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Monday, June 1, 2015

A Guide to JEE Counseling 2015

The last time I wrote a comprehensive guide on JEE Counselling was in 2011. I became Dean of Academic Affairs at IIT Kanpur soon afterwards, and for the next three years, I could not write (but for minor updates). I could not write because of the problem that as a Dean in IITK, I could not say that IIT Bombay Computer Science is better than the CSE department at IIT Kanpur. (I always suspected that the reason to make me a Dean was to ensure that I don't ask students to prefer other IITs.) On the other hand, if I said that IIT Kanpur has great student life, everyone would have suspected that I am following the duties of my office and should not be taken seriously. Now that my term is over and there is a bit of time before I assume the next important role, I can squeeze in a few of my thoughts here.

There is another reason for this update. This time, we are having a joint counseling for admission to all IITs, NITs, and IIITs. So the strategy for filling up the choices would have to be fine tuned. Till last year, students could decide on the choices within IIT system independent of NITs and IIITs, get offers in both groups, and then finally compare those two offers. However, this year, because of the joint counseling, you will have to take the call of comparing what IITs have to offer and what NITs/IIITs have to offer on a program to program basis. Not an easy task, but as we will see below, not very difficult either.

This is, of course, a very long guide. Sorry about that, but I do have a lot of things to say, and I will say them whether you like them or not.

First of all, congratulations on a remarkable feat. There are about 2.5 crore people who are born in a year and survive till their 18th birthday. And considering that one gets two attempts at Advanced JEE, there are about 5 crore potential candidates for those 30,000 seats. And if you are in the top 50,000 candidates who have a reasonable chance at one of those seats, then you really should feel happy about yourself. Of course, it is easier said than done. In my last 10+ years of JEE Counseling, I have hardly come across students and parents who are happy with their performance. Everyone has a story that they lost some marks by a silly mistake. That they deserved a better rank. Stop cribbing. This is celebration time even if you don't get your first preference. And cribbing won't change the reality anyway

Second, tell your neighbors, extended family and other nobodys who have gathered in your drawing room to congratulate you that there is more to life than money. That choosing the right program is a serious matter, and that IITs and NITs do offer programs other than Computer Science.

A lot of readers know me, but still I should disclose my interest in some of these institutions. I am working at IIT Kanpur for more than 20 years. I have taught at IIT Bombay for a semester. I have had research collaborations with faculty members in IIT Delhi. And I am a guest professor at IIT Gandhinagar. (The disclosures are important since I think these four IITs are amongst the best, and you can discount my recommendation if you think it is due to my association with these IITs.) Of course, I have visited most IITs at some point in time or the other, and I have friends in most IITs.

Let me also add that I have no association with JEE. I am not their spokesperson. They did not pay me to write this note, and indeed they would be happier if I didn't write this note. (And I would have been happier if they indeed paid me to write this note.) If any of my views here match the views of anyone in JEE or for that matter anyone in any IIT, that is purely co-incidental.

Very importantly, I am not responsible for your decisions, even if that decision is based on the advice on this page. If you agree with any suggestion on this page, follow it at your own risk.

While I have taken reasonable care to give correct data and processes, I take no responsibility for correctness of any piece of information on this page. Before you take a decision based on information provided on this page, please check from authentic source. Here is the link to JEE Website. 

An advice before you actually start giving your choices. Please don't save on typing effort. Fill in as many programs as would be sufficient to ensure you admission to one of them, unless of course, you are not interested at all in some of them. Every year, we have an odd unlucky soul, who filled in a few choices, does not get any of them, but could have got admission to another program if s/he had filled in that choice as well. And at the end of counseling, s/he is trying to figure out if somehow admission can still be given. Sorry, wouldn't work.


Follow your passion. First and foremost advice on ranking your choice. Do what your heart says. You can convince your brain later. If you always wanted to be an Architect, fill it up on the top. (Of course, you will have to give an aptitude test for this particular choice. Don't be deterred by it.) Your success in life will depend not on which industry vertical you are doing a job in, but what is your performance in that job. And your performance will depend on your love and passion for that job (assuming that you can pick up technical skills in every field, and your soft skills will be same irrespective of the discipline).

Don't worry if you don't have a passion. Most students don't know what they want to do in life, and it is ok to be in that state. And this guide is meant for those who don't know what they want to do.

Don't be shy if your passion is to make money. That is a pretty common passion too. But then you have come to the wrong page. I am not an astrologer and I can not predict what sort of jobs will be the highest paying jobs 50 years from now, and what program you should take today to be ready for those jobs after 50 years. But there are far too many astrologers on the net who would confidently tell you that Computer Science has a larger scope than everything else in the world (not withstanding the fact that Computer Science graduates have the highest unemployment rate in India). Please take their advice. I, frankly, don't even know the meaning of the word "scope." You see I studied in Hindi medium in school.

Which IIT has the best placement record? I have deliberately put this question on the top. This is the question that I hate. IITians shouldn't be worried about jobs. They should be job creators, or go for higher studies, and in any case would get a decent job irrespective of which IIT they join. So why should this be a factor at all in the decision making. But I take it as that the current generation is more enlightened than us oldies, and they know that the world revolves around money. They also know that professors are poor people who want everyone else to remain poor and who are very jealous of the huge packages that some of their students are getting these days. And it is that jealousy which is causing them to advice new students to not worry about packages. But happiness and money are just two faces of the same coin.

OK. So here is the answer. I don't know the placement record for all IITs. But from whatever little I know, I can conclude that IIT Kanpur has the best placement record. Of course, I don't expect you to believe me. After all, your coaching center told you that it is IIT Bombay. You also decided (even before reading this blog) that you want to join IIT Bombay. And you had convinced yourself that your decision to join IITB was because of placement record. How will you now justify joining IITB. Last year's closing rank does not sound an exciting reason (though it is a better reason than placement). So the best is to disbelieve this information.

So what is the story. The thing is that any IIT can claim best placement using incomplete data. If you are a frequent visitor to quora, you will see IITB guys telling everyone how many companies visit them, perhaps more than any other IIT, about double the number that visit IIT Kanpur. You will be told that the percentage of students getting a job from on-campus placement is very high, that the mean, median of those offers is very high, and the number of people getting 50 lakh+ offers is very high, etc. IIT Kharagpur folks were busy last December telling everyone that they had hit a record 1000 jobs in the first round of placement, something that no IIT has been able to do. You could get similar statistics from other IITs as well. When I read this 1000 job news, I asked my placement coordinator, and he asked, is 1000 out of 2000 better or 500 out of 700 better. I hope you get the point. OK. So IITB gets 100% more companies, and they have 20% more graduates. Can I say that the number of jobs offered by companies in IITB is substantially less on an average than the number of jobs offered by companies in IITK. After all 100% more companies are not offering 100% more jobs, but only 20% more jobs. So companies like IIT Kanpur and give more offers.
 
There is a small fallacy in the argument which I will leave to you as a homework exercise to find, but the point again is that placement data can be given whatever spin you want to hear. What I would consider as important statistics (percentage of students getting jobs, median salary, percentage of students getting foreign jobs, etc.), there is no statistically significant difference across IITs of the same vintage (and to the extent there is a small difference, and to the extent such data is available, IIT Kanpur is indeed doing better than others).

Which are the best IITs. Amongst the older IITs, IIT Delhi, IIT Bombay and IIT Kanpur are my favorites. And amongst the new ones, IIT Gandhinagar is really a very exciting place (and I would want my son/daughter to study there, if they could only get through JEE, even if they had a choice of other older IITs). But please read the disclosures again, just in case you have forgotten my links with these four places.

My choice for D/B/K is based on not just my knowing more about these three institutes than other older IITs, but is based on the assumption that the older 5 IITs have a lot of similarity in the quality of faculty, quality of infrastructure, and so on. And I place a huge value on whether the campus provides a liberal outlook. What is allowed and what is not allowed. Will my ward ever get into trouble because of certain views s/he held, or because s/he criticized the Director or some other important person with a huge ego. And there is no doubt in my mind that till a few years ago, Kanpur would have been a clear winner here. The influence of the founder Director, Prof. P K Kelkar and the Kanpur Indo-American Program (KIAP) is still visible on the campus. But I think over a period of time, Bombay and Delhi have caught up with us (and may be we have declined too).

And, of course, IIT Gandhinagar is a world of its own. The kind of innovation they have made in everything, I am quite envious of them. I just wish IIT Kanpur could borrow those ideas. Till last year, I was a bit hesitant in saying it so strongly because a temporary campus can not provide all what is needed for your education. But they have started moving to the permanent campus, and students joining in 2015 will be spending all 4 years on campus. Their 5-week foundation program is exactly what you need to unwind after the hectic 2-4 years of JEE preparation. Having a larger humanities and social science component in the curriculum is what you need for success in your career on a long term basis. They also happen to be very serious on issues like copying in the exam, which is a rarity in today's India. And they perhaps have empowered their student body more than any other IIT. The freedom that you have to do anything. You are treated like an adult, unlike other institutes. It is an amazing place. (But again, let me remind you to not hold me responsible if you take decisions that align with my recommendations. Find out more. Do your own research and take your own decision.)

IITs versus IISc/IISERs: If you are interested in science and can get into Indian Institute of Science, stop right here. Don't waste your time in reading about IITs and NITs. IISERs - I don't know enough. But I have more friends in Pune and Mohali who vouch for their quality, and I trust them. The IISER programs are much more flexible. They expose you to all branches of science, which is, in general, more important to a scientist than to be exposed to several engineering courses (and those courses which haven't really been prepared keeping the needs of the scientists in mind, but focus on engineering needs). But certainly having an engineering exposure can be rather useful to some areas of science, particularly those areas which require a lot of experimentation. The other advantage of studying science in IITs will be the interaction with a broader set of students and faculty, and of course, IIT alumni associations are bigger.

IITs versus going abroad: IITs over the last decade or two have been changing their focus from under-graduate teaching to research. Even earlier, I didn't think that they were in the same league as the top universities of the world even for under-graduate education. I recall that when I was a graduate student in University of Maryland, College Park, we would have this discussion on whether I would recommend a person from Mars (or from Venus, for that matter) to study in IITK or UMCP. We invoked the person from outer space to avoid the answer - a place culturally closer to you. And even at that time, when IIT Kanpur perhaps had the best teaching focus and I had really loved my four years here, my stay in UMCP had convinced me that purely from learning perspective, someone was better off at UMCP. Since then, the focus on UG education has decreased in IITs.

So purely from the perspective of quality of education, I would say that going abroad is better. But, of course, IITs are not bad. They are the best institutes in India, and one really has to see whether the difference in the cost is worth the difference in the quality of education. And, of course, this discussion is meaningful only with a handful of people who can afford the foreign education. The other strong point in favor of IITs is their alumni association. In your career, you would, of course, be supported by the quality education that you receive in a college, but you would also need support from a lot of people who can open doors for you. And IITians have this strong habit of helping fellow IITians, and not just alumni of same IIT, but even different IIT. And given that IITians have occupied a lot of top positions in every sphere, this support is very important. And finally, the culture angle. At a young age of 17-18 years, adjusting in a very different culture is not easy and can cause adjustment problems.

So, overall, I would prefer an IIT over a foreign university.

New IITs, Newer IITs, Newest IITs: I hesitate to recommend the newest four IITs this year. These are the ones in Goa, Tirupati, Palakkad, and Chattisgarh. I wouldn't want you to go to a place where there is no Director. As we have seen in the previous round of establishing IITs, the first Director plays an extremely important role in shaping the institute. The mentor IITs can help by providing initial faculty and other support. The government can help by providing temporary campus and initial funding. But the leadership can make all the difference between a good IIT and an also ran. And remember that establishing new IITs when you have only 7-8 IITs was easier than establishing new IITs when you have 16 (and we still don't have depth in our PhD and research programs to support the existing 16). So you will be taking a huge risk by going for an IIT without knowing the leadership.

The ones that were set up in the last decade are now somewhat established. The leadership in some of these IITs was an issue and they have not progressed as much as some others have. Don't ask me to name those IITs or their leaders, but suffice to say that I rate IIT Gandhinagar very highly and I have a lot of respect for what Prof. Desai has been doing at IIT Hyderabad. But since the issue that you will face is whether you should prefer one of these IITs or an NIT, I would have no hesitation in recommending these IITs over NITs and IIITs. (But only these 8, and not the newest 4.)

IITs versus NITs and IIITs: I think the joint counseling will cause this question to become a prominent question this year. And I am an unabashed IIT supporter, a card-carrying member, if you want to call me that. I would consider the older IITs, including the ones set up in the previous decade, as superior to even the best NITs and IIITs. But I wouldn't recommend the newest four IITs as strongly. I think you should find out which are the better NITs and IIITs today, and place them above these four IITs. (This blog is not about NITs and IIITs.)

There is a huge difference between an IIT and an NIT. The budgets are much lower for NITs. The infrastructure for IITs as a result is of much better quality. IITs have traditionally attracted better faculty. IITs have traditionally attracted better students. And, in general, IITs have got better leadership. The interference and micro-management by the government is way too high in NITs compared to IITs, which means that many people don't want to be Directors there.

But there is a caveat. If you have identified your passion, and that discipline is not available to you at your rank in an IIT, then I would suggest that you follow the passion. Fill up that discipline in a good NIT instead of another discipline in an IIT.

And while you may want to fill up choices from NITs too, but if you are getting admission in an NIT, do think of alternatives like IIIT Delhi, IIIT Hyderabad, and BITS Pilani.

 Should I prefer the institute or the discipline: If you know your passion, follow the passion. Fill up that discipline in the top in all IITs and good NITs/IIITs. Be willing to consider institutes outside this group for your studies. However, if you don't have a particular interest, then select the IIT you want to be at, fill up all disciplines in that IIT (you may, of course, have a negative list of disciplines that you don't want to study, which you may avoid). Then go to your next favorite IIT, fill up all or most choices, and so on.

Does the city matter? Should I join a Metro-IIT. I don't think the city matters at all for under-graduate students. In fact, the strength of IIT Kanpur for all these years was that the city offered very little and hence IIT Kanpur had excellent social interactions, student-faculty interactions, large number of student activities, providing important leadership training. Also, the non-metro campuses are usually much larger, greener, have better living spaces and overall life is so much more comfortable. The weekends at non-Metro campuses wouldn't mean that half the hostel is empty as everyone has family or local guardians. Of course, things are changing in the last few years. The Metro IITs which were very regional in nature are attracting students from all over and becoming cosmopolitan. And non-Metro IITs are being shunned by many city dwellers, are becoming more regional and less cosmopolitan. Overall, I wouldn't consider this as a parameter to decide the order of my choices.

Should I just fill up the choices in the order of last year's closing ranks: That is certainly a better strategy than tossing a coin. But there are several problems with this strategy. First of all, you miss out on some newer programs, who because they were new had a large closing rank. And since most students don't read this guide or ignore this guide and follow the logic of last year's closing ranks, the closing ranks change rather slowly. For example, I think one of the most exciting program in IIT Kanpur is that of Economics. When it started, it had a really bad closing rank. The closing rank has improved every single year (even though the number of seats in the IIT system are increasing every year), and will certainly become a very hot program in a few years, it is not preferred by many students and parents simply because its last year's closing rank was not so good. The same thing can be said about IIT Gandhinagar programs. The first year closing ranks were really random and not based on anything to do with academics at that IIT (no one knew anything anyway), and the closing ranks have changed only very slowly since then.

But if you have no desire to do any research (then why are you reading this?) and have no interests or preferences, and essentially are only bothered about a piece of paper after 4 years, then this is a better method than random preferences. And one advantage of filling choices based on last year's closing ranks will be that it is easier to get a program change from more popular to less popular program, and very difficult in the reverse direction. So if you are in doubt between two programs within the same IIT, it is better to get admission into a more popular (as represented by last year's closing rank) program and seek program change after a year, if desired.

I want to do MBA after IIT: There are several related questions. Is there good CAT coaching available near particular IITs. Second, which program would help me most if I am not interested in science and technology but want to go for management.

The answer to the first question is that every IIT (to the best of my knowledge) has CAT coaching nearby. My friends in Mandi (arguably the smallest town having an IIT) tell me that you can get CAT coaching there too. So that is really irrelevant. And increasingly, any way, the coaching will shift to online. So place won't matter much.

The answer to the second question is that you should select a program which has a larger closing rank, because that is likely to give you less competition within the IIT, giving you enough time to both indulge in extra-curricular activities, and build leadership experience, and also to focus on CAT coaching when the time comes for that. What will help you in your management career are your problem solving skills, which you will enhance in every discipline in an IIT.

You should prefer a 4-year program over a 5-year program. If you are not getting into an R&D or technical career, a master's degree in that discipline is not a very intelligent thing to do.

You should also consider joint BTech and MBA programs. IIT Kanpur offers them, for example. (You choose them after you have completed 2 years at IIT Kanpur. So won't find admission to such programs from JEE.) I believe IIT Kharagpur also has similar option. These programs will save you the hassle of giving CAT and go through the admission process of IIMs, and you also save a year in the bargain.

4-year under-graduate versus 5-year dual-degree programs: I would always keep the 4-year program at the same IIT in the same discipline at a higher preference than the corresponding 5-year program. Making a commitment for Master's degree just after 12th class is not something that I like. If you plan to do master's later on, most IITs would give you an option for program change, and even if they don't, I would prefer to spend extra time than make such an early commitment.

On the other hand, if the option is between a dual-degree program of your choice and an under-graduate program in a different discipline, then I would suggest that you follow the passion, and choose the dual-degree program. You will get an extra degree in your area of passion, and in that one extra year you would be given financial assistance. And you are likely to get a "higher" end job rather than a routine job.

Also, within the dual-degree programs, I would prefer the dual-degree programs which leave the choice of specialization to the 3rd or 4th year compared to the dual-degree programs which force you to choose the area of specialization at the time of admission.

If one is serious about R&D or technical career, then getting admission to a four-year program in an IIT which allows easy migration to the dual-degree program after a couple of years would be the best. (And, IIT Kanpur is perhaps the most flexible IIT as far as moving to dual-degree is concerned.)

Can I get a program change after a year, if I work hard and perform well: All IITs have rules to allow a limited number of students to change their program. However, the total number of students who will be allowed to change the program will be small enough that you should not plan your career around a program change. For example, in IIT Kanpur, which now has a reasonably liberal program change rule (compared to other IITs), would still require you to get an 'A' grade in every course in both the semesters of the first year to shift to Computer Science. Certainly not an easy thing to achieve.

But if you still want to know more about program change, the counseling brochure is likely to have a description of program change rules at all IITs. (They had it till last year, and hence I am assuming it will be there this year too.) From what I recall, IIT Gandhinagar had amongst the most liberal program change rules.

Of course, there are nuances in those program change rules, which will not be obvious from the counseling brochure. For example, at IIT Kanpur, if you choose to get admission to the Chemistry program, you may not be allowed a program change even if you have a very good first year performance. (And hence unless you are absolutely sure about liking Chemistry, don't give this option assuming program change.) 

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Edit on 28th June, 2015:
A clarification on Chemistry branch change at IITK. IIT Kanpur has a rule which states that due to branch change no program can have a student strength less than 55% of the sanctioned strength of the program. Chemistry, in most years, operate at 60-65% of the sanctioned strength, since many students who are allotted Chemistry do not join finally. So in a typical year, only an odd student is allowed to have a branch change. We do not have this problem of hitting the lower limit in any other program (based on recent years' data.) So we can have someone going from Metallurgy to Civil or vice versa even at a CPI of 4.0 (out of 10), while a Chemistry student with a CPI of 7.5 may not get a chance to shift to either Civil or Metallurgy.

Of course, since this time we have joint counseling, it is possible that seats in Chemistry will not be vacant as much as have been the case in the past, and hence you will be able to get a branch change out of Chemistry. But I would warn you anyway and suggest that you avoid taking Chemistry if you are concerned about branch change. If you want to study Chemistry or if you want to study in IITK irrespective of the discipline, then you may choose Chemistry. And for lovers of Chemistry, I may add that IITK department of Chemistry is one of the best Chemistry departments in the country. 
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ISM Dhanbad or IIT Dhanbad? The current government seems quite keen on converting ISM into an IIT. If you care that the piece of paper that you hope to get after 4 years says "Indian Institute of Technology" then it appears reasonably safe to opt for ISM. But don't blame me if somehow political situation does not allow conversion to an IIT. I would not really care for IIT conversion either way. I think they have an excellent reputation in some fields like mining and that reputation will not enhance by change of name. In fact, with a change of name, it takes time for the message to spread and in the interim period sometimes people may think it is a new institute and hence you lose the advantage of previous name also.

I am in top 50 ranks, can get my first choice, should CSE at IITB be that choice?
Yes, of course. I think the Computer Science Department at IIT Bombay is really excellent, and pretty big too. This means that you would have a good choice of electives too. In the recent past, they have also encouraged technology based startups. There is really nothing I can think of which could be negative there, except when you have everyone from top 50-60 rank, the competition can be really tough. If you want to relax a bit, come to IITK.


I am in top 200, will miss IITB CSE, what next, CSE at other IITs or EE at IITB?
How badly you care for Computer Science. If you always wanted to be a Computer Scientist, then go for CSE at IIT Delhi or IIT Kanpur. But if you are asking this question, perhaps you have a doubt regarding your preference for Computer Science. In that case, choose Electrical at IITB. Electrical Engineering at IIT Bombay is also a very large and very strong department.


I am in top 500. Can't get into IITB. Should I prefer CS or EE? Math and Computing at IITD?
I don't know enough about EE, but from outside, it appears to me that EE is a much more difficult and challenging program, while anyone can do Computer Science. We in CS departments believe in inclusiveness. Everyone who can think logically, is welcome. But these EE types want only those who are good at Mathematics. I find EE guys to be always serious, while computer science guys are always looking for more fun. (My bias, of course.)

But more seriously, the world is fast becoming inter-disciplinary. After doing Electrical Engineering, you would be able to pick up Computer Science stuff easily (we are accessible to everyone, remember), but not vice versa. So many people today have started preferring to study Electrical in their under-graduate degree with a minor in Computer Science or even do a Master's degree in Computer Science.


By the way, some IITs have two separate program on Electrical Engineering and Electronics/Communication Engineering. On the other hand some IITs have a single program called Electrical Engineering. In this question, I am suggesting ECE in IITs where they have two programs, and of course, EE in IITs like IIT Kanpur where the name is same and it allows you to specialize in either ECE or Power.

And given that my preference is for a program in Bombay, Delhi or Kanpur, and you do want to study Computer Science, then definitely consider Math and Computing at IIT Delhi. But remember it is a program offered by Mathematics department. So you do have to do many Maths courses, and some CS courses will be taught by Maths faculty. So it is not the same thing as a full-fledged under-graduate program in CS offered by CS department, but you get to learn what you are interested in learning. You can learn enough to get a job in IT industry. You can learn enough to get admission in MTech or PhD programs in Computer Science. But it is certainly not the same thing as doing a CS program, and you will end up doing a large number of Maths courses, which you may not be interested in.

I am in top 1000. How is CS program of IIT Roorkee. How about Engineering Physics.
If you are passionate about Computer Science, why not consider IIIT Hyderabad and IIIT Delhi. I would consider both these programs as superior to IIT Roorkee program. On the other hand, if you are not sure about your interest, and you only want an IIT degree, there are good programs available in other nearby IITs.


The programs on Engineering Physics differ significantly from one IIT to another. These programs invariably include several Physics courses, but what differentiates them from MSc (Physics) courses are the courses from other disciplines. Some IIT may have substantial amount of Electronics in the curriculum, while another one may have material science, and yet another one may have courses from a diverse set of disciplines.

So, please read the JEE brochure, or visit the website for more details before deciding which program matches your interests. But, in general, they are great for those who really wish they could study Physics, but parents are forcing them to study "Engineering" and everyone else is telling them how important it is to get a "BTech" degree as opposed to an "MSc" degree.


I am in top 1500. Why do people not prefer IIT Guwahaty? Is it safe?
To the best of my knowledge, IIT Guwahaty is as safe as any other IIT. The real problem is connectivity. The number of trains is very small, and getting a reservation can be tricky. If you are good at planning your trips or can afford to fly in case of an urgency, there is no problem in choosing IIT Guwahaty. They are well-established by now.

But do not ignore Economics at IIT Kanpur, and don't think that Civil Engineering only means standing in sun for hours every day. And IIT Gandhinagar remains a very exciting destination.

I am in top 2000. Are there jobs in Civil Engineering?
Of course, there are jobs. Good core jobs. You will be building India - the highways, the high speed rails, the airports, buildings and what not. You will also be entrusted to safeguard our environment. You will have to ensure that the next earthquake does not cause damage to our buildings. There is just too much of work. The initial salaries may be lower, but a few years down the road, you won't have regrets.

I am in top 3000. How are programs in Manufacturing, Industrial Engineering, Textiles, and Metallurgy.
Simple answer. I do not know. But why are you not considering new IITs (not the newest IITs). You could get to study a discipline, which you might be more interested in, and you might also have more fun studying there.

But if you are keen to study only in old IITs, you should know that pretty much everyone in an IIT is likely to get a job, and a large number of persons would not be in their discipline soon after their graduation, anyway. So in that sense the discipline does not matter. What IITs give you is not just learning in a particular discipline, but train you for life-long learning. The kind of learning environment you will find in IITs is difficult to replicate elsewhere.


I am in top 4000. What engineering programs (BTech) can I expect to get.
You are likely to have a large number of options. At least the last year's closing ranks in many programs (BTech) are after 3000 and even beyond 4000. Any in any case, you should fill up all the options that you are willing to study and leave it to the providence. If you get admission, celebrate. Otherwise, celebrate any way. But remember, if you are looking for programs in pure science, consider IISc and IISERs as well.


I have got a 4000+ rank in my first attempt. Should I go for a second chance next year, or should I join whatever I am getting this year.

I don't recommend that you drop a year. It is a false perception that repeating a year makes it easier to get a better rank. The perception has been created because everyone who repeats and gets a better rank tells the world about his improvement. But everyone who repeats and does not get a better rank just keeps quiet. While it sounds obvious that given more time to repeat the subject, one will gain more practice, more knowledge and all that to get an improved rank. But in reality, maintaining focus for one more year when you knew that you couldn't succeed last time is very difficult.

The only situation in which I would agree with the proposal to drop a year is when the student can clearly identify reasons for poorer performance this year (like medical, or family issue), and those reasons are not likely to recur next year.

And, there are several programs that based on last year's closing ranks are likely to close after 4000. Then there is Design program in IIT Guwahati, which is very good. You should study the Counseling Brochure carefully to find out the likelihood of getting a branch by looking at the last year's closing ranks. Please note that last year's closing ranks are just guidelines, and in some cases, the closing ranks can vary substantially from one year to the other.

I have a 5000+ rank in Advanced JEE, but a better JEE rank. Should I give preference to NITs.
If you are interested in a specific discipline and you have already filled up that discipline in all IITs where it is available then you may add NITs to the list. However, if you are not interested in any specific discipline then prefer all older IITs and all programs including science programs before you start filling NITs and IIITs. Of course, as I said above, the four newest IITs starting this year may be ignored this year.


Whom to contact for more information:
The first source for all information is JEE website and the counseling brochure.
The second source for information is the website of the institute and the department that is offering this course.
If your query does not get satisfied this way, contact a faculty member and students in that discipline in that IIT. If they respond, that would be great. If they don't respond, then perhaps they are not interested in you. You shouldn't be interested in them either. Remember, you have a choice today. Also remember, some IITs or some departments may have set up facebook page. Search the social media. 

Can we contact you for more information.
I will be glad to answer your further questions, if time permits. But looks very difficult that I would be able to answer many queries. I am out of country till 24th, and then I am shifting from Kanpur to Delhi in the next one week, and this will really be the time when you would want to send that email. But can't help it.

I do not wish to discuss JEE Counseling on phone. Please do not call me. Please contact me only on email, and that too only on my personal email id, and not on the IITK email address. You can send me email at: sanghi[AT]gmail.com (Remove [AT] and replace it by @.) Even on email, I will not be able to answer all the queries. I get far too many emails, and I prefer to respond to those emails, which are easily readable, and where the question is very clear, and not something that I have already answered in this page. Please don't ask me what can be available at what rank. First read the JEE Counseling Brochure for 2015, which you should be getting soon. Last year's closing ranks are available on the Advanced JEE page. My guess at how closing ranks will change this year will be as good as yours. Further, if you send me an email, please note the following:
  • Emails with SMS like language are not readable.
  • Emails with all capital letters are not readable. (It amounts to shouting.)
  • Use of Roman script for Hindi words is discouraged.
  • Use proper punctuation marks, and capitalize the first letter of every sentence.
  • And please do not ask me for any speculative counseling. Please write to me when you know your rank and all other details.
Best wishes.

EDIT:  (On 23rd June, 2015).
I am rejecting most comments here which are asking me to compare option X versus option Y. Most of the comparisons are with respect to institutes other than IITs, and this blog is about options within the IIT system. Second, I want the focus to remain on how to select rather than what to select. As I have said above, "what to select" can be discussed on an individual basis on email, if I have time. I have so far replied to more than 50% of the emails and hope to continue doing so in the next few days. I would not respond if the language is difficult to understand (as stated above) or it asks me to do a lot of work. Clear direct questions with short answers are easy to answer.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Freedom of Expression

For the last two days, the media and the social media is busy discussing whether IIT Madras administration is right in what it terms as temporary dercognition of an independent student body.

The derecognition has been reported by almost all newspapers, including, Deccan Herald, Financial Express, Business Standard, Firstpost, and Hindustan Times.

Here is what seems to have happened. An anonymous letter is received by MHRD complaining that certain undesirable activities are being conducted by Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC), an independent student group at IIT Madras. The Ministry forwards this letter to IIT Madras for their comments. Soon afterwards IIT Madras temporarily de-recognizes the group for violating guidelines for such groups.

A whole lot of politicians have jumped into the fray, sensing an opportunity to score political points against each other claiming that the Ministry pressurized IIT Madras into banning the group. IIT Madras continues to claim that there is no permanent ban, but only a temporary de-recognition till the beginning of the next semester when the issue can be discussed after all students and faculty are back, and they continue to insist that the ban is not under pressure of MHRD but because of the violation of certain guidelines.

I think the politicization of the event is unfortunate. In these matters, the Dharma of the ministry is to try interfering in an autonomous institution by seeking comments on something that Ministry should not be bothered about. And the Dharma of the Institute is to ignore all such letters. This way a peaceful co-existence can be maintained. The equilibrium gives way to chaos if either side goes beyond its Dharma, that is, either the Ministry sends reminders, uses threatening language, or demands certain actions, or the Institute starts taking such letters seriously and starts taking action on them. In this case, it appears that the action by IITM is not suo moto, but motivated by this letter from MHRD, which only makes them more amenable to interference in the future. So they are causing problems for not their own autonomy but the autonomy of other IITs as well, since such actions become precedents. Even if they wanted to take this action, they should have waited for another event, another time, so that the action can not be easily linked with the MHRD letter. But they seemed to be in a hurry and did not want to wait even for the summer to be over and the Institute to reopen.

I tend to believe (despite the timing and sequence of events) that IIT Madras has taken this action not because they were under pressure from MHRD, but because the administration had a level of discomfort with this group, and the letter from MHRD only acted as a trigger. IIT Madras is quite conservative and has an opinion on what should be allowed and what should not be allowed on things that other Institutes wouldn't care about. That is just the way they are, and poor them, they get into such controversies unnecessarily as a result.

So what are the guidelines for such groups, and which guideline has been violated. The guidelines are available here. The important guideline which seems to have been violated by the group is the second one which says that such entities can not use the name of IIT Madras, or any of its official entities, in any capacity, to publicize their activities or garner support without official permission. And apparently, in their pamphlets, the group had said that they are students at IIT Madras and the event is at IIT Madras.

So what should have been done. The group should have announced that the event will happen in this national institute beside Adyar Cancer Institute, Opposite to C.L.R.I, Sardar Patel Rd, between Guindy and Adyar,Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600036. You see we are not allowed to name the institute in our address. They should have then said that they are the students of the said institute, but can't name it.

How dare they name the institute in their pamphlet. How dare they say that they are students of IIT Madras. For such unpardonable sins, they have to be taught a lesson.

One may, of course, ask, if this is the only independent student group who has mentioned the words "IIT Madras" in their communication. If yes, then the ban is completely justified. If other groups can survive without mentioning IIT Madras in their communications, why does this group want such a huge privilege as to mention its college in a communication. On the other hand, if others too have mentioned IIT Madras in their communications, are they being banned (OK, temporarily de-recognize, such a long word which means the same thing) too. I know the answer, so I won't ask. All of them had sought permission and were granted permission to mention the name of the Institute in their communication. This group did not seek permission.

One may, of course, ask another question whether every student of IIT Madras, when s/he contacts anyone outside IIT Madras for anything, takes permission from Dean of Students to mention in their communication that they are from IIT Madras. If yes, then it is a draconian institute. if no, then one wonders what sin has this group done to deserve such an action.

The IITM Students have an official reaction on their publication, "The Fifth Estate." The APSC students have criticized the ban and have written this letter. They have also questioned on their facebook page whether the guidelines were formally approved by an appropriate authority of the Institute, but others on the same page have said that the guidelines were indeed approved.

On the face of it, it seems that the group has indeed violated the guidelines, and therefore, IIT Madras can justify its action in a legal sort of way. But in my view, the guidelines are typical of control mindset and I am sure have been breached by many people in the past. You want to control everything and everyone, so you create guidelines which allow you unlimited power. At the time of passing the guidelines, either people don't realize that unlimited power is being granted, or they are assured that this will be used in the rarest of rare cases. But once those guidelines are approved, you know that they will be used against anyone with whom the administration is uncomfortable with. And frankly, I can not possibly support ban for violating such guidelines. Unless some new information comes to light, I would consider this ban as an unnecessary restriction on freedom of expression that our constitution guarantees to all its citizens.

Any constituent of IIT Madras should be able to claim that they are part of IIT Madras. What they shouldn't be able to do is to claim that they represent the institute, or their opinions are official views of the Institute, and things of that nature. IITM certainly needs to come up with a better excuse for the ban (they apparently spread hate, for example).

Having such controversies in sister institutions actually do a a lot of good for other institutions. Today, sitting in IIT Kanpur, I realize what paradise I am living in.  Thanks to the culture set up by our founding Director, Prof. Kelkar and the american influence that we had due to support by Kanpur Indo-American Program (KIAP), the campus is very liberal and tolerant of all sorts of views and allows all kinds of debates.
By the way, Telegraph has as always covered the issues very nicely in their multiple reports. These reports are here, here, here, and here.

Times of India has reported that many student groups in IIT Madras have opposed this ban.

Edited:

Sriram in the comments below has said that the student groups mentioned in ToI report are not from IIT Madras.

The Fifth Estate, the students official newssite, has many more articles on this issue now.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Retirement Age for Professors and Directors

Today, there is a news item in Hindustan Times which suggests that MHRD is thinking of reducing the maximum age of Directors in CFTIs and also of Vice chancellors in Central Universities from 70 to 65. I have mixed feelings about it.

When a faculty member in these institutes can be given extension till the age of 70, why not Directors and VCs be given extensions up to that age. After all, with so much advance in medical science, people are healthier than ever and working longer. On the other hand, let us understand that such appointments are done almost as a lottery (or worse, sometimes politically influenced), and not based on a solid review of the performance. If the selection is based on a random process, then statistically speaking a younger leader is more likely to perform better, and thus a requirement of being younger may be in the interest of the institutes and universities.

But that is not why I am writing this blog. Actually, I want to talk about the retirement age in general. Why should the retirement age be 65 for faculty, when it is 60 for non-teaching staff in the same organization. If it had come by way of performance evaluation of individuals, I would have no objection to it. But to give everyone a higher retirement age seems counter-productive. We are told that the increase in retirement age is due to shortage of faculty. But is increase in retirement age a solution to that. If the faculty member had formally retired at the age of 60, and is healthy and active, s/he would surely continue to be a faculty member either at the same organization or in another institute/university. So increasing the retirement age does not increase the overall supply of faculty members, but only ensures that they get a right to stay in the same place.

Why should they have a fundamental right to stay at the same place? Shouldn't this be based on performance evaluation and the needs of the organization to have a faculty member in that discipline. Of course, I know the answer. If the extension is on a case to case basis, then politics will play a role. Some good people will not get extension and some bad people will. Is this a good enough reason to oppose discretion. And if this is a good enough reason, why allow this during the age group of 65 to 70. I am not denying that some times decisions on extension will be taken in less than fair way, or at least the perceptions will be that some decisions are based on politics. But the possibility of few bad decisions should not be the basis of a bad policy. After all the loss to the person concerned is very minimal. One can always go to another institute and work there, considering the serious shortage of faculty we face in the country.

I really find it strange that for hard working staff (even if they are fewer in number), there is no avenue for extension and the market place also discriminates against them since there are too many unemployed youth who are willing to work for much less, but for faculty, who has all the options in the world, we want to give an extension (or increase in retirement age) without any evaluation of their contribution.