However Bad Something Looks Currently, It Will Not Seem As Bad A Few Days, Months, Years From Now
PROFESSOR, SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY
Rama, as he implores his students to address him as, is a marketing professor known for the close relationships he has with his students. The effort he invests to go the extra mile for his students has earned the respect and admiration of his students. Rather than being addressed as Prof, advice he gives to his students are all in the spirit of friendship.
1) What made you decide to become a university professor? I was attracted to the academic vocation even as a school student, when I tutored many of my classmates and really enjoyed the experience. I majored in mathematics, the pure sort of mathematics where you prove theorems because they are beautiful and not because they are particularly useful. So juggling ideas, reading widely, abstracting from the world, theory development, theory testing have always been interesting to me. My decision crystallized during my MBA during which I could observe quite closely, the academic lifestyle, which offers tremendous independence and flexibility. And after a few months into my first and only corporate job, in Marketing research, it was clear that I would be happier in academia. 2) How would you describe the manner which you interact with your students? In a few words, I try to interact with students in a fundamentally human way, divorced from our assigned roles as student and professor. In more words, I think of the job of a professor as a learning facilitator rather than one who transfers knowledge and skills. I accept that my course is a small part of all that is going on in their lives, and hence in individual consultations, in granting exceptions, in answering their queries, and more generally as part of class and out of class interactions, I try to relate all that we study academically to life outside of the classroom. This is easy enough to do in the courses that I teach, Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, both of which have much to offer the average human in terms of becoming a more thoughtful, people-oriented person. And in a business school context, the profit orientation is an unstated but ever-present motivation behind every theory, every method, every skill that is taught. In this context, it is particularly important, to inspire students by word and by deed, to become socially conscious and ethical citizens of the world. Very often, the really meaningful interactions happen after the course is done with. I invite students to maintain a life-long relationship, by giving me all my personal contact details, and offering to be a part of their lives ahead for as long as they wish to. Not a week passes without a few ex-students popping into my life, to chat about the big things in life relationship, religion, philosophy, careers, children. I have met my ex-students in several cities of India, and overseas in Chicago, Taipei, Vancouver, Xiamen and Yangon at several stages of their lives and I keenly look forward to those three hour conversations over a meal. Several ex-students have stayed over in my home in Mumbai, or spent a whole day at my Singapore apartment in video-binge-watching sessions of my favourite movies and sitcoms. 3) Who has been your inspiration or influence in the way you teach and interact with your students? My wife, Dr Siri Ramaswami, and adjunct faculty member has been a big influence. She is a dance teacher and as in most performing arts education in Indian culture, the relationship between teacher and student extends way past the curriculum. It is a very intense, life long relationship. An American colleague I met while interviewing for jobs, Sandra Loeb, was also very influential I loved the way she shared her life with her students, and looked to her student for advice on so many practical matters. An SMU ex-colleague, Lisa Horvath was another person I learnt from, to let go of hang-ups as a professor and try to be a part of students lives beyond the classroom. She was particularly impressive in that she would buy textbooks and stationery for indigent students. 4) Were there any teachers you had who made an impression on you as a student or perhaps any experiences that inspired you to decide to be personable and approachable to your students? My undergraduate mathematics teacher, the late Mr S M Gandhi was a fantastic teacher he would teach topics that were just not in the syllabus, but which trained the mind fantastically. And Math is like that once an analytical aptitude has been nurtured, it is not that difficult to pick up new content. Ms Lobo, my English and French teacher in secondary school had a huge impact on me too she decided without asking me, that I would study French as a fourth language in grade 8, that I would apply for early admission to a junior college in Mumbai called St Xaviers which led on to doing my undergraduate there. My PhD Advisors, Professor John Lynch and Professor Wes Hutchinson were inspirational in different ways John as the quintessential scholar and truth seeker, and who would always make time for discussing the non-academic challenges of a PhD program. Wes taught me to look for the good in every student and to connect things that didnt seem to have any connection at first glance. Both were warm and delightful human beings. 5) Is there any student you have helped personally whose story remains unforgettable for you? The most memorable outcomes of post-course interactions with ex-students were caused by my gently nudging two-ex-students to more carefully consider the romantic advances of two prospective (non-Singaporean) spouses. Both were a little reluctant at first to encourage the advances. But I know how difficult finding a partner is, especially once you enter work life in Singapore so in general, I advise to give chance lah! In both these cases, after many long chats, and much sharing by them of the progress of the wooing, weddings happened and they each have two children now! 6) Is there any advice you would give to someone struggling right now? Tough to give generic advice to a generic person. And I am very careful to clarify to my ex-students who visit asking for advice, that anything that I suggest is not necessarily the best advice it should be one part at best, of many other considerations. And that it is given in the spirit of friendship, which is why I insist on not being addressed as Prof, suggestive of a wiser, older, almost infallible advisor. So my advice would be, if I know the person, come, have some chai, and lets chat for a bit. And in general, to develop deep, meaningful relationships with honest, caring friends whom you can turn to in times of distress as a listening post, as a stress-reliever, and as a helping hand emotionally and spiritually. The one generic advice I can give is that pretty much however bad something looks currently, it will not seem as bad a few days, months, years from now. So, in general – to focus on the future, and to believe that it can be better if you put your best mind to it, and seek the help of those you could trust. 7) If you could do/change anything about Singapore or your life, what would you do? Im pretty satisfied, some would say complacent, about my life I wish I could have more impulse control, and to get used to adulting – in many ways, Im stuck at 17 years in terms of human development :D About Singapore, that is a whole book. :D But to me a country is not an abstract entity with a flag and a geographical boundary, it is about the people. So to my Singaporean friends, I would say relak can? life ahead does not have to be a constant competition against your fellow Singaporeans played out on the social media battlefield! What Singaporeans need to do in the years ahead, may be very different what has helped Singapore become so prosperous in the last fifty six years (I keep count as I was born in the same year as Singapore!) to excel in the creative professions, to accept that there are different measures of prosperity, not just net worth and the 5Cs, to not be fearful of fundamental changes, and to be more open to dissenting opinions. 8) What does thriving mean to you? My birthday wish/wedding wish/graduation wish/end-of-course wish is the 4Ls love, laughter, luck and learning. Of those four, luck of course is not in our hands but the harder we work, the more lucky we get. And so, thriving means being lucky enough to experience love, laughter, and learning every single day of life.