Somak Raychaudhury, physics head of the department, at Presidency on Tuesday. (Pradip Sanyal)
The pull of a Presidency in transition has brought one of its best and brightest back home to Bhowanipore from Birmingham.
Old boy Somak Raychaudhury, gold medallist from the Class of 1983 and reader in astrophysics at the University of Birmingham, is Presidency University’s new head of the department of physics.
He isn’t permanently home yet — officially only a year as of now — but Presidency is so pleased to have him back that it isn’t looking that far ahead.
“I shall need to get back to England soon as I have to complete some assignments there. The (Birmingham) institute, unwilling to release me, has asked me to decide in a year’s time whether I would still be continuing at Presidency University,” Raychaudhury told Metro, emerging from a meeting on the College Street campus on Tuesday.
Cream summer jacket resting on an elbow, Raychaudhury then took a long walk through familiar pathways, corridors and staircases, reliving his days as a student and contemplating a future in which he hopes to help drive the change at Presidency.
“The decline here became apparent in the 80s and deep-seated in the 90s. I don’t want to go into the reasons. But now that efforts are being made to restore Presidency to pride of place, we must make the most of the opportunities available to realise this vision,” he said.
Raychaudhury, whose appointment was endorsed by the university council on May 14, will start taking classes in September, by which time he hopes to “relocate” to the city with his family.
Does that mean he is more inclined to stay back than make this a short assignment? The only thing he is sure about is his desire to be a part of the Presidency journey.
“I have joined Presidency in the hope that I will be able to contribute to my alma mater. This is a challenge I wanted to accept,” he said.
A senior university official said Raychaudhury had been given the freedom to shape his department. “His opinion will be crucial in recruiting assistant professors.”
On interacting with some of the existing teaching staff, Raychaudhury found the standard of some to be “quite high”. A visit to the physics laboratory at Baker Building for undergraduate students revealed deficiencies but none that he found daunting.
“I didn’t come here expecting everything to be laid out on a platter. I want to shape these facilities, starting from scratch,” said Raychaudhury, who was a regular contributor to Knowhow, the science supplement of The Telegraph, between 1995 and 2000.
So what is his first priority at Presidency? “Really bright students don’t come to Presidency anymore. These days, they rather prefer to go to St. Xavier’s. We must arrest this trend and draw bright students back to Presidency. For this, we would have to create facilities that can rival others,” Raychaudhury said.
He should know how bright students think. He was one.
Raychaudhury took second position in Bengal in the 1980 Higher Secondary exam, which earned him a passage to physics honours without sitting for an entrance test.
“Nowadays even toppers need to crack admission tests,” he smiled.
On graduating from Presidency in 1983, Raychaudhury got an Inlaks Scholarship to study at Trinity College, Oxford. Twenty-nine years later, life has come a full circle.
Another old boy, Benjamin Zachariah of Sheffield University, is set to join his alma mater as a professor of history, while Adhar C. Manna from the University of South Dakota will join the physiology department.