Humans of IEEE PES refers to a dedicated PES volunteer who is well known for his notable contribution to IEEE PES. In this issue of IEEE PES Enews Update, Professor Bikash Pal., Vice-President Publications, IEEE PES is selected as the Humans of IEEE PES. We are very pleased to include an exclusive video interview of Professor Bikash Pal.
Enews: Hello. My name is Jelena Dragovic. I have been working as a researcher in electrical power systems for 15 years now. Today, I have the honour to take an interview of renowned professor Bikash Pal for the Humans of IEEE PES corner of IEEE PES Enews Update. I have known Professor Pal for 13 years now, and rather than enumerating a long list of Professor Pal’s power engineering titles, affiliations, contributions and achievements, I would like to introduce him the way I know him: a wonderful person, volunteer, humanitarian leader, enthusiastic scientist and also a passionate lover and practitioner of classical and traditional music.
Professor Pal, would you please briefly introduce yourself?
Bikash Pal: Thank you, Jelena. That was a very long and kind introduction. I was born in the eastern part of India. After my schooling I went to Jadavpur University for my undergraduate degree in engineering. Following that, I did my masters degree in power engineering from The Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. After gaining couple of years of experience from different industries, R&Ds, and organizations, I received Commonwealth Scholarship. I joined Imperial College, London for pursuing my PhD. Following my PhD, I went back to serve my country. I was an Assistant Professor in The Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur for about 2 years. Eventually, I got the opportunity to come back to Imperial College London as a faculty about 20 years ago. From that point onwards, through various ranks of Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, I am now a Professor of Power Systems at Imperial College London. I am also a very passionate volunteer of IEEE, particularly in Power and Energy Society.
Enews: Going back in time, can you tell us about your early student life, before you started your professional career in the areas of power and energy? And if you can, tell us some examples of volunteering and leadership.
Bikash Pal: I would not say that I had a lot of experiences in volunteering and leadership before the undergraduate level. However, I was very amicable towards my friends, always reached out to new people and tried to help my classmates in studies and anything else they needed. I was also part of the winning team of district level quiz competition during my secondary school. During my A levels, I used to participate in cultural programs, public speaking and other events that took place in our school. Therefore, I was a person who always tried to be engaged with the people around me and found happiness in working for my school and so on.
Enews: When and why did you decide to start your career in electrical power and energy? What has motivated you?
Bikash Pal: Well, to be very honest, I did not come to electrical engineering by choice, rather by chance. After my A levels, I took the entrance exam for college and I qualified to study both medicine and engineering. During that period, both of these subjects were pretty lucrative as job opportunity was higher. When I had to choose between the two, I had to keep in mind that I came from a very ordinary family. My father was a subsistent farmer and I had the responsibility to financially support my family as soon as I could. So, I wanted to have a quick establishment in my career. Now, for medicine, it could take me around 8 years to graduate and be ready to have a decent job, whereas, I could easily start working after 4 years of study in engineering. That is how, I came to engineering. When it comes to Electrical and Power Engineering, there was a twist yet again. Initially I got Chemical Engineering based on my entrance examination score. After 3 months of studying Chemical Engineering, some of my friends switched to Electrical department because some seats were vacant. According to them, the prospect of getting a job was much better in Electrical Engineering than in Chemical Engineering. And I followed the crowd. By the end of the third year, we had to decide our major. I was ranked between 25th to 30th out of 120 students and I got Power as my major based on my score.
Once, I started studying Power and its modules, I started to enjoy the courses very much. The three phase current, electromagnetic fields, machinery and high current engineering, all these really attracted me and motivated me to work hard. After completing my BSc, unfortunately, I did not get a job and it became necessary to do MSc right away. So, I took the post graduate entrance examination and secured a position in the best university in India, The Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. From that point on, I loved my field of interest and worked reasonably hard. That is how I became involved in Power Engineering.
Enews: Professor Pal, it would be very interesting to hear about your early professional career. What were the challenges and turning points?
Bikash Pal: I have faced quite a few challenges throughout my educational and professional life. As I have already mentioned, my family was not very affluent, there was a time when my father was considering against my higher education due to financial struggle. However, the headmaster of the local school advised my father to have me moved to a good school in the district. In that time, the best school in the district was about 80 kilometers away from my home. When I met the headmaster of that school, he turned out to be a huge motivation and real guidance for me. He used to present us with books and gifts if we did well in the half yearly examination. He also offered me to stay in the school hostel free of cost, if I could come top in all three sections. He also requested the teachers to give me one on one tuition without any fees so I could receive all the help I needed to come top. As a result, I became 2nd in our district that year. I am grateful to him for all these opportunities which inspired me to work harder and shaped me into what I am today.
One challenge I must mention here which is that after my BSc and MSc, when I was working and also looking for scholarships abroad, I was offered full funding from Professor Arun Phadke, Virginia Tech, USA. He is well-known for his inventions regarding wide area measurement technology. However, when I went to the American Consulate, Calcutta, they denied my visa. The reason was not having a strong financial background. A lot of people were being denied visa that time due to this suspicion and I ended up becoming one of them. It was a disappointment for me. However, within only a few months, I got a couple of offers from Canada and also from Imperial College London and I decided to do my PhD in the UK. If I did not have my visa denied, I would have landed in the USA instead of UK. It was a huge turning point in my educational career.
I moved back to India after completing my PhD and settled in Kanpur. That is when the 3rd turning point in my career occurred. I got an email from Professor Tim Green who is now the deputy head and director of the Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College. He asked me to join Imperial as a faculty. That was a tremendous opportunity that Tim had created for me. He also helped me immensely to get settled in there and be familiar with everything during the first couple of years. In a few years, I saw the light of success in my career and proceeded on the path of becoming a Professor. It is a major turning point of my career that led me to where I am now.
Enews: Professor Pal, you have a vast experience with supervision of students from undergraduate to PhD level. How would you rate the motivation of young students towards advanced research in the Power & Energy areas? Do you feel there is any shortcoming and what may be the main reason?
Bikash Pal: Generally, the students who come to Imperial College, they come with a lot of self-motivation and expectations. But, most of the times, we faculties fail to meet with their expectation through teaching methods that are not very interesting to them. Keeping the student motivated and inspiring them to thrive towards higher ambition is our responsibility. This is a university consisted of students from about a hundred and twenty countries. Therefore, we have fresh personalities from all around the world to teach and encourage.
I am sure you remember that a few weeks back, you and I were assessing some students of final year project and there was a particular student who was directing her work in power converters. It was a very good work and she received about 80% marks. During a break, I asked her the reason behind doing her final year project in Power Electronics instead of Power Systems. I taught her Power Systems and so I was curious. Her response was that during her third year, her professor in Power Electronics, Paul Mitcheson, was so good that she was absolutely impressed and motivated to do her masters project and PhD in this subject. So, you see, it is us who have to motivate them. Otherwise, they come with a dream to become an engineer and end up joining the finance industry in London. So we have to help them through this journey with our inspirational teaching as well as mentorship.
Enews: Professor Pal, when did you start volunteering for IEEE ?
Bikash Pal: I started volunteering for IEEE in 2000, when I became a member. Back then, I had to review papers in transactions. In 2009-10, I became the editor of transactions on sustainable energy. Eventually, I got involved in various committees, working groups and started giving lectures in IEEE tutorials. It was about 10-12 years ago when I started IEEE and now I am on the governing board, executive committee and finance committee.
Enews: From your vast experience in handling IEEE periodicals, what are the main causes of rejection of a research paper?
Bikash Pal: The poor quality of the papers can be regarded as the main cause of rejection. The journals that I am looking after have an acceptance rate of 15-20%. Therefore, for every 100 submissions, there will be around 85 disappointed corresponding authors. According to the reviewers, the quality of the contribution and novelty are not up to the mark most of the time. There are also 2 minor issues. One is from the authors perspective which is related to the presentation of the work. The presentation in that 8 pages may not be very clear to the reviewers. But, as we always say, the burden of clarity lies with the authors. Again, sometimes the reviewers also come up with pretty ordinary reviews. They are a heavily loaded community with too many journals. So, basically, it is the combination of circumstances and a bit of randomness. However, on the whole, the good work get published.
Enews: Have you seen any initiative from PES to enhance the technical presentation (writing) skills of PES members?
Bikash Pal: Absolutely. We have many plans and programs in place for that purpose. We have a series of webinars on how to write a good transaction paper. Currently our president Prof. Rahman is giving a webinar. Our Editors in Chief offer authors forum and podcasts in general meeting. Moreover, we arrange monthly webinars from the top cited transaction paper from the past 3 years. We invite those authors and arrange a webcast from the Power and Energy Society. And prospective authors can attend those webinars free of cost. The reason those papers are highly cited is because they are written very well and their contributions are very good. So, those authors actually know how to express things. This is how we have all in place.
Enews: Nowadays, authors are looking for journals with very low reviewing time. What is your view on this?
Bikash Pal: Well, my view is that you cannot actually do anything very quickly. You may remember, a couple of years back, there used to be some kind of advertisementsin the London Underground Stations with quotations from some of the great leaders of the world. My personal favorite quote was “There is more to life than merely increasing its speed.” When it comes to reviewing a transaction paper, it is an incredibly difficult task. Every transaction has got one secretary in New York office who checks a paper for authenticity, size, scope etc. after it is submitted to the portal and it takes a few days. Following that, the paper is released to the Editor in Chief whose job is to find suitable editors. Since the Editors in Chief are extremely successful and busy people and work on weekends, it usually takes them 3-4 days to look at the papers. And then it is forwarded to the editor who will have to repeat the same activity again to find proper reviewers of the papers. Generally, people take 2-3 days to even check emails at that point. Therefore, the administration process itself takes up 15-20 days automatically. Moreover, the reviewers need 30-40 days to do a proper job. So, all-together it takes about 50-55 days and that is an average figure. Our average submission to first decision time is about 55 days for all the journals. I am not sure if these tasks can be accomplished within 30 days because speeding up the process can decrease the quality of the review of paper. Therefore, to ensure the quality of the work, we need to give enough time to the people associated with these tasks. So, I am going to say no if I am asked to shorten the timeline.
Enews: Professor Pal, you are known as enthusiastic volunteer. What would you highlight as your most significant volunteer contribution?
Bikash Pal: Thank you. However, I do not think my contributions are that much significant. I just do my job within my ability and my good conscience. Particularly, I was Editor in Chief for 6 years for the IEEE Transactions on Sustainable Energy. During that time, the transaction was assessed by Clarivate Analytics for the first time and the maiden impact factor was 3.84. Therefore, it became the top journal on sustainable energy across the world. Moreover, 2018 impact factors of 265 journals in electrical engineering disciplines were released last month by Clarivate Analytics. Among those, 160 were from IEEE of which top 20 journals with the highest impact factors belonged to IEEE.From the top 20, 3 were from power and energy and 1 of them is transactions on sustainable energy. Therefore, it is evident that the legacy continues. It currently has an impact factor of about 8. Although it was, of course, a collective success, I was in charge of the task. If it was not up to the mark, I had to accept the responsibility. Since it had been done so well, I can also claim some of the credit (with a mild laughter).
Enews: That is very impressive. Professor Pal, as Vice President of Publications of a society of 37,000 members you have undertaken the responsibility of mentoring of younger generation. How has mentorship helped your achievements in life and profession? Does any name spring to your mind in all your journey so far?
Bikash Pal: Yes, I am truly grateful towards my colleagues and mentors who helped me in this journey. I was not a bornleader or a volunteer, rather I was made. There are a couple of people I mentioned to you earlier. One of them was the headmaster of my secondary school with whom I used to stay in touch. However, he passed away a few years ago. He taught me that I have to do my job with the best interest in mind which will help the students learning. Then, there was another great mentor from the publication side of IEEE and he is the current president, Prof. Saifur Rahman. I have never seen him being rude or arrogant to any volunteers. There was not a single email he did not respond to despite being very busy. Therefore, he is essentially a very good role modelof a great volunteer. On the other hand, at Imperial College, Professor Green and his professional approach on how to work benefited me in many ways. Moreover, Nina Thornhill, Professor in Chemical Engineering, was also helpful in many ways. So, you can see that people can be very successful easily without saying a single rude word in all their professional careers. In terms of the topic of power system stability, my great inspiration and mentorship came from Prabha Kundur. His mentorship inspired and benefited me beyond words can express. He promoted me in IEEE like in Dynamic Performance Committee. However, I really miss him a lot as he passed away last year. He used to come to Imperial College London to give lectures and so on. So, these are the people who I tremendously benefited from. I learned about having fairness in the way we work as well as helping people from all these incredible personalities.
Enews: What are the most important factors to become a successful volunteer and which things should be avoided by a good volunteer?
Bikash Pal: By definition, volunteering means that there should be no expectations attached to this service. IEEE is an organization where you have tremendous opportunities. It is an organization promoting technology for humanity and mankind. So, the first thing that the volunteers should keep in mind is that this is going to be for the best interest of the end user that is the readers of publications. As volunteers some people are reviewing, editing etc. So, you have to remember how your service will benefit the readers and the community. volunteers must have to have the intention to help. And that only comes from the personality of the individuals, such as honesty, fairness, kindness and enthusiasm as well as having empathy and thinking about others. Volunteering is all about others and not about yourself. In the whole process, your visibility gets noticed and promoted anyway. Because, myself as the VP Publication will promote my editors in chief, editors and the editors will promote their reviewers and so on. The best thing is to do the job properly and the rest will take care of itself.
Enews: You are now holding a key position in IEEE PES Publication. Tell us about some new initiatives taken by you?
Bikash Pal: There are many initiatives we have been working on. We are currently navigating through a very turbulence in publications, particularly in open access publications. There are initiatives from IEEE to stay on top in this sector as well. In Power and Energy Society, there is a new journal which will come out from January 2020. It’s being called IEEE Open Access Journal of Power and Energy. Also, we have introduced a Power and Energy section in IEEE Access. So these are the two initiatives that I have taken. There are many DSOs and DNOs in power business. There is a need for a separate transactions in the power systems economics and markets. I also have plans for that but have not taken any initiative yet. Besides, I am also part of the IEEE periodical committee. Here, we promote many new journals by encouraging them to have more collaborative approach between the sister societies. So these are the things currently I am busy with. I have also taken the initiative to translate a couple of Power and Energy magazine articles in Thai language so that the local power engineers from Thailand get an idea about the activities of IEEE and PES. Many of them have been translated into Spanish already, and we are looking to engage in new languages. We are also starting a PES University, which will be our online archive and will include a lot of learning materials. So, we are going through a very exciting time right now.
Enews: Professor Pal, what is your vision for IEEE PES in 30 years time? What major changes could be expected and what would be the major challenges?
Bikash Pal: We know that the future is going to depend on digital energy services and decentralization completely. UK is the place where the first industrial revolution took place. Ever since ,only recently, there have been some coal free generation days in 2017 and 2018. So, there has been a huge transition from carbon intensive fossil fuels to renewable energy and it requires plenty of changes – regulatory, policy and standards, technologies and so on. IEEE maintains a great reputation when it comes to standards. So that’s going to be our future. Also there are around 1.6 billion people largely in Africa deprived of access to regular use of electricity. We started IEEE smart village programs and IEEE smart city programs. PES is a valuable contributor to it and I am very keen to push that forward and further. Therefore, in the near future, decentralization, digital energy services and energy for Internet of things (IoT) will be more in practice. So, we have more opportunities to create more journals and research areas..
Enews: And finally, what would be your message to young volunteers?
Bikash Pal: As a senior volunteer, I will say this – if you have the passion and the selflessness that is required for volunteering, I would encourage you to be involved with these activities. We were provided with a lot from the society, particularly in our school education and university education.. So, the society has an impact on our upbringing and professional career and achievements. It is high time we pay something back and it feels really good to be a part of this service. It reminds me of a quote from Winston Churchill. “You make your living out of what you get from others, but you make your life out of what you give to others.” There is a difference between living and life. As we received a lot from the society that helped us to make our living, this is the time to make our lives by giving back to the society. And volunteering in IEEE and particularly in PES is a wonderful platform, as energy and society are inseparable. Be a selfless volunteer and be a person of value, not a person of success.
Enews: Professor Pal, Thank you very much for your time and sharing your inspiring story. We wish you all the very best in your future. Please keep inspiring and motivating.
Bikash Pal: It’s my pleasure too. Thank you.
Interview Coordination and Transcription
Dr. Shaikh Fattah, Editor, PES Enews Update
Jelena Dragovic, Imperial College London
Sadiah Ahmed Moon, BUET