An Interview with Prof. Kumar (Part Two)

viveAn Interview with Professor Vivekanandan S. Kumar on AU, Students, and Research

 by Scott Douglas Jacobsen

(Part Two)

What pathways exist for students, undergraduate and graduate, to become involved in research at AU?

Oh! Research is not constrained by subject or by the person wanting to do research. It is confined by the interest students bring in to the area of exploration.

Take for example, undergraduate students, typically third and fourth year students, are engaged in various research projects in our Learning Analytics research group. They identify the problem. They discuss solutions. They pick a good solution. They implement it. They test it. They publish it. They then move on to the next big problem.

Kinshuk and I, as supervisors of this research group, are here to guide them, to provide some resources and to establish a network. Interestingly, this network is in a constant state of flux, researchers coming and going, researchers including undergraduate students, graduate students, post-doctoral students, Mitacs interns, visiting students from other countries, visiting Professors, industry partners and government agencies and liaisons.

Students are exposed to such a large network and discover their true passion in research.

The Learning Analytics research group has many student-driven research explorations.

The group believes in Lean and Agile way of learning and in Lean and Agile way of conducting research.

We meet daily and weekly and monthly to share our progress as well as pains. We celebrate our research advancement. The research group, if seen as a biological entity, has what it takes to sustain itself. This is the kind of research groups we should promote at AU, in all disciplines and across disciplines.

We are here to simply show them the way to say, “hey, this is what I know, what I studied in the past 35 years, and these are the interesting areas for you to explore”. And then, the students have to take ownership and say, “Oh yeah, that is something absolutely beautiful that I want to explore and contribute to, for humanity”.

That is the kind of passion from the inside that needs to be nurtured in research groups.

“Students should demand AU to facilitate the creation of such student-driven research groups.”

Students should create their own pathways and invite the rest of us to come and contribute. We need to identify such research drivers from among our students. Thankfully, we have plenty of such drivers. They know how to blaze research pathways on their own with minimal guidance.

This is a beautiful characteristic I see often in our students. As an undergraduate student, anyone that comes to AU should be aware of, if not prepared, to tackle these two critical traits – self-regulate and persist. AU is not just a learning university, but also a research university. If pathways don’t exist, then students should create them.

Students can do the initial background investigation. They can find the right group of people who can contribute to establish this pathway. They can consult Professors about funding opportunities. They can consult AU advancement and the Research Centre about government and industry partners who would be interested in such a pathway. They can design a research process, hopefully Lean and Agile, which can govern the progress and the measurement of this research pathway.

AU itself should find better ways to expose its ongoing research, research potential, and research facilities. We are limited by distance and geography but we can comfortably overcome them when it comes to exploring a research pathway. We do have that know-how. The point is, I would like to see students be the drivers in creating and nurturing research pathways and the rest of AU would be there to support such student initiatives.

We can think of this as flipped-research, research driven by students and supported by the rest of the AU community. Just the opposite of what one would expect in a traditional university. Students can do their research wherever they are in the world, as long as the resources can reach them when they need them.

How can AU help students find the right tools, reach the right mindset, and be with the right group to flourish in research?

In spite of being a CARI, given the size of AU, we are limited by our resources and by our reach. But, within these constraints, there are boundless research pathways. It is all there for our students to take ownership and drive research pathways. Start within your class and form a research interest group. Find seniors with similar interest. Find similar research groups in other institutions. Approach Professors. Do a quick literature review. Contact AU research service providers such as the Research Centre and Advancement. Seek internal and external funding sources. Apply for funding in collaboration with Professors. Get a research pathway started, irrespective of the funding. Or, get onboard a research pathway that already exists.

Universities advance many research beacons. Students can follow and come ashore using one of these beacons. Or, create their own beacon.