Pursuing a career that is closely related to our day to day lives is very interesting because it puts things into perspective and provides constant feedback to do better at work. What better example than Automotive lighting?

Pranam Prakash, our next pathbreaker, works as an Optics Engineer, using the principles of light and optics to design better lamps with lesser glare that ensure better driving experiences.

Pranam talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about his decision to take up Photonics instead of Engineering and pursue a career closely related to his field of study.

A great lesson for students to look for  inspiration in your daily life and study something that relates to your inspiration. That makes your life and work better.

Pranam, your background?

I was born and brought up in Engandiyoor village,Thrissur, Kerala. I come from a typical middle class family. My father is doing a small business with his younger brother and my mom is a homemaker. I have a brother who is 4 years elder to me.

I completed my school education till 12th from Amrita Vidyalayam , chavakkad, Thrissur, Kerala. During school my only interest was to play. Till 7th standard, I used to just pass all subjects so my parents won’t face any trouble during PTA meetings.

During a get together in my family, one of the family members just made fun of my marks and that day I realized that people respect marks.

From then onwards I wanted to make sure that i I got atleast 75% marks and be free from all questions people asked. English was tough for me, so I compensated for it by scoring high in maths.

I joined a tuition centre for maths during 10th and in the later years, joined tution class for state syllabus even though I was studying in CBSE syllabus. The tuition teachers were good and in that year, state and CBSE books were made common. I joined the same centre for entrance exam coaching for 2 months.

My brother tried for medicine and finally took engineerig. So I just opted for computer science after 10th to avoid medicine. My mom wanted me to be a day scholar in a nearby engineering college

What did you study? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?

I applied for the State Entrance exam for BTech. and Cochin University of Science and Technology Common Admission Test (CUSAT CAT) for integrated MSc in photonics. I got admission through the state entrance exam in a nearby engineering college for a degree in ECE . 

The next day when I went to the tuition class, i came to know about the photonics course from my physics sir. I am a person who gets easily motivated for a day. So I went home and announced that I will opt for the integrated course in Photonics.

My family was confused at first because no one knew about this course and there were lots of arguments.

That was the first time I questioned my father, “why should I take up engineering? “. He just told me that since my brother was doing it he thought that i should follow my brother.

When i told him that i didnt think of myself to be as good as my brother, and preferred to try this new course, he thought for a while and agreed to my decision saying i was fully responsible for any future consequences of my decision.

My mom was concerned since i had to stay away from town. But I convinced her saying i would be home every weekend. Even after 5 years in college I never stayed even one sunday at the hostel.

I finally ended up doing an integrated 5 Year Masters course in Photonics from International school of Photonics, Cochin in Kerala. Basically it’s a research oriented program which guides you to become a researcher after doing a PhD.

Since the  last 5 years they are also offering  job oriented opportunities. Students are taught basic of maths and physics at MSc level for first 3 years after which they specialise in core optics subjects (laser-optics, fiber-optics, nano-optics, bio-optics, non linear-opticsetc) for 2 years. You will be getting both a BSc and MSc degree at the end of the program. They take 20 students every year.

Tell us about your Internships

As a part of the program students can go for a 2 month internship every year. There is a 6 month thesis project during the final semester (main thesis). We had the opportunity to go to many foreign universities since many of our seniors or alumni are working as PhD students across the world and hence it is easy to get internship. The best approach is to read about the professor’s current research and apply for a project/internship.

I have been to IISER Pune, UOH Hyderabad, SN Bose Kolkata and  OIST Japan (Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University) for internships and master’s thesis projects. You will be getting great exposure to world class interdisciplinary research.

Internshala website provide details of all internships in different institutions.

My first internship was at IISER Pune. I applied to a professor who asked me to apply through proper channels so i would get stipend. I filled the application form online. The selection is based on marks, previous experience and a cover letter of my intended research topic. My project was in laser spectroscopy of biological molecules. In those 2 months I learned new software to run experiments and devices etc. I traveled to many places in Pune.

My 2nd internship was at University of Hyderabad, where I directly contacted a professor through gmail. I didnt get any stipend, but you can apply to the aspire program to claim the expenses.

I worked as graduate summer intern to Prof D.Narayana Rao and did Z-Scan and Scattering studies of Aluminum & Cobalt nanoparticles using Laser Ablation techniques.

“Investigation of optical limiting properties of aluminum nanoparticles prepared by laser ablation in different carrier media” in “Journal of Applied Physics was published.

I did my 3rd summer internship at Kolkata and the topic was shape memory alloy design.

My final semester master thesis was at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Okinawa, Japan.

I contacted the professor through mail and went through the selection procedure online. There was an interview before final selection. The general approach is to go through the professor’s research and show enthusiasm towards his work.

The topic was ” Optical trapping of nanoscale particles (Plasmonics)”. Plasmonic trapping device designing and simulations were realized using OPTIWAVE FDTD and COMSOL software packages.

This was my first trip outside India and I got full scholarship for the internship, including air ticket and hotel stay. At OIST, i worked with different people from different countries and that helped me understand the global work culture. I travelled to many places and had different food.

I was lucky to get published in 3 publications as co-author for projects that i did during my internships and master thesis. During the final year, the toppers of our batch had some family issues and i ended up being the topper. My certificate and medals were collected by my father from our college HOD and that was a very proud moment for him.

Tell us about your first break

I had a campus placement in an Automotive Lights company. There was an aptitude test and a basic physics theory exam for 20 marks.

This is followed by a casual talk with the manager and a technical interview along with German team. If they are familiar with our project topics, they would ask for details. Since i was a fresher they were not expecting much from us.

It is always better to use simple terms during the interview because some of the physics terms will be difficult for interviewer to understand as they are from a different field.

What were some of the challenges you faced?

At one point i was planning to do a PhD and was giving interviews for PhD and jobs in a  foreign country during my final thesis (last 3 months) . I got selected for a PhD in Hong Kong.

My mom’s world consists of only 3 people: dad, brother and me. When I came back to India after doing my master thesis, my mom looked very tired, fasting and getting worried thinking about my stay outside India. She just couldn’t adjust to the thought of my staying abroad for a PhD. So I rejected that offer. I always wanted to do a PhD abroad since the duration is shorter and we get a better stipend.

What was your career path after graduation?

I got placed in a company near my hometown as a trainee and at the same time, got an offer from my university for a job in Kuwait for a much better salary. Seeing my mom tensed again, I went to dad and asked him for advice. He asked me to decide myself saying that they were okay with any decision that i took. I felt it was better to earn less and be in a happy family rather than earning more staying alone and spending the money for family hospital bills. So I rejected the Kuwait offer as scientist officer.

I then shifted from fiber optics to the field of automotive lighting field in passenger vehicles (Pune) with the support of my friends. After spending 4 years there, i have learnt the basics and completed some projects.

For 23 years I had been in South India, so i wanted to explore North India. I shifted to Chandigarh to another Automotive Lighting company (Commercial vehicles) as Senior optics engineer. Here I am able to learn new things . My responsibilities are also different.

Tell us about your work

We design the lamps of vehicles. For this we use principles of optics and software like Zeemax, lucid shape and CATIA. With respect to knowledge, the company will train you if you get selected as a  trainee. You need to have a masters degree in optics to apply for this job.

I work on Design of Head Lamp and Rear Lamp signalling functions including fog lights with bulbs & LED with Reflector independently. I also work on Light Pipe and Collimator Design for Head Lamp or Rear Lamp signalling functions

Customers provide us some styles and designs of automotive lamps. We design the lamps such that they meet legal requirements. We make the lamp glow in a unique way. You can see our lamp designs on cars on the road.

How does your work benefit the society?

By designing glare free headlamps and good rear lamps, we help passengers travel safely by preventing accidents and help save life.

Your advice to students?

I will probably be the only person to opt for a job rather than a PhD after getting high marks and authoring publications. Life is too short and it’s not enough to do all mistakes and learn. So learn from other’s mistakes and be aware.

Talk to elders about challenges you are facing because many of them have been already solved by elders.

I never had a specific dream so i didn’t have regrets. Iam okay with what life has given me.

If you have a dream, prepare for it, convince your parens slowly rather than surprising them and inform them about different new fields.

Regret for what you did but that regret should stay only for a while and not for the future.

Doing good to others doesn’t guarantee that good things will come to you but you can always hope atleast everything will end in peace.Take care of the relationship.

Your future plans?

I need to learn more and create more lamps on the road. Also i want to travel to more places alone.I am a little bit lazy or not at all good at career planning. My parents have started looking for my life partner.

I will adjust my career to fulfill her dreams as I don’t have any specific dreams myself.

It’s always great to work for the dreams of your dear ones.