Sunday, May 29, 2005

IITK in 2030

As the date of my convocation nears by, I am starting to feel a little 'awkward' for sure. Can't say the feeling to be a nostalgia. I don't know what it is. Nevertheless, the stay at IITK will be the most cherished and unforgettable. I owe so much to this institute, which symbolizes technical excellence in the middle of the traditional heartlands of India.

So, what would IITK be like after 25 years? Difficult to predict. Rate of human civilization's development over past century has amazed even the most apt fortune teller. Here are a few predictions:
  • Stature of IITK: The role of IITs will change from preparing undergrads for US schools to producing excellent research and technical value in India. IITK will play an increasingly important role in the international scenario, with branches extending over South, South-East Asia and Europe. New disciplines like Economics, Bioengineering, energy conservation etc. will gain primary importance. IITK will have more industry sponsored projects, leading to meaningful outputs.
  • JEE: Online examination, followed by interviews through video conferencing. Perhaps, even genetic blueprint might be used. No. of seats would have certainly multiplied. Only post graduate admissions. Undergraduate education will move on to the NITs.
  • Departments: Biotech/Biosciences will be the most preferred one, followed by Energy/Environment Engineering. Computer Security might be the most preferred field in Computer Science. Nanotechnology will hold strong ground. Traditional departments like Mechanical, Material Sciences will move towards their modern forms such as Nanotechnology, etc. Aerospace will hold key to the man's pursuit for finding new energy resources/civilization in the universe.
  • Campus@IITK: All the available land will be used. An additional CC, Library, Auditorium and hostels. Old labs like workshop will close down. Lecture halls equipped with tele conferencing facilities, computer on each seat. Buses inside the campus. HC will undergo an extension. A proper fencing will be done from nearby villages. A Railway station at IITK might be a possibility. Can't see Kanpur having metro by then...
  • Hostels@ IITK: Multi storeyed Hostels. Hall 1, 2,3 might be at the verge of reconstruction. Wireless terabyte network, central air conditioning, McDs inside the hostels, single rooms, lifts in all the hostels.
  • Education and Courses: The concept of virtual classrooms will gain strength. Class room teaching might die a slow death, to be replaced by video conferencing sessions, online courses. Courses taken in collaboration with US/European universities. Notebooks, pens and pencils will be things of the past. Hopefully, emphasis on practicals will increase. More industry collaborated research projects, better research papers, and increased research output of IITK. Each field in a department will have its own lab, with multiple PhDs working under each professors.
  • Life @IITK: Festivals like Antaragni, Techkriti will scale up. But the input of student community in the organization will decrease. Event Management companies will take over these. Students will be less social, and hence, dull. Computers/ Laptops will be the best friends of most. Girls to boys ratio will improve. Afcourse, society will be much more 'open', and minis, skin shows, sutta, daaru, sex will be quite common.
But, there will be certain things that won't change. IITK lingo, MT, lala's udhaar, magga, desperation and frustation for hot cheeks, and most importantly the spirit of adventure, exploration and the spirit of IITK.....

If by God's grace, I am there in 2030 and in a condition to update my blog, I will verify my predictions.
Meet you in 2030....

Friday, May 27, 2005

Wanna adventure? Travel in Indian Railways!

Holiday season is on. Time for travel, masti, adventure. Older, lazier souls among you choose a traditional holiday packages to Nainital, Manali, Kashmir or some forgotten hill station. The more young, heavily pumping hearts look for a mind blowing adventure. Rock climbing, cycling, biking, rafting, paragliding etc. are the obvious choices. I suggest a new adventure ride which will test every paradigm of your skills, be it physical, mental, or emotional. Travel without ticket, or with waiting ticket in Indian Railways!!
Now, this is serious. I assure you of extreme pleasure and pain. Expect the unexpected. Be ready to take on the police. Be ready for the kill. And all this, from my own personal experience.
Board the train. Great, you have already done the first adventurous act, you have broken a law. Travelling without ticket is a well known defiance of law, but most are unaware of the fact that you are also not allowed to travel on a waiting ticket. The rule says that you must get down at the very next hault. But, adventure is about breaking shackles, isn't it :)
Next mission: find a place to rest your ass. You may choose to rely on your legs, but over longer distances, it might be physically painful- oops, another scope for an adventure!! Now, finding a seat will require great observation skills. You need to spot a 2*2 feet empty space in the boggy. Look out for singles, side berths; keep away from ladies, families; upper berth may be empty. Still, (fortunately for you,though) you don't get a seat.
Now, enter your communication skills. You are a student, there are some middle aged uncles around, their son might be of your age, may be in the same school, some connection here and there- aha, this might work. I played this trick many a times. Immediately disclose that you study in IIT. Great, mission accomplished. You got a seat. Oh no!! you were here for an adventure! Situation changed, you still don't get a seat.
But your legs are aching. This is getting painful. Suddenly, you see a suitcase on the floor. Place your ass over there. You might be sitting in the most awkward position, with half of your bottom without any support, but remember you are getting what you are here for!!
Next mission: Escape the claws of TT. Now, this is a great hide and seek game. You will get a feel of escaping from a beast in a jungle. If you don't have a ticket, run away to the toilet. No other place to hide. Toilets can be extreme adventure, but your hanky might help you to resist. If you have a waiting ticket, it's safe in most places. Ask TT with a whisper, "Berth milegi kya?" The usual answer will be "Train full hai, baad mein dekhte hain". Don't get disheartened, wait......
As sun looses its dominance in the sky, a wave of restlessness travels through the compartment. Those with tickets spring up in action to arrange for their sleep and kick out 'outsiders'. But those without berths are the real anxious lot. Where to sleep?
A new avataar takes birth in the train: the TT. Soon, he will be distributing amrita in the form of berths. There is a price to pay though. The real face of Indian administration is revealed. Corruption at your foot step. TT might agree in 50 or 100 bucks, or even more depending upon the size of devotees' queue. You chose to be more adventurous, and ethical. "What a shame? I won't bribe him. This is rediculous." You forget one thing- you are on the wrong side of law yourself.
Finally, you don't get a berth. It's going to be the longest night of your life. Either you will be standing, or being kicked by a person on berth, hopping from one seat to another. Your spirit for adventure is slowly dying out......Utter frustation won't help. Longest wait for the destination.....
Finally, destination arrives. It has been a great adventure: physically demanding, emotionally drenching and mentally painful.
Thanks to Indian Railways for 14 hours of continuous adventure for just 300 odd bucks!!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Grading @IITs

This is in continuation with my rather serious articles about IITs. You can say I am suffering from nostalgia or it's just a phase of introspection. Anyways, I read this article regarding grading at IITB in the past. Author has raised questions regarding the effecitveness of the grading system at IITs.
Grading is such an important issue in India, especially at highly competitive places like IITs. Talking more specifically about IITK, we will hear both sides of the story. Some appreciate grading, while for others it's not more than a civilized crime against student community.
My view- grading is important and a must have.
  • In any society, you need quantification of excellence/performance. Grading provides just that. What's the way to find out your academic performance for a company which wants to recruit you? You definitely won't submit "character certificates" from 40 different professors!!
  • I don't buy the argument that western society (specifically, american) pays less heed to grading. Grade is the measuring yardstick during admissions to US colleges. US society is afterall highly competitive too.
  • Why fear from grading? Your performance will be gauged throughout your career. It's just a small beginning. Face the reality.
So, what's the catch? Why people loathe grading, or why grading hasn't been able to emerge as the right quantification tool?
Fault lies in not the grading, but the way grading is done. Exams are given much more importance than practicals/homework/assignments. A few points:
  • In IITK, the usual marks distribution for a course is: Examinations (end sem, midsems)- 80%, homework/assignments/attendance- rest 20.It boils down to performing in 5 hours of examination, rather than throughout the semester.
  • Short cut for students- definitely, mug up just before the exams and you are through. It all depends on your ability to collect class notes, mugging the "right" things, memorization skills, and if you lack any of them, your guts to cheat :)
  • Short-cut for instructors: This grading policy is usually an easy way out for instructors. They don't have to grade assignments, take pains to solve assignments, and more importantly, catch copying in the assignments. Professors! don't blame us only, you are equally at guilt.
  • Learning curve is also low in exam based grading. To learn, you must ACT. Assignments are the only way students can really act. Perhaps, this is the reason of the famous saying- "Never depend upon an IIT Electrical engineer to fix up your wiring problems". They will keep applying Ampere's law, circuit law, etc. None applies in any practical situation :)
  • This is the reason US schools are much ahead. Emphasis is not on exams, but practicals, projects, assignments etc.
Solution- Professors, wake up! Don't simply blame us for all the bad things. Fact is that amount of effort put in by most intructors in IITK is dismal. 10 years old lecture notes,
repeated examinations, not grading answer books, poor presentation skills, etc. In one course
his semester, professor didn't have classes for one full month, and no make up too !! He didn't check mid sem copies (rumours were that he had lost those). His final words to me were- "I have more important work to do than give Fs". Amazing. Did he have a right to give any F in that course?
Professors, think and act soon!!