Sunday, November 20, 2011

Corruption in IIT life

You hear about corruption everywhere all these days. Something which people do not know probably is that the best minds of their country are also corrupt. Want to know how?
IITs aim to churn out future leaders of society. So IIT life would try to equip its students with as much diversity and opportunities as possible. So within IITs you have all kinds of events. There are three fests in each academic year - one cultural fest, one technical fest and one sports fest. Additionally there are clubs for things like dramatics, music, arts, indoor sports etc etc which are about 10-15. Also you have most of the sports in IITs. Now to keep the system running IITs hold different positions to run these clubs and various activities both academic as well as non-academic. For every activity there's a student secretary and there are numerous representatives which help making the process a success. Naturally for each activity, club or any event there's a budget which is decided and bills are submitted during due course fitting that budget. Be it fudging of bills, be it use of budgets for personal benefits etc etc everything is done by the students. There's a whole host of politics involved in the selection of secretaries and reps. The funds of these events are also used for lavish treats. Some part of it is right, some not. People can differ on that.
To get a sense of money a student secy can make is that at the end of a fest, people are able to their dream bikes financed. Mess secretary is a very coveted post as it involves managing the budget for a hostel's mess and can get you in a good position to exploit the tricks of trade. On the other hand sometimes bills do not get cleared easily for representatives. The secy's who head them have better ways to use them. Everybody know what are those. The big cut is obtained when you set up something big. So say a pool table for your hostel or renovation of the hostel garden. Everybody takes a cut for taking a initiative but how much is the question. But these are small if you consider their impact and if there was a way to quantify the wrongdoing all these are not so severe.
One big thing that happens from the end of students which I have witnessed is the scholarship from the institute which waivers tuition fees of students coming from family below a certain annual income (about 2-3 lakhs). There were about 15 people atleast (out of 50 in our batch) that I know in my hostel in my year who fulfilled the criteria on paper just because there was no proof to ascertain their family income. I am not sure about how many more did the same. Anyways the percentage was huge I can tell you that but still the authorities at IIT did nothing about it. The scholarship is like 30k for tuition fees and another 18k for the year. So its roughly 50k per student that IIT spends per year which it should save. Anyways that is the way it is.
One more shady area which I cannot confirm by examples but know happens in from the end of professors. When you get those equipments in laboratories, they misrepresent the prices and inflate bills to the tune of many lakhs for personal benefits. Also the institute infrastructure is a big money churning area for the people in charge. A friend of mine in IIT Roorkee told me a certain road was build over and over just to because it offered good margins for takers. This and many more happens in our premier institutes and our future leaders are part of it. No wonder a stalwart like Rajat Gupta is under scrutiny. But that's the way it is.

Views on coaching

A coaching class as a business has prospered for IIT-JEE preparation and there has been a lot of debate about the effect it has. Like all debates some parts of it are true some not. I would accept the argument that good coaching is a definite advantage to students who get them and sometimes would be disadvantageous to a more capable student who is unable to access them. But that is one part of the story. The second part is it helps. It helps immensely a student who learns from good teachers and learns better than otherwise on his own. What is so bad in it? I fail to understand. If the student has the ability to pick up and understand when told in a different way and develops a capability to solve the most complex questions in the exam what is so bad about it. Yes the coaching refines and cuts down the amount of effort the student has to make to crack the exam. But what is so wrong if they are able to find an efficient way to help students to get into an institute which is so coveted in our country. Don't tell me the students groomed by coaching are not competent enough and the IITs are churning out less brilliant students. If it is the case, its because the level of JEE has dropped significantly over the years. Why don't they make it as tough as possible and let the best minds crack it, which happen in the Olympiads as well. I am an IITian and I owe more of my engineering knowledge to my coaching teachers as compared to IIT professors or my school teachers. In school, teachers have no real motivation to teach, their salaries are fixed, their task is cut out and they don't really care. Don't forget the teachers we have in our school are nowhere close to the best minds in the country. In contrast, I can anyday bet, that my coaching teachers would fare far better in their IQ and more importantly their teaching skills. Its very easy if you map it to the corporates running in government and private sectors. The coaching institutes do not want lazy, unmindful, non-performance driven teachers who care only about the time lines of syllabus completion. So the point I'm trying to make is at the end of the day if the coaching institutes are able to impart better education irrespective of the way they run it, there's no harm in it as long as education is the winner. Why don't IIT professors learn from them how to drive the younger generation and impart better education through innovative ways. But instead they choose to criticize and reject them. I find it sad. Instead I choose to criticize their attitude. They make noises about all these things and hope to get better salaries. They are better off attending these classes and learning from them how to churn out better engineers in our society. And anyways if our schooling and our school teachers were so outstanding and if our board exams were based on meritocracy this situation would never have arrived. I can tell you the same IIT professors who are making so much hue and cry never change their ways of teaching. They more often than not stick to the class lectures to frame questions in semester exams so that a more loyal student to them who is referred to as "maggu" in IIT who attends their classes and take notes can muster them and do well to prove a point to others. The point is exactly contradictory. Their exams don't reward the best minds within IITians but who learn in a conventional way. The focus is not on thinking and strong understanding of concepts. Instead the lecture notes. Why have they failed to innovate in the exam papers that they set? Why don't people first question them and the harm they are causing the education in India? Why are they allowed to even shun these coaching classes. I would say allow these coaching teachers to run IITs and you will see what improvements in efficiencies you get in the system then.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why IITians should be trained in a different way

The thought of giving counselling to depressed students is a noble one and one in the right direction. When IITians enter the campus they bring with them a lot of apprehensions which need to be cleared. Most of the students are from humble backgrounds and tier-II cities. And sometimes the families they belong to may not be radical as the IIT life expects them to. Pressures of performance and expectations can burden them. Also a sense of achievement engulfs a student when he clears JEE after couple of years of rigorous hardwork and he is very naturally in a state of burnout. So the tendency is to relax and enjoy and free yourself from the burden and live a college life (probably the one shown in movies) which is visualized to be much better than the life you left behind. But more often than not the students are disappointed. Now they are competing with people who are like them or probably better than them. Students from small towns or tier II, III cities generally do not match the education that students from metros or top schools bring along with them. Naturally the students are more or less similar in their levels of IQ but skills they possess can be quite different. A very simple case would be two students entering into computer science department one from say a DPS and one from say a small town like Harda in MP. One might have an access to best computer education in his school available in India, may have had a trip to a US school, may be the editor of his school magazine, participated in programming contests internationally etc etc and the other unaware of these worldly affairs a simple yet intelligent student seeing his counterpart and overawed by him/her. What it leads to is questions which his mind never asked before. He feels deprived and senses a inferiority complex which he hasn't before. He sees no other boy from his school around, not many to share or understand his thought process and feels depressed. He might even neglect or deny it but there's something that he feels which is different and troubling and trickling his mind all the time. Its change of worlds for one and its quite simple for the other. In no time their performance differs and confidence for one starts shaking. Make no mistake, it takes a lot of emotional balancing before your mind however sharp it may be performs upto its limits. IIT life exposes these differences to the hilt as clashes take place between similar IQs and different exposures and skillsets. Add to it the stubborn attitude of professors whose teaching theories and beliefs are not only outdated but also rigid. Its something that you live to learn with in IIT life. Yes, life is somewhat similar and people are exposed to different environment but IIT life is exceptional is some ways to bring that out and flash on your mind. I think the points discussed are applicable more to institutes in Delhi and Mumbai maybe Chennai as well. I think IITs should focus on behavioral differences of students and have light courses in the first semester to give breathing space to students and to adjust to a newer environment for better emotional stability of all students. I know they have huge expectations but its also important that maximum output is extracted out of the bunch or should I call the cream there.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The sad part of having IIT life

People talk about the big guns and nobody cares about the common man and very rightly so. Common is not the one to be cared about. Common is easily available. Rule of nature, common man looks to the uncommon. But the same common man, when comes back to thinking about himself gets perturbed about being common. The things are no different when you are an IITian. Considering you have set different benchmarks and expectations early in our career continues to pressurize you throughout your life. No matter how good you are there would be one better than you. A fact however difficult an IITian may find to accept remains. That is what causes an emotional turmoil. The hunger to be at the top all the time is never satisfied for a common IITian leading to a sad feeling of under-achievement. He might still be doing well in his life but IIT life is something different. It comes with a tag to be in a league above the rest all the time. People and IITians themselves seem to forget that one exam and one institute is not a recipe for success in all the fields. But alas their subconscious mind fails to accept the fact. I have seen IITian burdened with a sense of inferiority complex. To keep themselves happy they need to see themselves better than their surroundings, appreciated to be what they are all the time and have a desire to receive accolades for every work they do. Its not possible.
What all this leads to is depression. It leaves them incomplete and hapless about their positions. Its a sad fact with most non-exceptional IITians I have seen. It becomes an inseparable reality in the IIT life.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

IITians next level

There is no doubt to my mind that every IITian is blessed with good IQ and is sharp to learn things faster than most. But there are a lot of things which matter apart from those to take you to the next level in life. Like all great institutions IIT can only assure you a certain level. But it cannot guarantee life-long distinction. To achieve those the skills are much more important compared to the talent and hardwork that led to IIT. That's precisely what takes you to the next level. Interpersonal skills and intellectual expertise are two most important skills. More often than not big achievements in life are not conquered through an individual, it happens in a environment where multiple forces combine to push for a greater cause and purpose. To receive proper guidance, to inculcate right practices, to learn from others, to drive people and to accept challenges, to divert energies, to relax and to push hard, to time and to plan are all important when you aim for something bigger. To keep doing it is the toughest part where most people give up and precisely that is why persistence is very important. History and quotes will confirm that.
Coming to live happenings and experiences, most IITians settle for plush jobs and get caught in traps which are laid to make them the best employees. Make no mistake people in corporates are experienced enough to exploit this weakness. They know most IITians come from a humble background and aspire to earn big after the hardwork they have put in all those years and once they are convinced that they are a special group. That is where the battle is lost. The risk aversion and attraction towards a comfortable and safe lifestyle is alluring. But at the same time its the same trap that IITians didn't fall when they prepared for JEE. They missed something specially for those two years to target something big. They did somethings differently. But now the same bunch of people refuse to take further risks and accept bigger challenges. And thus you get 90% of these brilliant people doing redundant or repetitive work for these MNCs. And once you get lost in the crowd you become the crowd. And that is when you lose your speciality and that is what will never take the IITians to the next level.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Futile effort it was

Three years post IIT I can say IIT didn't match our requirements academically and the jobs that we are pursuing these days are totally mismatched with the curriculum IIT had. We rarely use the complex engineering intellect that we are asked to showcase in our exams for the IIT. If the market demands that students develop a much more broad based approach towards pursuing their career paths so be it. We have to ensure the best and the most recognized institutes don't get too rigid with the courses and guidance they provide. Agreed institutes like IIT are meant mostly for engineering but we should not forget that these are the only world class univs that we have in India. The whole point is IIT sucks the brightest from the society so it has a responsibility to get the best out the best students that it has been able to exploit. The student themselves get attracted to the best opportunities so IITs have to ensure that they receive world class education and should not worry too much even if they have to move away from the regular engineering stuff. If somebody is interested in finance let me pursue financial engineering, maths, CS etc courses, if somebody is interested in sales/analytics give him the relevant optionals and so on and so forth. True there will be a lot of debate of what the role of IIT is but the fact of the matter is if they waste their precious college time in unnecessary irrelevant departmental core subjects which they are anyways going to leave behind them in the future give them the stuff they need they want they require. But for that to happen we need professors who understand this, IIT alumni to shape up the process of reform, students to be more responsible and the industries should play their part too.
I realize the above when I work in a global team and at the age of 25 I compare myself with people in my team of similar ages but from different backgrounds and different parts of the world. I find myself wanting in front of them not because of my competency but the education system that I've been a part of. The limited exposure and lack of choices in our curriculum, the lack of practicality in the education we impart at crucial stages in student's life, the lack of understanding and planning of the career paths among students. We have to change the way it is right now at the undergrad level atleast. IITs have to take initiatives. We have to link what the industry requires, what the students should know and what we teach at our premier colleges or otherwise we would be found wanting competing at the global level.
The experience in the corporate world has made me realize how unimportant the courses were that I pursued all along, how irrelevant and time-wasting process it was, why fighting for grades wasn't the best option. Its disappointing to say that it was all a futile aimless exercise just to keep things the way they are. Its a wasted effort of so many years, its painful, stressful and of no use. India has to go a long way for me till its education adds meaning to lives.