-- Abhishek Kar (PFM 05-07)
In 2004 when I enrolled for Masters degree programme at Presidency College, Kolkata to specialize in Nuclear Physics, I had never heard of IIFM. But destiny had other plans for me. Ideological conflicts/considerations drew me towards rural energy issues and its importance. With utter dismay, I somehow strongly believed that energy management at village level would ensure energy security of India (a pretty naïve thought-I admit today!) So I started looking for getting training in sociological/managerial training with focus on rural areas to add on to my technical exposure in energy instruments. Googling brought up few options- notably IRMA and IIFM. And I was there at IIFM.
My imagination of IIFM as some obscure building deep inside some jungle did not match with reality. During my GD/PI, I had a quiet visit around the campus situated within Bhopal city. I was lost in the tranquility that envelopes the 200 acre campus with occasional poly-tonic chirping. The campus is frighteningly (for some, majestically) big. I can easily hide in that vastness!
When I joined the course, I found it was not what I would have ideally liked but nonetheless provide me with lot of exposure to rural issues and their inter-linkages. The academic atmosphere is not competing rather if I may use the word “cool”, albeit loosely. I always disliked unnecessary competition and was more than happy to find quite a few compatriots. I went about studying my own areas of interest related to renewable energy. IIFM curriculum does give a lot of time (I would refrain from commenting whether that is good or bad!) to pursue your own interests- be in extra-curricular, research, or just time-pass!
As I wanted to understand the rural energy scenario, literature review (writing to professors of UK and US as a student from a developing country generally helps to get access to high priced research papers) and attending conference (if IIFM attendance requirements hinder my plans, conference proceedings were always available!) was my academic life. Rest is fun, pure fun. Chatting till 3 am with topics ranging from HBR to Censored Stuff, watching movies, going out for dinners (though I have less complaints regarding IIFM mess than my friends in other premiere B-schools) was hallmark of life at IIFM. The grades mattered to some extent (for ease of scholarship during Ph. D-one of my career dreams!) so studies were important to some extent only! I spent time doing original research (in a remote tribal village sacrificing my Diwali vacation) to develop a case study on impact on renewables on rural life which was eventually published by Stockholme Environmental Institute in 2006. Here I must mention that IIFM professors were excellent guides supportive of new ideas and ready to extend help in every possible way, which I consider is more important than the teaching acumen. As someone had said, “What a teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.”
My first internship was a matter of fluke. My publication helped me get discounted conference participation fees in an International conference at Hyderabad. There I met director of West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency. He, by God’s Grace, liked my enthusiasm about renewables though he was polite and graceful enough not to trash my ideas (which were shamefully stupid as I realize today) upfront. So my first internship was a tour of Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove where WBREDA has installed solar power plants giving power to 4% of world’s population dependent on Renewables. I tried to examine technology’s influence on society and society’s influence on technical performance of the solar projects-in other words, interactions between society and technology. I prepared a report on how to involve community in local level energy management (though then I was oblivious to the much touted franchisee concept of Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana) and prepared a socio-technical manual on how to improve the performance of renewables to provide for better quality and quantity of power. TERI, my present employer, is currently executing a government-sanctioned project in Sundarbans on the lines of that work.
Getting my second internship was smooth sailing as WBREDA officials recommended my name to TERI. I did a project with my batchie, Rahul on a World Bank project of documenting case studies and deriving lessons from success and failure stories of renewables projects across India. We also tried to work on a simplified version of advanced energy planning software called HOMER with suitable modifications for Indian conditions.
TERI offered me some sort of a Pre-placement Offer (albeit with formal 6 minute interview session) in December; now I am associated with TERI as a Research Associate. I am working as Project Leader for three out of the seven rural/renewable energy related projects that I am currently associated with. The projects vary from implementation activities to more academic oriented journal research based report writing.
To conclude, IIFM has given me the great platform to pursue my career objectives. More importantly, IIFM at the crossroads of student and professional life was truly a memorable and enjoyable experience.
Abhishek Kar is IIFM Alumnus from PFM 05-07 batch and is currently working as Research Associate with The Energy and Resource Institute.