Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy Diwali

Happy Diwali to all! Wish I could send individual mails or cards to all I know, that includes who remembered and sent greetings cards but left no email id / phone no./full address. Perhaps, a post on this blog is the only way to reach out to all and say, "Thanks".

Diwali in IIT Kharagpur is unmatched with its Illumination and Rangoli. I find that this post (Link) from a student captures it beautifully.

It was wonderful to meet faculty colleagues and students yesterday evening while moving from one pandal to another with family and exchange greetings on the way. I must say that the IIT campuses are unparalleled and IIT Kharagpur campus is perhaps the best on human quotient.


Three months back, there was a conversation with a mother (stationed abroad on an assignment) on google, me not knowing the tragedy that occurred recently. She was referring to the Arthur Ashe quote in the section 'A friend in need' of a previous post (Link) in the chat. Suddenly I realized that the 10 year old son was no more. The physicians tried their best but it was one of those rare diseases. Tears knew no bound when the mother said that she wished but could not be my student and wanted to bring the son to me someday. Wish I can rise to the expectation of parents / guardians / students and be worthy enough to be called a teacher. Let me share the talk (Link) that comes to my mind whenever such a discourse arises. The link may not open in some browsers.

Steve Jobs Quote

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

Digging Deep

What we see in the surface is not what one is but what one wants to show. "If hard work is what pays then the donkey would have been the king of a forest and not lion." I placed the quote before a class of 100 students. The class said that they do not agree with it. I told, "I am not asking if you agree or not. What do you think of the person who writes this in his public portrayal?" May appear that he is in control of himself, very strong and knows what he is doing. An expert in psychology may say. With 284 facebook friend, his other public note was, "hell is d new hanging adda, when nobody is wid me." Wonder any of his friend could see it and make out what he has in his mind. An IIT final year with no backlog, no apparent reason to develop such a distaste of life at this age! And IIT Kharagpur was again news for a student who bade adieu to life.  Requested all to share with us (teachers, elders) issues they face. May be the experience of the struggle each of us go through help one another. My experience can be found in a previous post (Link). What does great teachers like Vivekananda say? He asks the youth to be strong and exhorts (Link1, Link2, Link3) in his call to the nation "Go from village to village, do good to humanity and to the world at large. . …… ‘When death is certain, it is better to die for a good cause.’"

Student Welfare Group

Jumped on a Student Welfare Group, IIT Kharagpur under Dean, SA website (Link) which is recently launched. Had a conversation with one of the content developer who worked in NSS last year. He was one of the lead volunteer and thus we got acquainted. A very good effort from IIT Kharagpur students. I also liked the shoutbox of scholars avenue blog (Link).  Let all stake holders of IIT system come and work together to see that every flower blooms.

And there was light

It was wonderful to read in the newspaper that students of one High School did not buy new dress materials in this Durga Puja and urged their parents to donate the money for costly treatment of a needy classmate. The other day television news showed friends coming together to make a pandal which looks like 'Academy of Fine Arts' of Kolkata. There the paintings of one club member who is a rickshaw puller by profession and painter by passion are displayed. The rickshaw puller painter does not have money to exhibit his work in Academy of Fine Arts at Kolkata. The friends decided to create one for him in the locality.

Real vs. virtual friend  I often worry about the abundance of virtual friends in recent times. These days we prefer to converse on chat with my next door neighbour than taking a walk together. May be the virtual platform helps the shy to unshackle themselves in the beginning. But a real friend is the one which never goes off-line.  I remember the Chanakya Shloka we memorized in our Sanskrit class of Class VIII. "Utsabe byasane chaiba durbhikkhe rashtrabiplabe / Rajadware, Shashmane Cha Jasthishthati Sa Bandhaba." A weak translation would be : He is a friend who is with you in fun, in famine, in revolution, in front of the king, in crematorium. It is not just fun which gets shared but more challenging situations such as those. The English adage says : A friend in need is a friend indeed. Let us hope to get one, let us be one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Directors Speak

The Diamond Jubilee convocation function had a very interesting panel discussions on 22nd August, 2011 morning at Netaji Auditorium. We had former IIT Kharagpur Directors Padmashree Prof. K. L. Chopra and Prof. Amitabha Ghosh; current Directors of IIT Bhubaneshwar, IIT Ropar, IIT Indore and Prof. P. Chakraborty from IIT Kanpur. Prof. M. S. Swaminathan of TIME magazine fame, member of Planning Commission and National Advisory Council also graced the panel. What followed is a feast of thoughts, an introspection on 60 years of IIT system and the way ahead. I could not locate any report on this and hence presenting here what I could take as running notes.

Prof. Chopra initiates the discussion by saying that we are supposed to be think-tanks. We may have been so for UG studies. But emphasis is too much on UG studies. Integrated M.Tech., PhD should be preferred. To shift from teaching based to learning based i.e. outcome based, learning how to learn. He emphasized on breaking barriers among Departments, reducing no. of credits to be cleared by students. He gave example of MIT where 130 credits are enough (compared to IIT's 175) and 30% of this is constituted by core subjects and students enjoy a lot of flexibility in selecting subjects. He expects new IITs to show new way and does not like the idea of being mentored by older IITs (as it hinders new thinking). He wishes to see DST change how it functions.

Prof. Amitabha Ghosh was the next speaker. He stressed on importance of planning and preparing the country to be at centre stage of 3rd industrial revolution. He talked about revamping curriculum at least in a few IITs and opening the door of IITs to world students (at least MTech and PhD) on its way to become world institutes.

Prof. M. K. Surappa, Director, IIT Ropar spoke next. He explained the challenges in setting up of  a new institute. He emphasized on quality focus. All IITs together have 6000 publications a year with citation index 5-6. MIT publishes 4000 a year but citation index is 20. He worried about languishing university system and if IITs can help them, NITs to get good students for research. He talked about creation of new knowledge that will be put in application over next 20 years; in areas like waste management, water, energy, healthcare etc.

Prof. M. Chakraborty, Director, IIT Bhubaneshwar talked about issues faced by a head of a new IIT. He mentioned how his IIT is unique in offering interdisciplinary exposure to students, to strike  balance between domain knowledge and broad area. Every final year project must have supervisors from two different departments.

Director, Indore explained the present infrastructure situation at his IIT and challenges faced. He told that it is easier for newer IITs to adopt a change. In his IIT, a student has to undergo six month's industry / shopfloor experience.

Prof. Partha Chakraborty of IIT Kanpur said that IIT education should make one socially aware, become a good citizen, contribute to nation building - becoming broad based. Research environment should be there in the country. Many smaller universities feed Stanford. This should hold for IITs too.

Prof. Swaminathan spoke last in the first round. He said that the 60 years of IIT was not only the time to celebrate but also to introspect where we had gone wrong. He talked about reducing food spoilage, environmental impact of new technology, helping nationwide poverty alleviation programs like MGNAREGA with technology. He said that it is better to look for individuals and build institutions around that individual.

Then it was a kind of open house.

Prof. Chopra observed how MIT focused on infrastructure in first 75 years, industry in second 75 years and planning (health, global) in third 75 years but there are no such things for IITs. More than the money, the power of mind holds key. How could C. V. Raman, S. N. Bose, Meghnad Saha perform with junk equipments!

Prof. Ghosh narrated one anecdote where a young faculty wanted to leave IIT for a foreign university not for money or comfort, but for poor quality of research students he was getting. He said that even a mediocre US university get bright students from India, China. He wondered how US universities would perform if foreign students are not there. Prof. Chopra observed that the IIT students go out for money as well as lack of inspiration from IIT teacher. Prof. Ghosh said that the prestige in our country increases i one goes outside the country or publishes work in foreign journals.

Prof. M. Chakraborty brought the topic of collaboration among faculty members. He said that the competitors can be collaborators and it is worthwhile to work in a group. There were a lot of questions from the audience. The discussion came to an abrupt end when the hard time cut-off was reached. But it was great experience to listen to these experienced people and get educated.


Prof. K. L. Chopra's interview as published in IIT Kharagpur's student mouth piece 'Scholars Avenue' (Link) leaves more food for thought. Excerpts from the interview as appeared in the link is pasted below.

There are presently 3,500 private technical colleges and 350 private universities to do the job of producing over 93% of the engineering graduates in India. It is wiser then to concentrate on quality rather than increase the number and intake of IITs which will not significantly change the overall percentage of graduating engineering manpower for the country. The magnified numbers today have become a burden on the existing IITs. Just imagine herding 4 students in one room in the hostel.

As for educating a class full of two hundred students, even Feynman, the great physicist, the great actor, declared his efforts at Caltech a failure. “It is the inspiration from the teacher that makes you a scientist or an engineer,” and this, KL Chopra says, cannot happen unless there is an eye-to-eye contact and direct interaction between the teacher and the student. The IITs were supposed to be the think-tanks of the country, but he believes the kind of reforms being incorporated is converting them to regular universities.

The vision of education in IITs was to create knowledge, which is more important than dissemination. Also, the focus needs to be on translational research,” says KL Chopra. It isn’t that people in the IIT system aren’t competent, but there is nobody accounting for the deliverance of knowledge in a country whose economy is heavily dependent on science and technology. He believes this is a form of intellectual corruption: a condition where no questions are asked. “Fortunately the government did not know what was going on with the IT industry and thus it flourished very well.”

We learned that India is a signatory to the Washington Accord, a document with benchmarks for education quality. The IITs come under its purview and will have to be judged sometime, an evaluation KL Chopra says they will not necessarily pass. While IITans have hitherto enjoyed global mobility, foreign organizations now realize that given the bulk of students, a spectrum is bound to exist. While he believes a transition to a system involving thorough evaluation is going to be difficult for students as well as teachers, that is what the world today demands. It is not what is taught that is important, but whether and what students have learned, and whether they have learned to learn.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Listening To

This was 18th August, 2011 Foundation Day lecture at Netaji Auditorium by Mr. Sandipan Chakravortty, our alumnus and M.D. of a TATA enterprise. I tried with our alumni office who in turn made a contact with Mr. Chakravortty. But as it appeared this was an extempore and he did not carry any written material that can be mailed. Therefore, I present here what I could scribble in the invitation card that I carried to the auditorium.

Mr. Chakravortty told the students, "As IITians, first brand yourself as human being. Being IITians, you are different from others. You are inspirational leader with a backbone of integrity." He talked about wide spread corruption and felt proud when he said that there are "no IITians in this space and IITians hold head high."

He continued on what Industry wants from an young engineer, a being who is physically and mentally healthy; has good domain knowledge; good communication ability, believes in team work, integrity, by nature ambitious, dynamic, innovative. He observed that we grow up as individuals in school. However, the IIT life teaches team work.

Next, he said, "You must have spiritual feelings." By this he meant listening to the call of conscience. He differentiated 'good' and 'great' by this yard stick. Good people are efficient. Great people are efficient and listen to the call of conscience.

He warned if 'lust of knowledge' is replaced by 'lust of money' among IIT students. He feels hurt when media highlights highest salary received by an IIT student from campus placement as a scoring point of one IIT over another. Finally, he said that TATA enterprises are highest tax payers and do not do accounting tricks to reduce tax burden. The guiding philosophy of J. R. D. Tata "is not to look at profits but how much tax that has been paid. Paying tax is a matter of pride."