Abstract of seminar "Nature of research & skills required" With the ever increasing globalization and competition, it is evident that the engineering professionals of the 21st century will be working more and more in international and cross-cultural settings. It has long been felt that they must be equipped with a whole set of new social engineering skills, in addition to their technical and domain knowledge, in order to succeed in the new millennium. Some of these skills include formulating research problems, developing creative & innovative problem solving skills, team work, leadership & entrepreneurial traits, inter-cultural understanding, resolution of conflicts, etc. For instance, most of us recognise the importance of research for the well-being of a society and a nation and as a matter of fact for the well-being of the planet Earth, yet we do not teach our students how to do research? They learn by watching others do research, by making mistakes and by simply doing and seeing an experiment. For those responsible for technical education, it begs the question: should teaching of such skills be a part of University curricula? If the answer is yes, then how to do it within the existing framework which is really constrained by the duration of degree programmes with virtually very little flexibility?
There is no simple answer to this, and indeed there might not be one universally valid answer to this problem. One possibility to achieve this goal is to teach the students to learn on learn their own, i.e., always being a student for the rest of your life. This, of course, is not a new concept, as illustrated by the following Chinese proverb: "Give hungry person a fish, he will have it for dinner, Teach him how to fish, he will never go hungry again". So we must teach our students how to think on their own in order to identify and define a research problem before one can start looking for its solution. Amongst all the research skills mentioned in the preceding section, perhaps the most significant (and also the most difficult one to teach as well) is to teach them to think.
Of course, how does one teach how to think? My view is that one cannot really teach how to think or be creative or formulate a research problem, we can certainly facilitate it. In this talk, we address some of these issues by way of examples of the tools used for thinking and required for research in any discipline. In particular, we talk about the nature and type of research, skill set needed for a successful researcher, etc. The material presented here has been used in short term courses and workshops aimed at sharpening the research and problem solving skills of diverse audience. This material has also been used for 4 years to teach the first year Ph D students at our Institute (IIT Kanpur) and at other institutions like IIT Gandhinagar, IIT Roorkee, the University of Western Ontario (Canada) and Cape Peninsula University of Technology (South Africa).
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