by Seshadri Ramkumar, Ph.D.
How do we create researchers and make manufacturing sectors, such as textiles and materials, competitive? Research needs to continue its progression from intellectual curiosity to transformational—from carrying out activities to creating high-performance textiles that markets will adopt. This progression requires changes in mindsets and skill sets. Strategies can be followed to infuse research culture in academia and industry; however, researchers cannot be created using a standard set of procedures.
In 25 years of research in textiles and materials, I’ve found that one can teach research methodology, but to develop researchers is not simple. It involves enthusiasm and passion from the people carrying out the research. Cultivating a passionate research attitude among students as early as high school-aged is gaining momentum. Texas Tech University has initiated the 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,” says Prof. Michael Galyean, provost and chief academic officer at Texas Tech University.
Of course, the workforce and the research are driven by consumer demand. “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, and so forth,” says Navaneeth Nandakumar, senior technical staff in the semiconductor industry at Maxim Integrated.
Customer objections can also lead to new, innovative ideas, says Nikesh Rajagopalan, director of solutions, Medical Devices & Auto, HCL America. He added, “Customers are the best teachers around.”
Interaction serves to boost enthusiasm. “Interacting with industry to know the needs will assist planning the 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,” says Sivaramakumar Pariti, senior technical marketing officer with Bluwin U.K.
A project led by Pariti involved students with India Dyeing Mills, which has resulted in the reduction of salt in cotton fabric dyeing. The students’ enthusiasm in research was enhanced as they witnessed the positive results of their work concerning the environment and on cost, adds Pariti.
Planning and strategizing research in partnership with stakeholders is the way forward. Team and project leaders can be influencers by sharing their passion and dedication with research newcomers. It is a team effort—a valuable mantra for researchers everywhere.
Dr. Seshadri Ramkumar is a professor in the Nonwovens Laboratory, Texas Tech University, Lubbock.