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What Next?

‘Different phases of life throw up difficult questions, hard to answer but I believe that, what gives meaning to life, is to delve deep into finding those answers through the journey of life.’ It emerged again through my graduation. ‘What next?’ A quintessential question? Yes.

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Easy to answer? Absolutely no.

I was bred with this attitude since my childhood through my family. Although my parents have humble origins, they laid stress on education. My mother brought me up as a single parent and instilled in me all the right values and attitudes towards quality education, commitment, and hard work and which trio is the perfect recipe for success over centuries. I have laid all these values in good stead and store so far in my life.

My curiosity and flair for Mathematics, Engineering, and Reaction Chemistry intuitively told me that the study of Chemical Engineering would suit my interests to a T. And so, I took to Dyestuff Technology – with a strong mix of Chemistry and Engineering – in the ICT, Mumbai.
While dog – eat – dog type of competition prevails in most fields in India, it is worse in institutes such as the ICT where the intake rate is a mere five per 10000 applicants showing that it was a tough admit.

As I entered this institute, I was not aware of the pleasant surprises that were in store for me in this branch of study. The course kindled my interest and inquisitive nature as I was taught in the areas of Technology of Equipment, Heat Transfer and Reaction Engineering, and their significance in nitration and highly exothermic reactions. I also found myself grappling with issues of mass balance, usage of process control systems and utilities as per requirements. I was totally engrossed in understanding the wholeness of these subjects’ applications in chemical industries.

At ICT, I started off with basic courses in Chemistry, Computer Programming, and Designing and these were followed by more rigorous courses on Technology and Engineering in my sophomore year. To excel in a tough field of bright students is no easy task and I am happy to state that I achieved this quite a number of times during my college education. And with each term, my grades, as well as my understanding of Chemical Engineering, improved considerably.

Still the question reverberated through my mind. ‘What next?’, ‘What next?’, ‘What next?’ Trying to unravel the obscure answer to that question, towards the end of my second year at ICT, I joined an undergraduate research program, sponsored jointly by Clariant Chemicals (India) Ltd and Dow Chemical International Pvt Ltd.

The project on Sulphonation and Nitration of Biphenyl gave me hands-on experience and deep insights into the methodologies adopted while conducting research as also a feel of the simple joys and disappointments that one experiences while being involved in research work; the most important being the patience.

But the obscure answer to the question ‘What next’ started surfacing at the end of my third year in ICT, as I joined M/S Cipla Pharmaceuticals – one of the leading pharma houses in India – for six weeks of industrial training in their API plant, to practise what I had been learning earlier at a theoretical level. I was trained in understanding the operations of all the units in their plant and also their Effluent Treatment Plant.

Studying and understanding the fluid flow patterns, heat transfer operations and the various vacuum pumps used for different purposes gave me something I loved, something I cherished. These interests screamed an answer. But is that what I wanted? I retrospect. I tried to connect thedots looking forward then. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”, said Steve Jobs and I couldn’t agree more.

In order to get exposure to the subject from industry experts and practitioners, I participated in various national and international conferences on Chemical Engineering – eye openers for me in learning more about the subject, the issues and the practical industry level problems. In particular, my presentation on ‘Sulphonation in Chemical Industries’ for a national event named YICC opened up new vistas to me about Chemical Engineering.

My analytical abilities helped me reach the final of an event named ‘Salt Act’, in a national level festival by the name of Chemergence. My final project involved ‘Synthesis of 3-nitro-4-aminophenol’ which required the scale-up of laboratory reactions, along with creation plant diagram and the study of economics and thereby the feasibility of the reaction proposed.

My project on ‘Coding and Simulation of Solar Tracking Device’ helped me to traverse through the path of replacing conventional energy sources by Renewable ones in a magnified manner. Finally, the pieces began to fall in place when I joined the R & D department in the Pigments Division of M/S Pidilite Industries Limited, a leader in its line of activity, in order to gain more experience and wider exposure In June 2013.

My understanding and application of engineering and technology vastly improved as I interacted with my superiors  (experts in this field) and I am appointed to lead a new project on Synthesis and Technology of Perylene Pigments, having an ample market throughout the world. Further, the project on Synthesis of Red pigments and Pyridine-N-oxide and scaling-up of operations is an added perk.

The answer was right there; the once-obscure answer precipitated out now clear as broad daylight. Much as industry experience sounds good enough for doing newer things in my chosen field, higher level of education at the post graduate level is necessary to get an insight into the deeper concepts and the technologies. So, if I need to do well in the chemical industry in 10 years from now, there is not an iota of doubt in my mind that I should have higher academic credentials.

Having established the need, the next question that props up is “Why in the United States?” Evidently, from whatever I have heard and read, the US offers an academic atmosphere that is deeply embedded in intense learning, open communication and multicultural campuses. As one of the most highly industrialised countries along with huge spends on research, the US is the obvious choice if one wants to cut his teeth in higher areas of learning.

Of all the places, Clemson University offers me the best fit for realizing my goals. I believe that I can ably contribute in the research work being undertaken by Prof. Mark C. Thies’s on the subjects of Separations, Thermodynamics and Supercritical Fluids;

Prof. Joseph K. Scott’s work on Process Systems Engineering, Renewable Energy Systems, Dynamic Simulation and Optimization, Fault Detection and Fault-Tolerant Control; Prof. Rachel B. Getman’s work on Molecular Modeling, Heterogeneous catalysis and Rational
catalyst design; Prof. David A. Bruce’s work on Catalysis, Kinetics and Molecular Modeling, all particularly intrigue me and are the exact extrapolations of my goals.

It would be an honor to work in a lab under any of them. And if I can do that, I am sure that I will excel in my academics, gain further
knowledge in the field of Chemical Engineering, and may be who knows what, achieve some breakthrough in this field. And that’s my ultimate aim and dream – my nirvana.

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