship.
“The inputs from people with global experience are actually enabling us to work on great projects,” Kamakoti said.