Sunday, November 8, 2015

A change of department - Professor Mahalingam Memories (Part V)

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam

Part I - The New Faculty
Part II - Our First Home
Part III - Early years of the University of Ceylon
Part IV - Working in the Faculty

Part V – A change of department

I began my teaching career in the Department of Civil Engineering and was assigned the usual quota of supporting duties in the four subjects taught by the department. After I had been in service for a few months, the Dean spoke to me about a pressing staffing problem in the Faculty.

It was in the Department of Mechanical Engineering which was unable to recruit a qualified teacher in the subject of Theory of Machines, which is now called Mechanics of Machines.

Incredible it may seem, there wasn't a single Ceylonese Mechanical Engineering graduate in the country outside the university, so that there was no possibility of getting even a Visiting Lecturer to tide over the immediate crisis. The CTC, too, had been confronted by the same intractable problem and in consequence the subject had been taught at the Part I level only, the lecturer being an Electrical Engineering graduate!

Prof. Pereira suggested to me that if I could sit the papers in Applied Thermodynamics and Theory of Machines – two in each subject - in the University of London Part I1 Examination in June 1951 and passed them, I would become a Mechanical Engineering graduate, and could be absorbed into the Mechanical Engineering Department.

He said I should have no difficulty with Applied Thermodynamics as lectures were being given in the Faculty with supporting laboratory work. As for Theory of Machines I would have to teach myself the subject and also set myself Machine Design exercises for coursework. (There was no laboratory work in the subject in those days). As in the subject of "Theory of Structures" the coursework was entirely Design. For self instruction I would have to depend mainly on the limited library facilities available.

I thought the proposal was a worthwhile challenge and accepted it. Of course, it entailed a great deal of hard work, as I also had my normal quota of departmental duties. Among the topics I taught myself during this period was "Mechanical Vibration" in which I have since developed a life-long interest.

In due course I passed the examinations, and joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering, doubling its strength in the process.

When I joined the Mechanical Engineering Department in 1951 1 was a young and inexperienced Assistant Lecturer thrown into the deep end. But the work was different and interesting. I spent my vacations in the CGR workshops at Ratmalana to gain practical experience of Mechanical Engineering. It was a hectic time for all of us, but we had the satisfaction of moving forward with steady gains, which we hoped would endure.

Growing up in the Lower Ranks by S. Mahalingam – Part VI - Annual survey camp

(This article was first published in “Memories of an Engineering Faculty: 1950-2000 Golden Jubilee Souvenir”, Jayasekara, W.P., Mahalingam, S., Ranaweera, M.P., Siyambalapitiya, S.B., Ratnaweera, V. [Editors], Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, July 2000)

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