Defying age

Septuagenarian Dr Sushil Kumar Dhawan was the oldest ‘student’ to get a degree at the 50th convocation of IIT Delhi. At 77, he was awarded thePhD degree in structural engineering, a part of civil engineering department. Dhawan who retired as chief engineer, CPWD, in August, 2002 is avisiting professor in IIT Delhi and maintains that learning is an essential ingredient for a healthy life.

Dr Dhawan speaks with Dr Vanita Srivastava from the Communication Cell of IIT Delhi

How did you decide to do a PhD at this age? How was journey been?

I was leading a retired life and was engaged with some organizations but was looking at something more. In 2013, almost eleven years after myretirement I decided to register for the PhD Programme. My PhD title was “Expected remaining life of existing reinforced concrete building structures”. The more than six-year- journey was dotted with learning,challenges and gaining knowledge. I belonged to an era where technology was at a backseat. I had to hone my computer skills besides embracingthe new technology. Besides, there was a long academic gap. I had done my M.Tech. in 1982 and going back to a classroom after so many years had its own challenges . Initially, I used to give in almost 10-12 hours daily to the two courses—Building Science and Construction Practices. The days I could not attend the classes, I would go to the hostels to take notes from my young colleagues. I would sit for long hours in the library, browsing through latest research. Buoyed by my excellent performance in these two courses, I took 16 courses at the Masters level. This was motivating and kept me engaged all along. I could get 4 papers published ininternational journals and attended over 30 international conferences to present my research papers. I would like to mention that I got a lot of support from my family and my two guides Prof B Bhattacharjee and Prof Suresh Bhalla.

Were you not conscious while being seated with the young students?

Why should I feel conscious of my age? I always had a great bonding with my young colleagues. We have a scientist getting a Nobel prize in Chemistry at the age of 97. Age is all in the mind.

What next?

Well, I will continue doing research in my area of specialization. Learning is infectious, it is a continuous process and has nothing to dowith age. More importantly the PhD work has helped me in time management. It has helped me age gracefully. I am happy and have no regrets in life. For me learning and gaining knowledge is therapeutic and can keep all the stress toxins at bay.

Any suggestion you would like to like to give to the young generation?

It is very important to imbibe good values in life. More than money and power, it is imperative to have a strong value system. Besides, weshould always take pride in our Indian roots.

4th November 2019