Thursday, May 22, 2014

Senior There, Junior Here

135 likes, 54 comments and still counting, from fellow campusites of IIT Kharagpur and within 14 hrs. of the facebook post of a student here. There is something special in it! Could not help re-sharing in my wall. Few weeks before received the following message from a student who graduated from this place and is now doing PhD in a top US school. This is from a senior to juniors with love. Feeling proud of the feat and the sense of responsibility, maturity shown by our dear students. Hope, this will make way for the manifestation of our inner strength to its fullest by unlocking of our true potential, and we shall see flowers bloom here, there and everywhere! 
Dear friends,
Its been almost a year since I started with my PhD in ECE at one of the top 5 schools in US. Over this period, I have met fellow graduate students from all over the world which includes people who have done their B.S. from MIT, Princeton, Cornell and Tshinghua. I also went through 5 years of kgp life, being in awe of these universities and the kind of courses they have access to. More often than not, I used to feel kind of inferior when applying to grad schools for my PhD when I looked at undergraduates from the above mentioned schools. But from my interactions with people over here, I got to know somethings which surprised me to the core and I am sure will surprise you all as well.
I will start this with my first day here, when I met this guy who was going to be an office mate of mine and also my group mate, who did his UG from MIT and he specifically wanted to know which IIT I was from and believe it or not he could spell out Kharagpur. The same happens most of the times when I meet any person for the first time inside the university campus. Most students around here have very high regards for IIT's in general and a lot of it comes from their knowledge of JEE. This is something which might make you feel good, but as you would know sometimes truth is very different from hearsay.
Coming to the education system and my first day of classes here, the instructor specifically asked in a graduate class as to how many people in the class were familiar with matrix algebra and linear algebra. I was surprised because I could see only 5 hands raised in a class of 50. You wouldn't really expect this in a graduate class given that it was a class of PhD students from ECE/MechE/ChemE. After the class that day, I had a discussion with my group mates who are from the above mentioned schools about undergraduate curriculums. They have complete freedom right from 1st year so as to choose what courses they want to take unlike us. So, if you pick a student who is interested in VLSI from one of these schools, he/she won't has very little knowledge about Signal Processing/Communications and vice versa. Even I went through periods of frustration when I had to spend hours working on Cadence for doing the layout of some circuits and that too a full custom layout, because it was not my primary field of interest. But at the end I do realize that at the undergraduate levels breadth of the knowledge does help you a lot in the future. Research these days is extremely inter-disciplinary, and many a time ideas from other fields can do wonders in yours. The number of courses we had to take, and that too from various areas amazes my friends here. In a semester taking 5 theory courses and 3 labs here is next to impossible. 
The classroom environment is very different here. There's absolutely no attendance. You would be thinking, I am going to rant about the classroom environment we have in kgp. Let me go on and tell you some more about the environment here. You can come in and leave the class anytime you want. You can keep working on your laptop right throughout the class. You have complete freedom inside the class. But I have realized after 4 courses here, you get to learn the most from assignments. The assignments are mostly tougher than midterms and endterms. More importantly, you would have to spend a lot of time on these assignments which means you are always up to date with the content being covered in the class. So before midterms/endterms its not a mad rush to find out what was taught and what was not. Added to that, you can't copy assignments from anybody else because if you are found to be involved in plagiarism, you are probably going to be expelled from the university. Now just think of the number of times, we do assignments by ourselves in kgp? The classroom teaching levels are more or less the same here. So what's the only thing which separates us from them? Its just assignments and nothing else. If you do your assignments sincerely, it would be more than enough to keep you in a very good position as far as the course is concerned.
I will also give you a reason, why you would hardly find anybody skipping classes here, which everyone of us does every now and then in kgp. Education in general is really expensive in the US. Semester fees run upto tens of thousands of dollars. So leaving out the extremely brilliant and extremely rich, most people are neck deep in loans and have to work their way through school. When I say they work their way through, they do part time jobs which include being a waiter, a bartender or something which you would never want to be. So apart from managing their schedules perfectly, people here won't miss a single class and try to get the most out of the school for every dollar they paid as tuition.
So, my friends don't look down at the education you get at kgp. I know there's always room for improvement, but given all the constraints we have we do get top notch undergraduate education. So, next time you think of comparing yourself to somebody from MIT or Princeton, have confidence in yourself. Having said that, don't forget to do justice in every possible way to make the most of the courses you take and before blaming any course instructor for not being able to induce an interest in that particular course, just ask yourself how much effort have you yourself put in for that. I hope to see you all to continue to fly the KGP flag high in India and the world. All the best to you!! 
Best Regards 
A senior

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