The Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B) is planning to bring a section of students back to campus to resume research work. This is the first such instance in the city. The first batch of researchers are likely to be called in by the first week August.
The institute launched a ‘slow reboot plan’ to restart research work in laboratories in a phased manner. As a first step, it has asked around 128 PhD scholars and part-time researchers based in Mumbai if they are willing to resume their research or project work inside the campus.
“Nearly 40% to 50% students are in research programmes, and they ought to have access to the laboratory. Teaching is just one part of IIT system,” said Subhasis Chaudhuri, director of the institute.
The institute sent consent and declaration forms to a select few students, asking if they are willing to return to the campus and if their health permits them to do so.
“In the first phase, we asked Mumbai-based fourth and fifth-year PhD and Masters students, as well as those pursuing dual degrees based in Mumbai to express their interest in coming to campus to resume their project work,” said Prita Pant, head of the reboot committee and professor in the department of metallurgical engineering and materials science.
Chaudhuri said the committee was put in place to plan for the slow rebooting of research work, and to determine which students should be called in first and how. Apart from Pant, the committee comprises student representatives and a doctor from the institute’s hospital.
The institute closed completely on March 28, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, followed by an early summer vacation announced on April 1. However, on June 25, the institute declared that the entire autumn semester will be conducted online in the interest of students’ safety.
While undergraduate students, incoming masters and PhD students can complete their semester from their respective locations, research scholars and senior masters students ought to mandatorily complete their research projects in order to complete their course work.
“First the students have to evaluate their own situations. Only if they are willing to come to campus, will we take it to the next step,” said Pant.
A list of such consenting students will be shared with lab operators and heads of departments, who will then analyse if the labs are equipped to handle students.
“A checklist is shared with lab and department heads. The heads and the guides will take a final call on whether it is essential for the student to come to campus,” Pant added.
Meanwhile, the institute has put in place a standard operating procedure for labs and hostels to ensure they are not crowded. It will also install foot-operated door openers and hand sanitising stations on campus. The in-house hospital is equipped with isolation centres and is approved by the civic body to treat mild and moderate Covid-19 patients.
Researchers, however, are on the fence over the matter.
“By asking us to sign a consent and declaration form, the institute seems to be shifting the responsibility of safety on to students. Moreover, there is no clarity on the health insurance of students on campus. The institute should give us clear guidelines on what it is doing to ensure our safety,” said a PhD scholar on the condition of anonymity.
All the students of IIT-B are covered for medical insurance. However, the committee is mulling increasing the benefits for students, who may require hospitalisation outside campus, in case they get infected with Covid-19.