Visting OSA Student chapters!

As an OSA Ambassador in the centenanial year for OSA I had the privilege of visiting student chapters in India. In this post I want to record my impressions of that visit.

I traversed from north India (New Delhi, the capital city) to the Eastern cost (Hyderabad) and then Kolkatta before retracing my steps. Each of the flights I took within India was fully 2 hours at the least and the size of the country reminded me that visiting several chapters really needs several days in addition to the actual visits. Not to mention the heat which was beginning to really turn on as the Indian summer got underway (think temperatures of 46 degrees Celsius in Delhi).IMG_1026

The heat, the long flights and hectic schedules were however almost forgotten when interacting with the chapters, being overwhelmed by their generous hospitality and impressed by their work. The passion and enthusiasm that I saw in the students was so infectious and energizing that I feel grateful I could interact with these wonderful students.

In Delhi I met the IIT Delhi student chapter and gave a talk to an audience of 30. There were plenty of questions about the Finite Element method and its implementation, how to deal with field continuity across boundaries and taking care of reflections. On the chapter side the discussion revolved around the best way to engage more of the members in organizing activities and participation.

The IIT Delhi student chapter told me about their activities: seminar series, open days where schools student would visit and be shown demonstrations, quiz competitions and a very successful IONS conference as well. It all sounded wonderful and I was very pleased for a personal reason: I had started this chapter way back in 2003 as a PhD student. So to me the sustained success of the chapter is very satisfying.

This was something we talked about too: when chapter leaders complete their degrees and move on, how to hand over the leadership so there is a continuity in the activities. Good communication was seen to be key! As well as learning from the success stories of other chapters globally to get ideas for events . The chapter was vibrant, active and engaged.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the visit to my alma mater I then hopped to Hyderabad. The Vidya Jyothi Institute of Technology chapter was my host in this historic city which serves the best biryani ever.

I cannot describe adequately how deep an impression the chapter has left on me. Sitting in the outskirts of Hyderabad, the chapter is hosted in a largely undergraduate institution, with some very keen and intelligent students. The chapter was holding seminars and doing some invaluable outreach work going to poor schools and even orphanages, bringing Optics and Science to underprivileged children who would not otherwise ever have access to things like the OSA discovery kit. They are inspiring children who have little opportunity and really brining to life the mission and vision of OSA in a way that deserves recognition and support. I only wish more chapters in India, Asia and Africa would go to schools in poorer neighbourhoods.

Our discussions were ofcourse not confined only to their activities but also the interests of the chapter members! Again the enthusiasm for Science and the love for different aspects of science was like a current running through the room.  Beyond Optics, I was trying to answer questions about black holes and the Large Hadron Collider!

Carrying with me the fantastic experience of Delhi and Hyderabad it was fitting that I went to Kolkatta, the city where Optics was born in India. It is also the city where some of the best sweets are made!

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In a series of joint events hosted by University of Calcutta, IIT Kharagpur, Institute of engineering and Management, that lasted the entire day i met more than a 100 students!

The morning lecture was the University Of Calcutta after which we shared a bus, several cars to go to the Institute of Engineering and Management for lunch and the second lecture, followed by a interaction only session at the University of Engineering and Management.

 

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To say I was overwhelmed by the brilliance of the students, their ideas, their questions and their interest, would be an understatement. If someone could bottle the energy in the room, they could power a city for a week!

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From solar cell optimization, to whether optical computers would be viable to grapheme waveguides the technical discussion was wideranging. The chapters and their activities again were very diverse and there was a real interest from the students in getting new ideas for events.

To each of the chapters, the members, the organisers and faculty advisors I cannot say “thank you” enough times. I loved this experience and I only wish I could have spent more time at each place.

Some common themes that I picked up from all the chapters were:

  • looking for new ideas for events/engaging members. In my view learning from the success and best practice of chapters the world over is a great way to do this. As is engaging with other local chapters
  • paying the OSA memberhip fees via credit cards was not easy for some chapters, and I have since learned that local bodies such as Optical Society of India (OSI) can collect the OSA dues if members also join OSI.

When I set out from London, I wondered how the trip would pan out. Now that I am back I know this: I want to go again!!