Dr. Urmila Joshi, Principal – Prin. K. M. Kundanani College of Pharmacy, Cuffe Parade, sends a message to young students in an interview with Shraddha Kamdar
She is simplicity personified. Whether she’s addressing my questions, or taking over the phone or instructing her staff, the simplicity is striking. And it is also reflected in her thought process when one hears her talking about students and their attitudes, or the system and working within its frame work. Dr. Urmila Joshi, Principal – Prin. K. M. Kundanani College of Pharmacy, Cuffe Parade, patiently tells me about the field of pharmacy, the options thereafter, and why students often choose to look for greener (management) pastures after graduating in pharmacy.
When I talk of the syllabus, she informs me that for pharmacy, it is revised fairly often by the university. “Still, there are a few things that important from the industry point of view, which may not be reflected in the syllabus. We address these aspects in various ways,” Dr. Joshi says. She talks of research-based assignments where students are given a free hand to explore a particular topic over the internet and through reference books. She also mentions regular guest lectures by eminent professionals in the field to keep the students updated about the needs of the working world.
Two aspects that Dr. Joshi thinks prove to be extremely effective for students is the use of multimedia in the classroom and regular interaction with the alumni of the college. “Our alumni network extends to all fields within pharmaceuticals – be it sales, marketing, research or even their own businesses in the pharma set up. When students interact with these young alumni, they learn a lot about the professional world that operates outside the four walls of the classroom,” she says.
With respect to the use of technology in the classroom, Dr. Joshi feels that multimedia and the internet provide many new options for making learning interesting during lectures. The presentations and projectors are of course used, but she goes a step further in talking about the effectiveness of using a platform as simple as WhatsApp. “We have explored using WhatsApp groups for certain projects and assignments and found it extremely effective for cooperative learning. We are also looking into venturing into e-learning sometime soon,” she informs.
The conversation then takes a turn towards student engagement in class, and Dr. Joshi observes that there is no uniform interesting way of teaching which would automatically attract students to the class. “Teachers need to reinvent themselves and their teaching methodologies constantly. That, of course, helps. On the other end, I have also observed that even teachers who might not be extremely popular with the students, if they cover the syllabus well and teach all the aspects, then students are responsive and attend the lectures.” She adds that the new credit-based system introduced by the university helps since marks are reserved for attendance, for quizzes and even class participation.
What about going beyond the syllabus in the classroom with different case studies and other material? “In my personal experience, if the teacher makes an attempt, then the students respond well. For instance, on several occasions, I have tried to connect medicinal chemistry to diverse fields such as political science and the environment. The students have shown some serious interest in discussing such different topics,” Dr. Joshi explains.
I ask how proactive does she find the students especially towards academic reading and writing, since most Indian students are not equipped to read and write academic papers at the undergraduate level. “Even if they start understanding the importance, the impact is not seen immediately. They realise the significance perhaps when they go for research. On the other hand, even if they are text- and guide-book oriented in their studies in the first and second years, by the third year the significance (change word) dawns on them. They know they need to get out and go for internship and placement interviews and work towards building their practical knowledge. They also work towards improving their skills and building their personalities. Here too, interacting with the alumni helps. Especially for this purpose, we invite students who have graduated only a few years (two or three) years ago,” she elaborates. According to Dr. Joshi, talking to such graduates helps current students. This alumni group has already done what the current students hope to achieve soon, so they listen to the alumni with rapt attention. In addition, she feels the students learn new behavioural skills by watching their peers and participating in extracurricular activities.
How do students keep up with the ever dynamic industry situation? “If you look at core pharmacy, the machinery and the software have changed, among other things. We can use online videos and reference materials in class to keep up with the changes. Students also periodically go for industrial visits where they learn a lot. Each student has to engage in a mandatory month-long internship in a pharma company. During this training, they pick up a lot about the current workings, and even learn to apply what they have learnt in class to real life situations,” she says. In addition, the college has its own pilot set of machinery which is used by the master’s-level students. Dr Joshi says that the undergraduate students can observe the instrumentation and software there, even though they’re not allowed to operate the machinery at that level.
As the conversation meanders ahead, I ask her whether in her experience students are still stressed about the marks they score. “If the students want to pursue a postgraduate course, the competition for admission is so cut-throat that in that moment, students have no choice but to focus on marks. We can’t blame them. But many who are ready to work in the industry or go abroad for further education do realise that other aspects are as important as marks.” Dr. Joshi also shares that she has often seen that the rankers of class 12 don’t necessarily perform well later in life. In contrast, often those who have probably had to drop a year in BPharm have ended up doing very well in industry. She just wants to bring out the fact that marks are not a very accurate measure of talent and ability.
Talking of talent and ability, I ask Dr. Joshi about placements and how important the pay packet is to students. “It is the topmost thought in their minds owing to several pressurising factors. Often, even for a difference of two thousand rupees, students want to reject an existing offer for a new one. We try our utmost to counsel them to keep their word and maintain their credibility in the industry, because sooner or later the pay packets will be at par with the others. We also invite our alumni to counsel students, because if they back out on their word, the college loses prospective recruiters in the coming years. We also try to explain to them that the job profile matters more than the money when they are starting out, so not to lose out on a good opportunity. Yet, sometimes, it happens, and our hands are tied,” she narrates.
Almost as a natural consequence, I talk of how many pharma graduates opt for MBA and change fields completely. “Well, the remuneration after an MBA is much higher, that’s why students take that option. Think of living costs, and real estate is so expensive that these young minds want to look for better prospects. Not all go for an MBA, however.” She further says that this is one field which wasn’t hit badly even by the recession. “Young science students need to realise that although there isn’t much glamour attached this field, it is doing well and pharmacists are needed at every level. It is a stable industry even in terms of financial returns. The opportunities after BPharm are far more than even MBBS. It is certainly worthwhile to consider in career in this field!” is her parting message to young students who are on the brink of making a career decision.