Celebrating recent graduates: Raghuram Dharmavarapu (PhD, 2020)
“Raghu received his PhD in 2020 as part of a joint degree program with Swinburne University, Australia, jointly advised by me and Prof. Saulius Juodkazis (of Swinburne). Raghu took up the topic of meta-optics, a few years after people had started exploring it. We had not worked on this at all in India or our lab. He developed those ideas and fabricated devices in Australia. Finally, he got back to IIT Madras and set up the process to fabricate them here. His excellent work resulted in seven journal papers and six conference papers. He also set up software to calculate parameters and transform phase distributions into GDS layouts, required for fabrication. The software is now available as open source software, on our lab website.”
Here are excerpts of a brief interview with Raghu, where he highlights his journey through IIT Madras.
Tell us about your family background, early education
I come from a middle-class family. Both my parents are teachers. I am an alumnus of Sri Saraswathi Shishu Mandir (Vidya Bharathi), Chirala. I did my schooling in Telugu medium up until class 10. I feel fortunate that I studied in SSSM and I really enjoyed my school days. Unlike other schools in those days, in our school, a great deal of importance was given to sports and extracurricular activities aimed at all-round development of the students. The values that we were taught as children have helped me throughout my life. My parents being teachers also helped me a lot. Every day morning, my father would teach me mathematics and social studies which served as a solid foundation for my further studies.
Were there any specific reasons you chose IIT Madras instead of other IITs?
My admission to IITM has some background story. I did my BTech in the year 2012. At that time my goal was to get admission to one of the top IITs for the MTech program. But that year, my GATE score was in the 1000s which made it clear that it was impossible for me to get into any IIT and I was not interested to join NITs. So, I had to join an IT job in TCS. While working at TCS, I tried to crack GATE two more times in 2013, and 14 but always ended up getting in the 1000s. At that point, I was left with no choice but to take my IT job seriously and forget about my IIT dreams. During that time, I was living with my friends cum colleagues in a PG. One fine day, a new guy (Karthick Sekkappan) moved into the flat opposite to us and he happened to be an MS graduate from IITM. That was when I came to know that there exists a great MS program in IITM and realized that I still had a good chance of getting in it as the admission is not strictly based on GATE rank. As I was constantly failing to crack GATE over the years 2011-2014, I didn’t even tell anyone including my parents that I was applying/attending the MS interview. When the results were announced and I got admission, it was a huge surprise for my parents and that was one of the best memories of my life. So the reason is obvious that I chose IIT Madras as there was no option available for me. I am really glad that I never cracked the GATE exam! otherwise, I would have missed the wonderful MS opportunity at IIT Madras.
Can you tell us about the influences that shaped you and your career path during your stay at IIT Madras?
IITM seemed like a different world when I first joined. It was nothing like what my BTech college was. I never imagined that one can have so much freedom in choosing their course work/project or exploring one’s curiosity in a college. When you are in a place like this, you meet a lot of smart people. I personally met so many smart people from different departments. I used to be fascinated and inspired by their enthu and creativity in their work. This always made me raise the bar high for myself and made me someone who always wants to learn something new. IIT also gave me a lot of opportunities for extracurricular activities. I learned swimming in IITM. I ran my first 5K run in IITM. I started learning Carnatic music in the Ganesh temple. And the list goes on…
If you were to do it all over again, would you choose IIT Madras? If so, why?
I have so many great memories attached to IITM. I can never forget the experience of living close to nature and inside a forest. I made some great friends here. I would choose IITM without any doubt if I were to do it all over again!