Prof. U. K. Anandavardhanan, Department of Mathematics is one of the recipients of the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for the year 2020. IIT Bombay is extremely proud of his achievements. We are truly honored to interview him for our newsletter and present his research work to the alumni community.
1) Congratulations Professor on being conferred with the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize, one of the highest Indian science awards in 2020. How do you feel to get this recognition?
Needless to say, it feels good when one's work is recognized. The previous recipients of the award include some of the mathematicians whom I admire a lot, so it's indeed a nice feeling!
2) Please tell us about your early days as a student. What motivated you to do higher studies in Mathematics? What was your area of research during your Ph.D.?
In my school days, I had no particular inclination towards any subject. So when I had to choose a subject in college I asked my parents and I chose mathematics on my father's suggestion. In my college, I had a rather charismatic maths teacher and thanks to him I decided to continue studying mathematics. I did my M. Sc. (1996 to 1998) and Ph. D. (1998 to 2002) from the University of Hyderabad. After Ph.D., I went for my postdoctoral research to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). And after that I joined IIT Bombay in July 2005. My research area is part of what is called the Langlands program in number theory.
3) You specialize in Langlands program, Number Theory. Could you please share few lines on these mathematical concepts?
Okay, so what I study is what is called group representation theory. Studying certain kind of representations of certain type of groups will have consequences in the study of numbers is one of the insights of the Langlands program. It's named after the mathematician Robert Langlands who came up with a number of revolutionary results and conjectures in the mid-sixties. Over the years this has become a central area of mathematics.
4) A few years down your career, you were awarded prestigious awards like the NASI-Scopus Young Scientist Award, 2015, NASI-Young Scientist Platinum Jubilee Award, National Academy of Sciences India, 2009, INSA Medal for Young Scientist, Indian National Science Academy, 2008. Can you throw some light on the areas you were working on during these years and how these recognitions might have helped you to grow?
Being recognized is very encouraging for most people; certainly true in my case. When you do something, especially when you are young, and if people recognize what you do, you feel encouraged. So, overall, it's a good feeling to be recognized.
5) From your brief experience at the University of Iowa, what key differences do you find in the research environment and work ethic in Indian and American institutions? What is the one thing we can learn from each other?
I was there only for a few months. I've really no experience with institutions abroad to make comparisons on my own.
6) What does your work comprise as the Founding Member of Indian National Young Science Academy, New Delhi?
Some of my colleagues in INYAS did a good amount of outreach work among school students. I wasn't directly involved in any of these.
7) Please share with us one breakthrough ‘Eureka’ moment in your research career.
While working on a problem, not every day is the same. In fact most days are difficult without any progress and once in a while some progress happens. So, such moments of progress are there but rare. In my case, I feel it's more continuous incremental progress over the years.
8) What are some notable researches done by your colleagues that you admire?
Partly due to the nature of research mathematics and partly due to the limitations of my own education, my comfort level in mathematics as a whole is rather limited, so I can't quite comment on the work of colleagues. However, it's also true that one develops some feeling for what others do since we do interact by sitting together in various academic committees, seminars, etc. From this experience, I generally think highly of most of my colleagues, their work, especially those of our colleagues who have joined the department in more recent years.
9) You have been given the Excellence in Teaching Award twice at the Institute. Please tell your best experience as a professor. Do you bring your research work into your teaching to make the lectures more interesting? What is an ideal student-professor relationship, according to you?
I have the feeling that students like my teaching. I think one positive aspect that I can see in my teaching is that I try to engage the students and probably the students also like the fact that I care to take the whole class along. My own research work is narrow and specialized so directly I do not bring research into teaching. But that we are doing research, that we are thinking about new questions and problems, I guess this should have an indirect influence on our teaching. Our research style could affect our teaching style, so in an indirect fashion research might affect but not directly. I feel fortunate to have had a great equation with all my students over many years at all levels from undergraduate students to Ph.D. students. I'm not sure whether or not there's any ideal for the student-professor relationship. What works for one might not work for someone else. Being sincere certainly helps. Perhaps being genuinely interested in the successes of one's students is also important.
10) Please tell us about the Ph. D. program in your department and how has it improved over the years.
From 2005, the year I joined, to now, in 15 years, I can see that our department has much improved, both in quality and quantity. In our Ph.D. program, as part of the coursework, the students get to learn a variety of good mathematics. In fact it's one of the few departments in the country where a student gets a broad mathematics education, regardless of one's later specialization. This was not the case long back. Many young and energetic mathematicians belonging to different specializations have joined the department in recent years and this has considerably strengthened the Ph.D. program.
11) What new initiatives have been taken up in recent years to increase students' sense of excitement in pursing research (specifically for undergraduate students)?
Answer: As our own full-fledged undergraduate program started only three years ago, it'll take some more time to talk about it. We do have undergraduate students who are very keen on pursuing mathematics as a career. So students of course will get all the help from us in terms of guidance and encouragement but they haven't reached the stage where they apply for a Ph. D., etc. Certainly, we are very keen about the students pursuing mathematics and we will help them in all possible ways.
Picture credit: conferences.math.tifr.res.in