Anirban Dhar on Being a “Smart Researcher”

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Anirban Dhar

In this installment of Senior Member Insights, we talk with Anirban Dhar. Anirban is a senior scientist at CSIR–Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute (CSIR–CGCRI), India, where he leads the specialty optical-fiber fabrication activity using MCVD–Chelate Delivery Technique. Prior to joining CSIR–CGCRI, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Photonics and Electronics of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic, and at the Optoelectronics Research Center, University of Southampton, U.K.

Dhar’s research interests include the design, fabrication and optical/material characterization of various types of specialty optical fiber for fiber-based devices like fiber amplifiers, lasers and sensors.

What first interested you in pursuing science?

I believe that my obsession with science came almost purely through my learning and early days in school. The science topics in our school days consisted of both elementary physics and chemistry. There are several practical applications and experiments with static electricity, magnetism, the solubility of salts, acid-bases, etc., that we could perform ourselves, without the use of complicated equipment.

Since then, my curiosity toward science enhanced day by day as I grew, and the learning of science became a fun-filled experience. I am also lucky that I had some amazing teachers during my graduate courses that persuaded me to travel down the scientific path.

What aspect of your current work do you find the most interesting or exciting?

Currently, I am working toward the development of different kinds of specialty optical fibers for the development of fiber-based devices, amplifiers, fiber lasers, sensors, etc., with potential applications towards fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) and materials processing, such as marking, drilling, engraving and in medicine.

In my group, my colleagues and I are working with our fibers toward the development of fiber-based system such as high-power lasers and amplifiers. The heart of any fiber-based device is a short piece of active fiber; the performance of the final system mostly depends on the quality of supplied active fibers. Hence, to me, the part of my work that is quite challenging is that I need to fabricate the active fiber in a repeatable manner and keep the fiber performance the same.

On the other hand, there is ample scope to carry out some basic research and development in terms of fabricating new design fiber, which is quite interesting when it will be used in a practical application.

What is one piece of advice that you were given as a student/early in your career?

In the first year of my master’s degree course, I met a professor who taught research methodology. During his class, he explained the difference between a “good researcher” and a “smart researcher.”

He explained that “in the future, when you will pursue your research career, always try to be a smart researcher who will extract a lot of information, even from a failed experiment, and apply that to make the next experiment successful. A successful researcher must be a good observer and must follow discipline in each and every step of his life.” Later in my career, I realized the meaning of his advice and I would like to pass this same advice to young researchers.

What tips do you have for effective networking and collaboration in your field?

At present, research work is one of the prime benchmarks of a country, and thus it is important that people be aware of what is going on worldwide. This is important not only to update your knowledge but also to collaborate with potential partners to transfer your research to the next level. Hence, networking with others working in your research area, or close to your area, is an important criterion for carrying out top-level research, and successful networking gives you an edge over others.

The easiest way to network, for me, is by attending international and national conferences in my field of research, where one-to-one interactions can continue later on through email communications, WhatsApp calls and so on. However, sometimes it is difficult to attend international conferences abroad, and in that case there is the option of networking websites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Research Gate. Requesting introductions to new connections through your individual connections and forming personal connections through email communications can also be effective.

Another way of networking, which I personally have found very effective, is webinars. Webinars provide a great opportunity to be in touch with a person in a particular topic of your interest, and have a planned schedule and questionnaire.

What advice do you have for young scientists who are about to interview for their first job?

The first job interview is an important step in one’s life. In this regard, first, one should have a very clear idea about the specific goal of the prospective employer for which the interview is arranged, and, then, compare that aim with his/her own strengths and future targets. If these two aims match well, one should try to emphasize how his/her own experience and skills will bring a cutting edge to the prospective employer for their future advancement.

During the interview, one should also concentrate on highlighting his/her own contributions made during his/her career to a specific field and what additional advancement that contribution brings to that particular research field. Additionally, one must present a clear and specific future goal that he/she wants to achieve, if given the opportunity, using the available infrastructure, which should be a little bit futuristic and ambitious. It is important to be honest if you don’t know any specific answer to a question and be positive in your attitude throughout the interview session.

How important are leadership roles in career development, and how do you hone your leadership skills?

The leadership role is an important aspect of a person and controls the extent of success in his personal as well as professional life. It is well known that the success of an organization depends on the leaders and their leadership quality. A true leader is one who sets an example through his own work and inspires others to solve critical problems by providing thoughtful advice.

Although I believe that the leadership quality is an inherent quality of a human being, if anybody lacks this quality he/she can achieve the same effect by following some tricks. A simple way is to follow a role model who is quite successful in his particular field of work.

To me, leadership qualities will develop with experience and one’s attitude towards life. Accordingly, I believe that one should follow some basic things like maintaining discipline, being a smart learner, being a discerning listener, becoming reliable to colleagues, building self-confidence through the completion of a challenging task, and involving others without making any conflicts.

If your ten-years-younger self were looking at your career now, what would they be most surprised by?

If my ten-years-younger self were looking at my career now, he would be surprised to see that a person with a pure chemistry background has been working, for more than 15 years, in the field of fiber optics, where generally people with knowledge of physics and engineering are mostly working.

This fact clearly exhibits that learning a core subject is, of course, important, but in higher studies, especially research nowadays, areas become mostly multidisciplinary, where people from many backgrounds are joining hands together to advance that subject to the next level. Hence, if anyone wants to achieve a goal from the bottom of their heart, if they put in sincere effort and have a hunger for success, than he/she can do well in any subject of their choice in the long run.

If you weren’t in the sciences, what would be your dream career?

From my childhood, besides my inclination to science, I developed a love of traveling around different parts of our country, thanks to my parents. Since then, I have made it a habit to go around to different places and explore the important history of that place, the unique features of that locality and to mingle with the local inhabitants to know about their culture, traditions, etc.

Thus, if I had not opted for science, I would have selected some profession where I could achieve that passion for traveling to enrich my knowledge about different parts of the world. I could have opted for the job of a travel agent or historian, or become a globetrotter.

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