How do we create researchers and make manufacturing sector such as textiles and materials competitive? Textile sectors in the West and even in India are under stress. A way out is to come up with textile products that have high performance applications which will be absorbed by markets.
Transformational research and development may provide some help. Research has progressed from carrying out activities, which may just satisfy intellectual curiosity to transformational. This needs changes in mindset and developing skill sets. Strategies can be followed to infuse research culture in academia and industry. However, researchers cannot be created using standard set of procedures.
In my 25 years of research in textiles and materials, my observation is that one can teach research methodology, but to develop researchers is not simple. It involves enthusiasm and passion from those carrying out research.
Cultivating research attitude among students early on, say from high school days is gaining momentum. Texas Tech University has initiated, “Transformative Undergraduate Experiences (TrUE),”program for undergraduate students. “For students in STEM disciplines, engagement in undergraduate research is particularly important to help them build the necessary skills. Research experiences are highly desirable for STEM majors who are preparing for admission to graduate and professional skills, but they also significantly benefit students who go directly to the workforce after graduation,” stated Professor Michael Galyean, provost and chief academic officer at Texas Tech University.
Insights from actual practitioners on the need to train next-generation workforce with research skills are particularly helpful.
Market and consumer surveys will help with moving ahead with R & D. “Customers can provide valuable technical advice as they have seen the technology at multiple vendors and know what to be worried about, what is normally possible, etc.,“ stated Navaneeth Nandakumar, senior technical staff with semiconductor industry, Maxim Integrated.
“Interacting with industry to know the needs will assist planning next phase of research. Students can be paired with industrial partners, which will enable undergraduate and graduate students to be excited with practical aspects of classroom learning,” stated Sivaramakumar Pariti, senior technical marketing officer with United Kingdom-based Bluwin UK. A project led by Pariti involved students with Erode, India-based India Dyeing Mills, which has resulted in the reduction of salt in cotton fabric dyeing. Students’ enthusiasm in research enhanced as they could witness actual impact on environment and cost, added Pariti.
Customer objections can lead to new innovative ideas, stated Nikesh Rajagopalan, director of solutions, Medical Devices & Auto, HCL America. He added, “Customers are the best teachers around.”
Interaction with research partners, customers, and collaborative entities, can boost enthusiasm to do valuable research.
Planning and strategizing research in partnership with stakeholders is the way to move forward. Team and project leaders can be influencers to develop researchers. Of course, it is a two way street and researchers need to have passion and dedication. It is a team effort—valuable mantra for researchers.