Have we ever envisioned a future in a new era where we live in smart cities, with electric vehicles well integrated within the transportation ecosystem !

Krishna Mannadiar, our next pathbreaker, Visvesvaraya Fellow Research Scholar at Amrita University, researches the problem of Electric Vehicle Integration in Smart Cities by developing a scheduling framework for charging of Electric Vehicles.

Krishna talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about winning the AWSAR award from DST (Department of Science & Technology) for her research article on “Integration of EV in Smart Cities with AI Techniques” which was the key turning point in her EV research journey.

For students, first dream, then imagine, and finally execute your way to your goals because reality always starts with a dream !

Krishna, can you talk a bit about your background? 

I was born in Punjab and brought up in Gujarat, but belong to Kerala! (That’s how I like to introduce myself. (Chuckles!)) I grew up in Gujarat and studied in two Convent Schools, one of which is St Ann’s which is in a small Village in the outskirts of Jamnagar. The other is St Xavier’s, Jamnagar where I did my boards from. My initial interest was to pursue a degree in Computer Science, but since my scores were a bit lower, I had to study Electrical Engineering. I did my B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (M S University of Baroda), Gujarat. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation? 

My graduation was in Electrical Engineering from M S University of Baroda and Post Graduation the upcoming year from the same University in the Field of Automation and Control. I am currently doing my PhD in Scheduling Algorithm Development of Electric Vehicle

Tell us, what spurred you to pursue such an offbeat, unconventional and futuristic career?

My PG, I would say, was a turning point in my career. I had put my heart and soul into my studies. During this time of my life, I realized I was a good student and could accomplish whatever I put my soul into! 

I realized while doing my Master’s Thesis at Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC), that I was cut out for research. I had worked under one of the senior scientists there. YES! In true sense my then boss was the key influencer in me choosing this career. 

Elon Musk! Yes, not fangirling, but he has influenced me to the core, in choosing a career in EV (Electric Vehicles) research. He made me believe that anything is possible. (Writing about him got me an award!) 

Dr. Sanjeev Gupta, my M.Tech supervisor, taught me to work in a systematic way. I learnt to work patiently on a project. He taught me that even a small result should be understood and analyzed well. From him I learnt how to be content in life and manage personal and professional life well. 

The scientist at my research institute was my first mentor. He influenced me to the core and made me believe that I can do tough things. From him I learnt how to do things efficiently and learn proactively. He was a powerhouse of energy and gave me goosebumps whenever I interacted with him. 

My University Dean made me work in a better way. He made me believe in myself and taught me how to be an Independent Researcher. I gained a lot of confidence under his influence.I had joined my PhD Program in Jan 2018. but somewhere in the middle of the year I realized a need to change my research topic. 

Of late, I have had a true mentor in my life. I suggest everyone have a mentor. Even If not technical, one must have a non-technical mentor. I emphasize on this point, as times are changing and jobs are becoming competitive. We tend to fall in the rat race and unknowingly it becomes a vicious circle. Thus, having a mentor helps and pushes you in the right track. 

During my school days, Maths was my toughest subject, the reason being, the Math teacher was too strict. I got scared of him and performed very badly the very next year. The next moment my mom enrolled me in coaching. This time, I tried to focus on the subject with a fresh approach and I realized that Maths is not as deadly as I feared it to be. I topped the school in the next exam. From this incident, I realized for the first time in life that the things we dread the most are not actually as scary. If we change our attitude, things do turn out in our favour!) 

I was a good student during my B. Tech and M. Tech days. My second academic jolt came during the end of the 2nd semester. I was unable to attend one of the ViVa Examinations due to which I had to write the First Year and Second Year Subjects together, which totaled to 10 theory subjects and 5 Practicals. The coming semester was a nightmare. My friends thought I had gone mad, because I stopped conversing with everyone including my family. I used to study from morning 6 am to Night 10 pm with minimal Breaks. I had decided that this is a DO or DIE situation for me. Either I will clear my PG in one GO or QUIT! I gave the exams with full preparation and utmost devotion to all subjects. By God’s Grace, I topped my class, with a “University Rank Holder” position in my branch. 

There were two main turning points in my career. 

When I successfully cleared my M.Tech with Gold Medal and was selected for DST INSPIRE (given for University Rank Holders). I realized I had marked my presence on a National Level. (But unfortunately, due to personal reasons, I could not avail the Scholarship) 

I was selected for the coveted Visvesvaraya Scholarship (It was a second chance given to me by God, I knew!) from the Ministry of Electronics and TeleCommunication for my PhD (It is one of the few highly paid Scholarships in India.). I decided then and there that I was going to contribute the society through my research in whatever way possible by giving my 100 %

During my PhD, I was going through a rough phase (Jan 2019 – March 2020) because I had to change my research topic. I came to a point that I started doubting myself and went through a huge physical ailment. During that period, I had to give a crucial review in the month of March 2020. Just one week ahead of the review, I got the news that I had got selected for the AWSAR award from DST for my research article on “Integration of EV in Smart Cities with AI Techniques”. Ohhhh Gosh! That has been the biggest turning point for me till date and a miracle in my life. I won the award competing among researchers from premier Institutes. Also, the Govt of India accredited my work. Since then, there has been no looking back ., 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path 

During my final years of B.Tech, I sensed there was something in me wanting to do more, although to be true to myself, I was not a great student. I had my own issues as I was in a new city with little or no friends at all. But something in my heart told me not to give up. 

It was during the recession period that I passed my degree. Also, since i was interested in pursuing higher studies, I cleared the State Eligibility Test and got enrolled into the M.Tech Program. (For all students, I would like to suggest that similar to the pandemic situation where there is a major job crisis, sometimes in life we need to take decisions based on the circumstances. But, Please don’t lose hope). This was the time in my life when I gave myself a second chance and put in my very best efforts in my studies. But, then due to some unforeseen circumstances, I had to repeat my whole semester at once.This was the worst NIGHTMARE of my life. Till today the scars are there in my heart for the amount of pain i had endured. But, the best part is I owe it to those dark days of my life because they taught me to stand on my own and succeed as a One Man Army. 

Believe me, the next semester the results were out and my hard work paid off. I got selected for two reputed Institutes for Internship positions. 

I joined one of them. There I got exposed to the basics of research and did my M. Tech project of Automating and Controlling a Small Scale Reactor on my own with the help of my seniors. This is where I learnt team work and an attitude to ask for help whenever required. I completed my Internship and my project guide absorbed me as a Project Engineer as soon as I finished my Degree. 

I had an opportunity to work on various national and international projects. Thats when the Idea of doing a PhD struck me three years down the lane, as having a doctorate is mandatory for pursuing a career in research. Apart from my technical stints, I also connect with people around the globe in my area of Research through Research Gate, Linkedin and Email.

Further, I enrolled for a PhD program. My Initial idea was to pursue research in Smart Grids. But, there was less scope of adding novelty to the area. Subsequently, through literature review I found out the sub-domain of Electric Vehicles. I was excited about pursuing my research in that area as it was an amalgamation of both the topics I liked ie., Automation of Vehicles and Computer Sciences. 

How did you get your first break? 

I got my first break through my PG Internship at Institute for Plasma Research (IPR under Department of atomic energy) 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them? 

Challenge 1 

Finding the proper mentor who could guide me in my research. 

Challenge 2 

Finding the research gap areas in the field of Electric Vehicle Scheduling Algorithm Development. 

Challenge 3 

Doing research in a trending field required me to daily update my knowledge in the field and upgrade myself on a regular basis as an independent researcher. 

Where do you work now? Tell us about your research

I work as a Visvesvaraya Fellow Research Scholar at Amrita University. I am solving the problem of Electric Vehicle Integration in Smart Cities through my Research. 

The work involves developing a framework for charging Of Electric Vehicles. The idea is based on a scenario where all the major cities will be Smart Cities. The biggest problem in such a scenario would be integrating the EV in smart cities for charging purposes of an EV. Contrary to the traditional vehicle refuelling where we have fuel stations at every few kilometres, in case of EVs, charging stations are the biggest hurdle in adaptation of EVs among public; because it causes driver anxiety (which means the EV owner is always anxious about running out of Battery Power). Hence, we won’t opt for EVs for long trips or for daily commutes. My research aims to develop a scheduling framework for charging of EV both at Home and in Public places, thus solving driver anxiety problems.

What skills are needed for your job? How did you acquire those skills? 

The basic skill required is a research attitude and aptitude. Apart from that technical skills, one needs to have knowledge about coding and programming, mathematics as well as electrical power systems and electric vehicle knowledge. 

What’s a typical day like? 

I usually plan all the research activities which I intend to do in my Excel Data sheet. I prepare and  update a daily “To-Do” list and tick off all the tasks for the day.

What is it you love about this job? 

My area of research is driving the latest trend where people are very much interested in adapting to the EV environment. The challenge for me is to make EV a convenient transportation option. 

How does your work benefit society? 

YES! My work aims to integrate EVs in Smart cities and make them a viable transportation option which directly reduces the carbon footprint . By Integrating EV in Smart Cities I hope to make EVs as a sustainable and trusted transport option for vehicle users in the near future, as the traditional mindset is to go for a gasoline vehicles for long distance commutes. Thus , in the near future, making 50 percent or more vehicle owners use EV provides an environmentally friendly option for transportation and at the same time reduces the cost of travel for the user. 

Isn’t it fascinating?! 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you! 

I have two works basically 

• I wrote a Research article titled “Integration of EV in Smart cities through AI Techniques” it won the DST AWSAR Award for Popular Science Stories 

• I have developed an EV app for charging of EV in Smart cities and have prototyped it too. Basically, the App called SMARTEV is similar to how our traditional OLA or UBER apps work. But instead of finding the customer it finds the nearest charging station. (This gave me goosebumps!) 

Your advice to students based on your experience? 

Hmm, Well! I would advise all the students reading this to take up a career that you are excited and passionate about! Don’t hesitate to jump into the unknown because most of the time our Luck is hidden in the unknown, and our intuition knows things. Just follow your intuition and put your heart and soul in whatever you do. Results automatically speak for you. May it be a cobbler’s job or rocket Scientist’s. History shows that you shine when you sweat! 

Future Plans? 

This is something thrilling to answer! I would definitely want to work in the automobile industry R&D wing with cutting edge technologies coming up in the field of EV. I want to explore everything and put my best efforts in my field and work on path breaking technologies before I leave!