An Interview of an Educationist / Research Consultant with TEXTILE VALUE CHAIN MEDIA.

Dr. Suman Mundkur is an Academician with 29 years’ experience and a Research Consultant, Academic Research consultancy Services.

She is a Visiting Faculty, Department of Fibres and Textile Processing, Institute of Chemical Technology ICT Mumbai. She holds Honorary positions as General Secretary, Home Science Association of India, and Hon. Trustee, Board of Trustees, Society of Dyers and Colourists Education Charity. An Ambassador and Mentor, Researcher.Life, CACTUS Life Sciences and an Authorpreneur, Author Freedom Hub Society. https://authordrsumanmundkur. com/

Share your Education and Professional Journey

After graduating with a B.Sc (Home) Specialization in Clothing and Textiles, I went on to do an M.Sc (Home Science) Specialization in Textile Chemistry, from the University of Mumbai. To qualify for teaching in College, I equipped myself with a Diploma in Higher Education and later cleared the National Eligibility Test
conducted by UGC.

My professional journey started in 1991. After eight years of teaching in Junior College, I joined the Sir Vithaldas Thackersey College of Home Science, SNDT Women’s University, in 1999. Teaching at the undergraduate level gave me ample  opportunities to be actively involved in activities like resume building, grooming, preparing them for interviews, writing and
publishing articles. Upgrading educational qualifications were necessary for career advancement. Each time I upgraded myself with a course, I got to teach new subjects. I took an Advanced Course in Textile Designing, a Certificate Course in Computer-Aided Textile Designing, and a Diploma in International Trade Management.

Taking up responsibilities in the College helped sharpen interpersonal, communication, and organizational  skills. I undertook a UGC Minor Research Project.  I got the opportunity to present a research paper at the International Conference XXII World Congress of International Federation of Home Economics at Melbourne, Australia. Two other papers at Istanbul, Turkey and Brunei.

As a preparatory course for a Ph.D., I completed a Certificate Course in Advanced Research Methodology from Mumbai University in 2012. Soon after, I registered for Ph.D. (Home Science) from the Department of Textiles and Fashion Technology, College of Home Science, Nirmala Niketan, affiliated with the University of Mumbai, completed in August 2016.
I retired as Associate Professor in April 2020 after 29 years of experience teaching and research. The lockdown allowed knowledge up-gradation. I did a few Certificate courses in Advanced Research Methodology, EXCEL, and Material Science organized by REST Society for Research International in 2020.

The Indian Patent awarded in March 2022 for part of Ph.D. research under Dr. Ela Dedhia has been my latest recognition.

Being an educationist, what has been your journey in life and interactions with the industry?

Being an educationist, I have interacted with several professionals from the textile industry at seminars and conferences throughout my years of teaching. This has helped me stay updated on the latest developments in the field. During the lockdown, webinar attendance increased three-fold compared to the physical.

As a requirement for a B.Sc in Textiles and Apparel Designing, the students must undergo an internship of six weeks. The internship often led to them being placed at the organization. As a mentor, I visited the organizations and interacted with the employers for feedback on students’ performance. Many of the interactions with Buying Agencies, Manufacturers, Export Houses have fruitfully led to placements of graduate students.

Similar long and close association with the Society of Dyers and Colourists Education Charity, which helped bring together on a platform, experts from various fields like textiles, Dyes and Chemicals, Polymers, Coating, Digital printing, and the faculty and students of various Institutes. Organizing Panel discussions, Seminars, and Research and Design competitions annually, among students both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, allowed interaction with the Jury members and academicians.

Interactions with Scientists and Researchers at Wool Research Association, BTRA, SASMIRA during my research
and my mentee’s, field visits with students have been enriching. I have interacted with the Scientists at ICAR CIRCOT during the Meetings of Governing Body of the Indian Fibre Society and knowledge sharing Seminars My long association as a patron member with the Textile Association of India helped me participate in many of the Seminars they regularly organize. Interaction with several Industry professionals, consultants, and manufacturers when visiting Exhibitions like the National Garment Fair organized by Clothing Manufacturers Association CMAI and HGH Home Fashion, where my students volunteered.

What difference do you find with the Education System in India and Overseas?
The new education policy NEP 2020 is expected to change the Indian education system. A transformation in the system and a mindset shift cannot be expected too soon. The syllabus in Indian education has been highly structured. Some academic freedom was given to Autonomous Colleges. The faculty could use creativity in delivering information, teaching  methodology, and technology.

Abroad, there is no concept of reservations/quota or discrimination based on any protected category, whereas the caste system is apparent in India. Good teachers are not attracted to the temporary teaching positions in Higher Education due to government policies.

Indian students are expected to choose a stream early, often making it difficult to change without losing a year. In the US, the students at the undergraduate level for four years take a wide range of subjects that allows them to switch streams with ease and maturity. High School students can choose how difficult they want high school to be. There is greater flexibility, for
example, AP courses in the Advanced Placement Program, motivated high school students are allowed to take University-level studies while still in High School if they want.

Practical experiences and All-round development

Indian students start attending coaching classes and tuitions with too much emphasis on academic scores.Less time and effort are spent on extra-curricular activities, improving general reading and knowledge, and sports. There is almost no time left for any community work and overall development. Unlike in the US, where a wide array of courses promote extra-curricular activities. For instance, a student can take up foreign languages , music, dancing, painting, etc. at the undergrad level.

In developed nations, young adults often take up parttime jobs alongside their academics. They gain enough life experiences by the time they complete the University degree. This helps enhance practical knowledge and overall development that gives them an edge at the job. They can better relate education to their experiences. The emphasis for students is not on memorizing but on how and where to find information. There is more stress on the practical application of the theoretical concepts.

Collaboration between Academia and Industry

Specific collaborations between the industry and universities, such as a robotics company in the US setting up a specialized degree program with a university laboratory, make graduates learn topics more directly applicable to jobs than the traditional breadth courses.

The external funding from Industries, Investors, and Alumni allows Universities to attract the best professional talent. It also provides them with the resources needed to sustain research projects. These could be some of the main reasons for students seeking education abroad and the US in particular.

Critical thinking
The most significant difference is in the importance of independent thinking and problem-solving. The solving process can give rise to innumerable questions. Students who have gone abroad to study, mainly European Universities, have expressed that the students are treated like peers at the university level. Students can freely have conversations with their faculty, ask
questions and discuss. They feel that Indian education is hierarchical. The ability to question, think critically, analyze and communicate is critical in research. The Research Scholar and Guide relationship are crucial for a positive research environment.

As a Mentor, what are the qualities capabilities that Ph.D. aspirants and scholars must possess?
A Ph.D. aspirant must have the desire to do research. The critical ingredient is curiosity, the ability to ask questions and seek answers. I have explained this in my first book, ‘Zeroing In On A Research Topic’: A Guide for first-time researchers available on Amazon. The book gives the resources and strategies for selecting and narrowing down a research topic.

Nurturing a Researcher Mindset becomes essential in the research process. Ph.D. scholars must practice Self-Discipline to be consistent in research efforts. Another essential quality that will help them through their PhD is time management.

In addition, the ability to search, absorb and share ideas from various sources, the ability to handle anxiety and stress, and the ability to think clearly are important qualities that make a great researcher. Comprehension can be developed as the reading on a topic of interest increases. Take notes as you read, summarize, define research questions, make mind-maps, identify gaps and research problems, and make a comprehensive research plan in the proposal. So along with curiosity, creativity, comprehension, and clarity are equally crucial for any Ph.D. scholar. Lastly, sustained interest and self-motivation will keep the scholar in top gear.

As Faculty, what difference do you find between Indian research scholars and overseas scholars? 

My interactions with International Research Scholars have been in the recent eight months, through the Researcher.Life Ambassador program. I find researchers abroad more communicative and open with their thoughts and ideas, while Indian Researchers are hesitant to discuss on an international platform. I know several of my acquaintances and my ex-students who have taken up higher education abroad. In the initial months, they find it hard, as they have been habituated to rote learning and not been trained to think independently. In India, they have always been told to do a specific task in a certain way. Sometimes provided with readymade handouts, guidelines, and procedures. Being expected to think, analyze, do tasks
independently critically can be overwhelming.

 As a visiting faculty for M.Tech and some Ph.D. Research Scholars attending, some have years of work experience. I see such brilliant individuals. Each with a great potential for research and professional growth. If students and researchers ask more questions, learning can be more effective.

How has the textile and apparel industry evolved in the last few years?
In my forty years in Mumbai, I have seen the shift of the Textile industry from manufacturing to retail. Students visited spinning and weaving mills and some composite mills until the late 90s. The manufacturing sector is fragmented, and jobs are outsourced. Large Mill land has been sold to develop Malls and residential towers. The textile and fashion students get to see the different retail formats, in apparel and home textiles but they do not get to see process from fiber to fabric, manufacture to packaging.

What are the latest trends in the textile and apparel industry?
There is a dynamic shift taking place in the textile industry, focusing on self-reliance. We have seen how several apparel manufacturers shifted to production of protective clothing at short notice, during the pandemic. Textiles being closely related to the polymer and chemical industries, how the raw materials will be sourced, the procurement of dyes, chemical auxiliaries, how energy is utilized and conserved, and how workers and employees are recruited, trained, selected, and treated will change.

The shift from a linear economy to a recycling economy seemed slow in acceptance. Circularity in production will be a challenge for any production cycle. But the effort towards a circular economy will drive alternative production cycles of upcycled and downcycled products.

Consumers with increasing awareness on sustainability may also be more accepting of these products. It is only in 2019 through some of the Apparel Brands that Project SU.RE got a commitment to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030, especially SDG12, for responsible consumption and production. The Government has now approved 31 projects under the National Technical Textiles Mission. Setting up the seven Mega Textile Parks and promoting the textile sector will transform the industry. The trend is to improve quality standards towards Innovation and create an eco-system for start-ups.

Research from Educational Institutions is hardly applied in commercial production. What is the reason? How can we integrate industry with education to get maximum productivity of research?
The Indian Universities and Educational Institutions will need to display their research capabilities strongly. It is the infrastructural facilities and incubation centers and through quality research projects, publications, and Innovation. Research aspirants are keen to do something different, innovate, start-up business, get patents. With young India population, there is immense possibilities.

There is no shortage of ideas and human resources. Institutions can divert a lot of time and effort spent documenting for institutional rating and accreditation to research. It is a vicious cycle. Highly rated institutions find it easier to get funded projects.

On the other hand, the industries need to look beyond ratings and rankings, have confidence in academic Institutions. The Alumni who are well placed in the industry can play a significant role in facilitating collaboration to get maximum productivity from research. The much-needed Academia and Industry partnerships will need a boost. So, will investment in Innovation and research gain more importance than ever before.

Sustainability, Carbon footprint, Waste management how is it relevant and important? Is it just a talk of the town or any fruitful measures taken by industry?
When I started research on waste management in 2011, not much importance was given to textile waste. Citing reasons that recycling is expensive, recycled fibers are of poor quality; it is not worth the effort; I was discouraged from research on managing clothing waste for Ph.D. ‘Sourcing, reuse, and recycling for technical textile products’ was my Ph.D. topic. One of the products, a packaging sheet, has been awarded a Patent this month. The product has been certified by the National Biodiversity Association.

In the last decade, there has been a drastic shift in attitude at all levels. The research output in terms of Journal articles and thesis on sustainable sourcing, production, processing, conservation, redesign, effluent treatment, green production, eco-friendly, environmentally friendly, energy-saving, green chemistry, effluent treatment, optimization, automation, shorting supply chains, and more. Sustainability has been talked about at every National and Global forum. The theme of every Conference is linked to the UN SDGs in some or the other way.

Being a Reviewer, National and International Journals

The review process has been an enriching experience, with various subjects to read and review. When the papers are well structured, it is easier to concentrate on reviewing the content. The paper may be good to publish as it is, or it may need minor revisions and, lastly, may not be suitable for publishing. Some Journals do not have the system of desk rejection, and a reviewer lands up with many papers to sift. Papers with shallow content or content with good ideas but not presented well, language. It is important to identify certain aspects for better clarity, and ambiguity in statements. Early researchers sometimes write something, when they intend to mean something else. My blog on proofreading elaborates these points.

The experience of being a reviewer gives comprehensive experience. It is interesting to read how researchers approach a topic and its methodology. Researchers are increasingly using the mixed methodology. The trend has been to take a multi-disciplinary approach to research. The critical analysis of data allows judging the depth of the subject dealt with. How the researcher has evaluated and thought through the subject, even if it has no empirical data, as in a review paper. Beyond a plagiarism check, researchers also need to pay attention to other ethical issues in research and publishing.

It is expected of the reviewer to think profoundly and offer suggestions to the authors for further refining the paper for publication. Having spent over three decades teaching-learning and evaluation, offering feedback comes naturally. This can be a very meaningful and exciting part of reviewing research papers.

How has the transition been from being an Educationist to a Research Consultant?
Research Consultancy has given me an opportunity to interact with researchers from various disciplines other than textiles and fashion. My start-up as an online research coach started with the lockdown. I am on a mission to empower people to research. Help them prepare research projects and publish papers.  Researchers seek help in selecting a topic, identifying gaps, and research questions from a review of the literature. Help is sought on how to formulate objectives and choose a suitable methodology. Preparing a research proposal and preparing for admission to a Ph.D. program. So as a Research Consultant, it has been an enriching experience with a learning curve.

In support of researchers, as a Researcher.Life Ambassador from India, it has been possible to have conducted a panel discussion on ethical guidelines for researchers. Two Facebook Live sessions on publishing a review paper and Developing an Effective Research Proposal. As part of the R Voice mentorship program, I have been mentoring proposal writing and enhancing professional profiles.

Life after retirement has put me in a lifelong learning mode. Over three decades in Academics has given me confidence in the second innings. With so many opportunities opening up, there is so much to know and grow!