Professor Dr. Alpagut Kara wears many hats: he is a faculty member in Materials Science and Engineering Department in Eskişehir Technical University, Faculty of Engineering; Ceramic Research Center R&D Coordinator, TSD Board Chairman, SERES Congress Organizing Committee Chair. Kara, who isin contact with every community in the ceramic industry, says that his love for ceramics dates back to his education years.
I guess there is nobody in the industry who does not know you, both as a scientist and an academician. How many years have you been working in the field of ceramics?
My first contact with ceramic materials started in 1987 when I was a junior in Metallurgical Engineering Department in Istanbul Technical University and our esteemed professor Yüksel Güner started to give us lessons inour ceramics class. I guess, me and some of my close friends who were my desk mates and colleagues whom I still continue to work with in industrial and technical ceramics fell in love with ceramic at that time. After my undergraduate education, I got a master’s degree in engineering ceramics from Leeds University in England after studying in 1990-1991 period with the scholarship of the Ministry of Education. Afterwards, I returned to my country and started working as a lecturer at Anadolu University. Ceramic Engineering Department was established new. At that time, I was sent back to England in 1994 to pursue a doctoral degree especially with the support of our esteemed professor Prof. Dr. Ersan Pütün and the university administration. In 1999, I took my PhD degree in ceramic materials from the University of Bath and returned to Anadolu University as a faculty member in the Ceramic Engineering Department. I mean my relationship with ceramic materials started with my undergraduate education and then advanced to a more maturelevel with master and doctorate education.
You did your master and doctorate in England. What have you gained from this experience?
Apart from the academic advantages of having my master’s and doctorate degree in England, there are of course other advantages. Main advantages are learning a foreign language and the acquisitions I have accumulated by sharing the same environment with people from different cultures for a long time. I think that these achievements taught me to analyze the things around me from a much broader perspective and multi-dimensionally. I also realized how important it is to transfer academic knowledge to the sector during my doctorate education.
We have always been talking about brain drain in recent years, have you ever considered staying abroad?
Frankly no. I went to England twice for educational purposes and stayed forconsiderably long periods. It was a productive period for me both academically and socially. However, I was thinking of returning to my home country and my family every time. In fact, my connections abroad in the fields related to my profession are still strong. For this reason, I regularly participate in congresses and fairs abroad. Besides, Eskişehir is a beautiful city to live in and I am content with my profession.
You shuttle back and forth between Istanbul and Eskişehir. Which city do you think is better to live in? Absolutely Eskişehir. If you ask why,I would say it is easy to live there. If we consider how valuable the time is, the traffic problem in our big cities is not felt much here. For this reason, you have the opportunity to carry out many activities during the day. Eskişehir is a rich city culturally and artistically. It is young and dynamic thanks to the universities and students it hosts.First, meeting with our students in different environments in social life is very pleasant and motivating for meas an academician. I can say that it keeps my soul young too. In addition, Eskişehir is easy to reach from cities like Istanbul and Ankara regarding transportation. For this reason, it is possible to manage your workthrough day trips. Another important point is its proximity to a significant part of the manufacturers that constitute the ceramic industry.
Is there still Ceramic Engineering departments at universities in Turkey? Or is it covered by the Materials Engineering departments?
As far as I am concerned, there is no Department of Ceramic Engineering available at the universities in Turkey currently. Over time, the departments have turned into Materials Science and Engineering, Metallurgy and Materials Engineering. However, compulsory and elective courses are offered to students both in industrial and technical ceramicsin these departments. In addition, master and doctorate programs in the field of ceramic materials continue.
Are the graduates of these departments able to find jobs in the ceramic industry? Is their education qualified enough?
As in other engineering branches, it would not be wrong to say that there is more graduates than needed for the related sectorsand the number of graduates keeps increasing. If I consider the art and designseparately, the ceramic sector in Turkey is focusedparticularly on industrial (silicate-based) ceramics and it represents a very important sector for the economyof our country. This situation creates employment for our graduates. Our graduates do not find jobs only in the production line of ceramic products, but they also take part in the R&D units and supply processes of these companies. Also, companies that provide different raw materials to ceramic producing companies are potential places for our graduates who wish to work in the ceramic industry. Frankly, it is a great pleasure to meet with our graduates on numerous occasions in companies that I visit within the scope of both academic and industrial activities. Although their number is not high for now, the employment created and potential job opportunities by companies engaged in R&D and production activities on technical ceramics should be taken into consideration. When we look at the courses we offer in the field of ceramics specific to Materials Science and Engineering in Eskişehir Technical University where I currently work; as someone who closely follows the sector, I think that we still cannot meet the expectations of the sector. In this context, we try to include different elective courses in our programs in order to train graduates who can follow fastgrowing technologies (such as digital printing, automation, etc.) in the ceramic industry. In addition, as SAM [Ceramic Research Center] and TSF [Turkish Ceramics Federation], we also organize training programs for blue and white collar workers active in the sector. When it comes to ceramic education, we should not only think of ceramic processes and related technologies. Standards, environment, industry 4.0 and sustainability related issues make our cooperation with other engineering departments inevitable.
Is SAM the only R & D center serving the entire sector established in partnership with the university and industry? What was your goal when you set it up, did you think it could reach this level?
I have so much to say about SAMwhich I have been working active since 2007… Actually, there are centers in the sector under the law No. 5746 on the Promotion of Research, Development and Design Activities. On the other hand, the most important thing that separates SAM from these centers is that its founders are the leading companies in the ceramic sector and that it conducts its activities by sharing this partnership with the university. Although the Ceramic Research Center was established with the support of TÜBİTAK [Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey]as part of the university-ceramic sector cooperation in 1998, its incorporation under the Technology Development Zones Law No. 4691 was realized in 2007. There are 18 ceramic manufacturers and 2 universities (Eskişehir Technical University and Anadolu University) in the partnership structure of SAM. For the moment, we continue our accredited test-analysis and training activities, mainly in R&D, with about 50 companies that we call as our cooperation partners. When I evaluate the ground we have covered so far as SAM, it is clear how accurate and valuable decision the representatives of TÜBİTAK, university and relevant sectorhave made in the establishment of SAM. Then again, at this point where we have reached as SAM, I believe it is necessary to reconsider our vision and mission in 2020. We need to become more in line with the rising expectations of the sector within the scope of material, machinery and equipment and accredited tests especially regarding technology. In addition, I think that we should be engaged in activities in cooperation with the relevant institutions and organizations in the field of design.
You have been the board chairperson of TSD since 2017. TSD is an association that brings together the science-art-industry areas of ceramics. Is that a challenge or an advantage?
I would say it’s definitely an advantage. It may sound like a cliché, but without science, there is no art, and without art, there is no science. Ultimately, they complement each other. However, when I consider our valuable board members, to tell the truth sometimes it is not easy to make our colleagues from engineering and art background come around to same point of view. Besides, maybe it’s not my place to say, but my personal opinion is that ceramic art is not considered important enough in our country.
TSD is the association with the lowest budget in the Federation. Despite this, it holds important events. How does it achieve this?
Two events we organized were significant. They were the congresses we held in Afyon and Eskisehir. As you know, we are attentive to include scientific, industrial and artistic activities (in the form of sessions, panels and exhibitions) in these congresses. We try to include not only students, academics and artists but also local and foreign sector representatives in our organizations. In this way, we also provide the necessary financial support for organizing successful congresses. TSF also makes a serious contribution to these kind of activities. Moreover, we have an important advantage since the congresses we have organized so far are held under the roof of our respective universities. Of course, as TSD, we are aware that our activities should not be limited to congresses only. Therefore we, as the board of directors, need to spend more time to reflect on activities within the scope of our vision and mission.
SERES Congress will be held next October; have you started preparations? What is your goal for the congress?
SERES 2020 will be held at Eskişehir Technical University on October 12-14. In this context, we have already started our (preparation) studies. We are planning to have a similar content to our previous SERES Congress. We wish to give priority to scientific, technological and artistic sessions, panels and exhibitions especially intended to satisfy the needs of our country’s ceramic sector. By this means, we wish to ensure the participation of not only the academy (our academic staff and students) but also the sector. Thus, we plan to provide an interactive environment in which academic staff, students and industry representatives meet and develop each other.
It is known that you have a solution-oriented approach about many issues. In other words,you aremore concerned about finding a solution instead of rejecting something in the first place. Is that because you are an engineer or is it because of your characteristics?
I think it is because of the the engineering education I have received (especially PhD). Of course, my character has a certain contribution too. I think that being a Virgo has both positive and negative effects on my work and relationships with my environment. Being meticulous and detailed about my job can sometimes be exhausting for me and the people I work with. However, I believe that I have good communication with the people at work and in my social life. We have lots of work to do, expectations from us are high. In this context, I think it would not be right to adopt an approach other than being solution-oriented.
What has been the most challenging case you encountered since you became TSD President?
I would say congress organizations. It takes a serious effort to prepare for such organizations and conduct them in a satisfactory manner. Fortunately, we have the support of both our board members and many people including members of the congress committees.Federation Board membership,
TSD presidency, academic studies, teaching, SAM, overseas travel, congresses... How do you manage work, home-family balance with such an intensive program?
I am afraid I cannot manage it. I have two daughters. Currently, one is in 2nd grade in high school and the other is in 2nd grade in secondary school. Looking back, I would have loved to have spent more time with my wife (who also have worked in the ceramics industry for a long time and she is the daughter of an academician father), my children, my mother and father, and my close friends. Life flows so fast in a rush. To tell you the truth, I have recently started reasoning more frequently on this issue.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity.