Interview with Dr. Praveen Kumar, Chair, Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) Indian Chapter

Dr. Praveen Kumar is Assistant Professor at the School of Materials Sciences, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS) in Kolkata, and Chair of the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) Indian Chapter. He has a PhD in Physics from the Department of Physics, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. He is the recipient of several recognized awards and fellowships, including BRICS Young Scientist Award, Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship, INSPIRE Faculty Award, and Gold Medal in M. Sc. (Physics). Dr. Kumar’s research contributions cover a broad spectrum of topics in optoelectronic materials and devices, including III-V semiconductors, LED emitters, Tandem & Intermediate bandgap solar cells, Photoelectrodes for hydrogen fuel, Broadband Photo-detectors, and Next-generation sensors.

How did you get to know about the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship (MSCA-IF) and what motivated you to apply?

Praveen Kumar: MSCA Individual Fellowship is one of the well-known and most-prestigious fellowships, especially for Indian Ph.D. students, who are looking to go to Europe for their postdoctoral studies. Though there were a lot of platforms to get information about the MSCA fellowship, I found EURAXESS as one of the most informative. After submission of my PhD thesis at the Department of Physics, at Indian Institute of Technology, Prof. R. Noetzel from ISOM, UPM Madrid, Spain, accepted me for the Institutional fellowship, and suggested me to apply for the Marie Curie Fellowship. I took his suggestion very seriously, as I knew MSCA is a very prestigious fellowship, a lifetime achievement for a young researcher like me, and, therefore, was also aware of the very tough competition. After a lot of discussions and iterations, we finalized our proposal and completed the rest of the formalities within due-time for the submission of the application.

What have been the benefits of your MSCA Individual Fellowship?

As I said, being a Marie Curie Fellow is a lifetime achievement, which further gives lifetime benefits of being a Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) Member. MSCA is not only one of the highest paid fellowships, but also gives other advance funds for travel and research, which one can use it according to his/her desire in research. Provided with extraordinary opportunities for networking and collaborations around the globe, I was able to raise my profile enormously. I feel that this wide enjoyable exposure and independent supervision of the research problem, made me a much more mature and efficient scientist and positioned me much better to flourish in science.

What would you say the biggest challenge in the application process was? How did you overcome it?

Frankly speaking, I was a first-timer, thus had no prior guidance or experience for applying for such a big fellowship. Apart from the proposal, there were several non-scientific information that also needed to be given, which was a very tough part for me. Prof. Noetzel helped me to overcome all these points and his suggestions helped me to complete them in a very professional way.

From your experiences, how does the research environment in Europe differ from that in India?

The most effective difference what I felt, was the global perspective on all the issues, as my group was having students from around the globe. I enjoyed a lot of discussions during the office hours and also on weekends at the corridors of the department. The department had all the advanced facilities under a roof, so it was easy to plan experiments with timelines. One more important thing, which I liked is the user facility of the characterization systems. In my department most of the characterization facilities were operated by students themselves, however, to become a user of the facility there was a well-defined guideline. I was using most of the facilities on my own, therefore, it was a great learning for me on this side as well. Further, being in Europe, it gave me the freedom to do more networking with other researches from other EU countries.

How do you think EURAXESS India can further promote research collaborations between Europe and India?

EURAXESS India is doing a great job and playing a vital role in promoting all the opportunities available for Indian researches in Europe. As Chair of the MCAA Indian Chapter, I have developed a close relationship with the EURAXESS India team, and the chapter is also actively participating in some of EURAXESS’ events here in India. Furthermore, I feel the EURAXESS Jobs portal is one of the most useful tools for searching opportunities in Europe. EURAXESS India is not only disseminating the information but also providing the platform for scientific networking for Indian researchers.

You were the main person to establish the MCA Alumni Chapter here in India and also currently its chairperson. What are the main objectives of the chapter and why should other MSCA fellows from India join?

I joined MCAA during my MCA tenure at ISOM, UPM Madrid and became the member of the Spain and Portugal Chapter. After coming back to India, I found no activities from the Indian Chapter, and we only had 28 members. I had a long discussion with the MCAA support team and the board members. I took charge of the Chapter in May 2017 and within less than 1 and half years, we are having nearly 300 MCAA chapter members, going to be one of the largest MCAA chapters. The MCAA Indian chapter is fully active and most of the members are participating in the proposed activities continuously, by keeping the following objectives:

  • Encouraging local networking and establishing mutually-beneficial relationships between the MCAA and its alumni within a defined geographic zone.
  • Initiating activities that add value to the Alumni network and input to the general body.
  • Recruiting, attracting, supporting and facilitating connections between MC fellows and alumni.
  • Sponsoring and supporting activities that will enhance the image of MCAA.

Further, MCAA provides lifetime benefits to all the Marie Curie Fellows in terms of professional development, networking, and cooperation, information on employment opportunities. Further, MCAA also financially support individual members by offering micro-grants (travel, media, one-world) for their networking, collaborations, and career development purposes.

What were the most important experiences that you draw from your time to Europe? And why would you recommend Europe as a research and study destination?

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay as Marie Curie fellow with great scientific success. I did a lot of networking, travelled around Europe, attended several very good international conferences as a speaker, enjoyed the moments of discussions with all my international friends on various scientific as well as non-scientific issues, and lastly got a more global perspective on research. In Europe one will have a very advanced lab to do research, distinguished faculties to resolve the problems, international friends to keep the world around you exciting, different culture and heritage places in every EU country to discover, and lot more. Therefore, I highly recommend to all the Indian young minds to visit Europe as MSCA fellow.

Could you kindly share some tip to future applicants to the MSCA IF?

My suggestions are as follows:

First you should have a very sound and innovative scientific research idea that you would like to pursue.

Make your proposal scientifically clear and strong under the guidance of the professor with whom you are planning to work together. Every point should be addressed as per the application guidelines.

Including partners from the industry is also one advantage. Last but not least “BELIEVE IN YOURSELF”. Utilize the present to make a better future.

Thank you Praveen for this interview!