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Computer engineer P.R. Kumar – ScienceLives

Computer engineer P.R. Kumar – ScienceLives


DR. KUMAR: When I was
initially, going from high school to college, unlike in the
US, in India it turned out that engineers are considered “hot.”
OK? So not nerdy, OK? And electronic engineering at that
time was actually one of the hottest areas. So that is what
I decided to go into for my undergraduate. And then my goal
was to become a manager. I wanted to study at the Indian
Institute of Management, and that’s what I was planning
for. But it so happened that one of my table tennis
colleagues, somebody I practiced with, he got an application form
from some university called Washington University in St.
Louis. And he said, “Give it to – somebody. And this person
gave it to me.” So I had not taken any of the GRE’s or
TOEFL’s or anything like that. And I just filled out this
application on a lark, and sent it in. And was completely
shocked when on the same day that I got admission into the
Institute of Management that I had been craving all of my life,
I got a research assistantship with this university, the
Washington University in St. Louis. And I said, “Of course,
I’m not going to go to the US. I’ll go to Management.” But
then I talked to a whole bunch of my friends, and everybody
said, “You know this is – it’s good to see the world. Get away
for a year or two. And you know, it’s good for you.” So I
looked at all the coursework and I figured out that I could
actually finish my Master’s degree in – I forget what it was
– nine months or eighteen months or something. And I said, “I’m
going to do it as fast as possible and come back.” But
then, of course, you get trapped. And – and it turned
out, fortuitously, that the field I had chosen was actually
an important field. I actually liked it, and now I love it. DR. KUMAR: You have to be
yourself. That is – I mean, it is good to have a role model and
so on. But ultimately, you have to be yourself. DR. KUMAR: We had something
called the National Science Talent Exam. And I made a
moving coil, a meter or something for one of those
things. Yeah, it was a lot of fun. DR. KUMAR: The diversity it
brings your life and the flexibility. So for example,
you know a lot of people think that a professor just teaches.
But actually we have it – we wear an enormous number of hats.
We teach, we mentor graduate students, PhD students. We
write papers, we do research, we give lectures, we travel all
over the world. I’ve been to a humongous number of countries –
almost everything in Europe, in Asia, et cetera. It’s a very
diverse lifestyle. And the interesting thing is that it is
all done at your own pace. There’s no boss. You are
beholden to yourself, but you have to maintain your standards.
And so I think it’s a – it’s a wonderful profession. DR. KUMAR: You have to like
what you’re doing. You should not be stressed by it. So I
tell a lot of people who are aspiring for a PhD or for a
career in academia – they come and ask me, “Should I do it?”
And I tell them, “If you really like what you’re doing, if
you’re not stressed by it, and you’d like to continue doing
it, that’s – that’s wonderful.” DR. KUMAR: One of the great –
greatest things that we do is educate students. And I’m
talking, not only undergrad student but even graduate
students, PhD students and so on. So mentoring PhD students,
which, of course, is a by-product of your research. In
fact, it’s research that you with them. It’s like an
apprenticeship system, right? So a PhD study is a – is really
a joint venture conducted over many years, with one-to-one
interactions over long periods of time. And so I think that’s
some of the greatest things that we do for society. And these
are the students who go to other universities, who head all the
research labs at all the companies – at IBM’s, at General
Motors, at all these companies. So I think that is one of the
great contributions we make. And of course, aside from that,
we’re also pushing the boundaries of knowledge and
starting new fields and coming up with research results and so
on and so forth. Yeah. DR. KUMAR: One of the people
I’ll mention is a professor at Berkeley, Pravin Varaiya, who
was very broad and very flexible. But anyway, I think
it helps to have role models. It’s – because, you know, you
have to – you have to embody – you have to see the embodiment
of something before you can emulate. So I think, yes. I’ve
been influenced by a number of – a number of researchers. You
know, and in fact, everybody you meet has some – some very
attractive aspect that you’d really like to have, you know?
So, yeah. So you see beauty and examples all over. DR. KUMAR: We have such a
flexible, loose, somewhat unstructured but still
structured lifestyle. People don’t really know all the
diverse things we do and how we have to kind of segue from one
activity to another activity, seamlessly. They would be
surprised by how many different kinds of things we do, and way
we transition effortlessly, between them. DR. KUMAR: All those course
notes and things like that which I’ve written out, in hand, and
for which I don’t have any copies. This is not a
theoretical question, by the way. There was a fire in
Oakland – Oakland Hills, Berkeley. And many professors
who were working on books and manuscript – and they had one
copy at their home, and that was it. Or, they lost it all. DR. KUMAR: I like to listen to
classical music. Actually, I like to listen to Indian
classical music, so I do. But most often, I’m listening to
news or something.

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