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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Week in Olin: Not a College but a Lab in Engineering Education

Ever since I met Richard Miller, President of Olin College, in 2010 at IIT Gandhinagar, I had been dreaming of visiting Olin, a small private engineering college near Boston. Each batch of students is less than 100, and unlike its well known counterparts, it offers only under-graduate program. The total student body on campus is about 350. Fully residential. The first batch of students was admitted only in 2002. So it is a rather new college.The degrees it offers are in "Electrical and Computer Engineering," "Mechanical Engineering," and simple, "Engineering." Under "Engineering" program, students can design their own specialization and get it approved by the college.

Olin is not an ordinary college. It is really a research lab to test ideas on how to teach engineering, and the students love to be guinea pigs there. It is one of the most difficult college to get into in US.

Every year, they conduct a one-week Summer Institute, in which any university in the world can send a team of 3 faculty members or more, and they explain through a variety of workshops and personalized sessions their pedagogy and indeed, their story. This year, it was from 4th to 8th June, and I was lucky that J K Lakshmipat University, Jaipur, where I am working as an academic advisor, invited me to join two other faculty members of the university to attend this event. A dream come true for me. This year, there were 18 universities from 11 countries in 5 continents. (And a very positive side effect was the friendships we made across the globe and across the border.) They conduct this summer institute because it is one of their missions to promote quality engineering education pedagogy.

The keywords that you would hear at Olin all the time include "Project Based Learning," Design, "Student Centric," Inter-disciplinary, and so on. And these happy to be keywords that you would hear these days on any campus, in any presentation, but at Olin, they are not just keywords to be spoken, but values to be lived.

Typically, "Project Based Learning" means that we will assign a project to a student group in the beginning of the semester. This is in addition to the 40-lectures, exams, quizzes, and so on. We will tell the students to come back to us if they ever had any difficulty. And at the end of the semester, we announce a date when we will look at their presentation and demo. No student comes to see you throughout the semester, since obviously they are so smart that they can't possibly have any difficulty. But one week before the demo, you start receiving requests for extension of deadline. You agree to a one week extension. On the day of the demo, you can see that everyone is having red eyes. They have done all the work in the last 48 hours.

Olin is different. A project means that the students meet faculty at least twice a week, for 100 minutes each time. In a typical session, there may be 5-6 groups with two faculty members. Larger number of groups would mean additional manpower support in terms of under-graduate TAs called NINJAs in the local lingo ("Need Information Now; Just Ask"). In our institutes, we will keep worrying about under-graduate TAs helping unfairly their friends with better grades, hence avoid using an excellent and cheap resource that most of us have. With this kind of interaction, the faculty knows exactly what each group member is doing, where they need support, etc. There are several intermediate goals in terms of defining scope of the project, mid-term reports and reviews, etc. So the students make progress throughout the semester. Also, the projects are not assigned from the top. Students decide their projects, and hence they are really excited about doing them. And invariably, they have to be useful in real life. And in many courses, there are no scheduled lectures. You learn even complex material while working on the project, largely on your own. The faculty can guide you, tell the right material to read, may even explain an occasional concept, but largely you learn yourself. Of course, not all courses are like this. Every course has something unique, and there are some courses which are the regular 40-lecture courses.

The very first workshop was to tell us what students do on day 1 of their first semester. They have a course called "Design Nature." On day 1, they go to a nearby forest. They are told to observe nature and do a project that replicates nature. You could replicate flying, or swimming, or hopping or whatever. We were put in groups of 4, given a few cardboard pieces, rubber bands, springs, tape, scissor, etc., and asked to make something that hops. It wasn't simple. Initially, we were to do things individual, then in groups of 2, and finally in groups of 4, every time discussing with others, sharing our design and improving the design. This was a lesson not just in design but teamwork as well. They later showed us the "hopping devices" that students make in about 5 weeks. Very impressive for someone who has just joined college.

Another very interesting workshop was about how they teach a course on History and Material Science. Yes, a combination of history and Material science. Two professors jointly teach this course. Once again, we were put into the same situation as the students on first day of this course, put into groups of 4. There were many consumer goods on a table on the side. Each group was to pick up one thing. Our group picked up the bottled water. Now, we were told to think of questions that we could ask about this product from a material science point of view. Well, we started thinking why is water packaged in plastic, are there different types of plastics, could there be other materials, how do we test if a material would be good enough for this purpose. Is plastic polluting water by any chance. Is the water quality in the bottle substantially better than the quality in the tap water that we are willing to pay so much for it, and so on. They told us that each group would come up with their own questions, and would actually learn about different materials, their properties, and indeed use a wonderful material science lab to test those properties. In parallel, we were to think of questions that would be interested in from the perspective of history. We thought hard, and felt that we first need to think of the purpose that the bottled water serve today. Then we should think of whether that is a purpose unique to modern society or was it needed in historical times. If yes, how did they solve their problem. We felt that bottle was really a water transportation mechanism. Then we wanted to study how did historical societies transported water in large (river to a nearby city) and small (a person, or a family traveling) quantities. We were then told that the old Roman empire had built aqua ducts, and this would lead to studying of the Roman civilization, etc. And the small quantity was transported initially by earthen pots and vessels made of animal skin, and later, after bronze age, vessels made of copper and bronze. So when did bronze age start, what was its impact and all that. So if we had continue in this course for the entire semester, we would study all that, mostly on our own.

Not only it was very interesting, but also, every group in the class was studying different things. They said that they would make sure that every one learnt a very small core of material science. But beyond that, they would learn different things. I can't imagine in our universities (or any other ones), the curriculum to be so flexible. But come to think of it, if one student learns Indus Valley civilization and the other one studies Roman or Greek civilization, what is wrong. Learning of history teaches us critical thinking, and that would happen to both groups. And what both groups have also learnt is to learn oneself. Those are important skills. And, of course, communication, and team work.

Another interesting class was the "User Centric Design." Again, groups of 3-4 students. They will brainstorm in the beginning of the semester as to what is the target audience for whom they are designing some dummy product. Then they will actually go and meet many such persons. Find a problem to be solved. Design a product that solves it. Discuss that design with the target group. They told us that students are keen to actually build the product right from the beginning of the semester, and they have to be told that there would be many other courses and projects to build things and that design is an equally important challenging component of finally coming out of the product.

We hear many times statements such as "we want every student to succeed," and we feel that these are some of those motherhood statements that we should keep speaking without meaning them. But at Olin, they really care for their students. Continuous feedback throughout the semester, evaluation of motivation levels, and if one sees the motivation levels going down, then researching into reasons for it, and fixing the way the course is taught (or not fixing, if it is felt that handling stress is a learning outcome in the course).

I found the final year project to be very exciting. They have decided that it has to be something that makes a real impact and not the toy projects that we often do in IITs. There are two kinds of projects. One, working on a problem in collaboration with a company. Typically a large team of 5-6 students and 1-2 faculty members, and they take up really challenging problems. They had a lot of posters about the kind of problems they have taken up in the past few years in their corridor and it made a very impressive list. The other possibility is to join an ongoing multi-year project under the category, "Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship" (ADE). Projects under ADE are typically to design solution to a problem faced by disenfranchised class whether in US or abroad. The team formation for industry supported projects is very interesting. Depending on the skills required to do a project, the faculty will decide the team. However, each student can give a list of two students with whom they don't want to be in the team. So teams are formed keeping the small negative lists in mind. They seem to have done a lot of research into team formation - when to form teams randomly, when to ask students to form teams, and so on. (Like they have done research on every aspect of teaching/learning process.)

Is this project based learning causing them to not understand the basics very well. Their own answer is that several students are going for PhDs in top research universities and are able to do very well in the research programs which require an understanding of basics. Also, I met a student who had spent her 6th semester in MIT. I asked her if she had any difficulty in doing courses at MIT which has huge focus on basics. She said that she had no difficulty and performed well in MIT. The industry seems to love their graduates.

I had a detailed discussion with a faculty member of Maths regarding a course on linear algebra, which is considered absolutely crucial for engineering in most places. And he argued that it is not necessary to do a 40-lecture course when all you need to learn is which library routine to call for what kind of problem. If we give up on understanding of basics, we can use that time to learn higher order skills or different skills which are more relevant for an engineer, we would be making a better engineer out of our students. And depend more on just-in-time learning for whatever has not been taught. So your program needs to ensure that students can learn on their own whenever they need that knowledge.

And Olin is not just about experimenting in the classroom. They have experimented with other things too. For example, none of their faculty members is permanent (tenured in US parlance). When they started, it was said that they won't be able to attract and retain quality faculty, since they would prefer to go to other universities who provide permanent jobs. Olin has been able to attract and retain absolutely outstanding faculty.

And finally, I think Olin is where it is because of the leadership of Prof. Miller. The founding President (Vice Chancellor or Director in our case) is so important to set up the right processes and culture.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Women Reservation in IITs

This year, we have a new reservation in IITs. 14% of seats are reserved for women candidates in each program, in each IIT, and in each class/category of seats. Last year, I wrote this blog where I have supported increasing the number of women students in IITs, though I had hoped that IITs will look at ways other than reservation too to achieve this.

IITs have been making periodic announcements about this reservation, but have been quite secretive about how it will be implemented. Finally, on the Joint Seat Allocation Authority (JoSAA) website, they have added a link to what they intend to do. It appears that they intend to do 14% reservation in NITs and other CFTIs as well, which is good, since if you do reservation in more sought after institutes, then the next level institutes will suddenly see a significant drop in women numbers.

The seat matrix has been decided by ensuring that the number of seats filled by non-females last year does not reduce. To me, what that means is the following. If we had 90 seats in a program, only 8 of them were women last year, they would ensure that this year there are 82 gender-neutral seats and as many seats will be declared as women seats as to form a 14% reservation. In this example, the number of women seats would be either 13 or 14 (depending on how you round off), and thus the total seats would have gone up from 90 to 95-96.

Now, they are saying that when they start filling up seats, a women will be given a women seat if there is one available in the program of her choice. And only if all women seats are full and the gender-neutral seat is available, then that seat will be given to the women candidate.

There are some problems with the way women quota is being implemented. First of all, the document says that whatever they are doing is not reservation. I am amazed at the capability of our academic leadership to give spin to something as obvious as reservation. You have a minimum 14 percent seats for women in every program in every IIT and in every category, and yet, this is not to be called reservation, simply because in case of SC/ST/OBC reservation, if a candidate can get both an unreserved seat and a reserved seat of the same program, then s/he is given an unreserved seat, and in case of women, she will be given a reserved seat. While they have given an example where this will make a large difference in the allocation, in reality, it will make close to ZERO difference in allocation. And in any case, one kind of reservation is N% reservation plus whoever can get in unreserved, and the other kind of reservation is minimum N% reservation. How is it not a reservation at all.

The second thing I notice is that some programs have more than 14% women seats. For example, IIT Mandi, Civil Engineering has 40 seats out of which 8 seats are for women. That is 20% reservation. There is no explanation for this on the site. So, if you actually look at the total women quota, it is more than 14 percent with no explanation. IIT JEE must come clean on this and announce why the reservation is more than 14% in some programs.

Now, let us look at what was the goal of these reservations. The goal was that once we have many women in IITs, it will encourage even more women to apply, more parents to invest in coaching, and so on, and eventually, we would see so many women coming to IITs that we can then remove this quota as they would anyway be more than the minimum desired number. The reservation will increase from 14% in 2018 to 17% in 2019 and then to 20% in 2020. The hope is that in a few years, we will anyway have 20% or more women in our classes without reservation.

Suppose, we had had more than 14% women in the top ranks in all categories this year. What would have been the most desired way to do seat allocation. It is obvious that the best way to do that would have been to make no reservation, don't increase any seats, and with the existing seat allocation process, enough women would have been admitted to each IIT. Does the process given on the JoSSA website achieve that. NO. It will still increase the number of seats. Ideally, the number of additional seats created should be dependent on how females and non-females have performed this year. If females have performed excellently and have 14% or higher share of top ranks, then no seat needs to be created. If they are 13%, only a few seats need to be created, etc. But that is not how they operate.

On the other hand, suppose the men had performed much better this year. Instead of 91% in top 10,000 ranks last year (just an estimate, not a real number), suppose they are 92% in top 10,000 ranks this year, then fairness would demand that 1 percent additional men be given seats (and increase the women seats correspondingly to give them 14 percent). But no, irrespective of how well the men perform, they are stuck to the 2017 admission numbers at best. And they are still saying that this is not reservation for women.

I am told that the reason to freeze the upper limit of non-female seats and declaring exact number of female seats was because many Directors wanted to know exactly how many admissions will take place in their IIT so that they can plan things better. Now, if look at the variation of men versus women from year to year, it can be, say, about 2 percent. So the variability is not too high. If the Directors are saying that they will want to do the wrong thing so that they don't have to deal with even a small variability in admission numbers, it is sad.

There are programs in which women are discouraged as per law. For example, women are not allowed to work in underground mines at all, and in overground mines in the night. As a result, mining is not a discipline that will attract women. Could we reduce the number of women seats in mining and increase the number of women seats in other disciplines in the same institute so that the institute can still have 14 percent women students.

The other issue about women reservation is why not in graduate programs. Many MTech programs also do not have 14 percent women even though the colleges from where we attract our MTech students had more than 14 percent women in their udner-graduate classes. Are we going to do only those things for which we get a letter from MHRD.


Assuming reservation is the only way to go about increasing the number of women in classroom, we can still make the implementation better, if there is a will.

Added on 19th June:
I am told that the algorithm is that the programs which had 14% or less women last year would have 14% reservation. Programs that had 14% to 20% women last year would have a reservation same as the number last year. And programs that had more than 20% women last year would have 20% reservation this year.

This does not make sense to me. If there are two programs of 50 students each. In Program X, we had 2 women, and in Program Y, we had 10 women. This year, we will take Program X and make its strength go upto 56 so that we can have 8 seats reserved for women. Should we keep 10 seats reserved in Program Y. Or should we say that in Program Y, there will be 7 seats reserved for women is the question.

In my opinion, the Program 2 should have only 7 seats reserved, since if it is a program not so popular with men and popular with women, in any case, they can get 10 seats on merit. But if because of reservation in Program X, some women who were joining Program Y move to Program X, then there is no reason to reserve those seats for women. A 14 percent reservation should mean a 14 percent reservation in every program.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Guide to JEE Counseling 2018

I wish I had written this blog a couple of weeks ago. Actually, I did start it, but then suddenly, without any prior planning, I had to go to US for 2 weeks. The reason for urgency was simple. There is something that I want to suggest that I have not suggested in the prior years of writing such a blog post. So let us start with that first. (By the way, most of the general principles would be applicable to anyone deciding which engineering college to study in. So feel free to forward it to those who are looking for colleges other than IITs too.)

Visit a few IITs within the next 10 days.

If you can afford it, that is. Today itself, you should shortlist your options to a few IITs. This shouldn't really be difficult, at least for men, since they know their rank and last year's closing ranks. While the closing ranks will change from year to year, they will not change drastically in most cases (but be aware that they can change and fill up choices accordingly). So start with programs which closed just ahead of your rank and take the next 20 programs in the order of closing ranks. Despite whatever I or anyone else is going to tell you, the bottomline is that you are likely to consider these 20 programs more seriously than anything else. If there are some programs in this list, which you will certainly not join, remove that. If you indeed have a strong preference for any other program, since you have read about it somewhere, or someone has encouraged you to consider this, add that too to your list of serious programs. In this list, all the programs may belong to 5-10 IITs. Some IITs may be too far to travel or there may be logistics issues (no reservation in trains, flights too expensive). Don't travel to them (but read about them as much as possible, connect to them and ask if there is anyone in your city who can answer your questions). But whichever IIT you can travel, do that immediately.

Almost all IITs have people willing to talk to potential students and parents and even show them around if they come to campus. Many IITs are doing open houses, specific event to answer queries of students/parents together. All this information should be there on their website. If an IIT does not have any link for potential student, seriously consider removing all their programs from your list. If they don't care to attract students, they are not likely to treat you well for four years. (Treat you well, not in terms of physical assault, I can assure you, but in terms of flexibility in curriculum, rules of the hostels, and so on.) If they do have contact persons mentioned on the website, write to them your program, which department you would like to visit, and what you would like to do. When you go to the IIT, visit the hostel where you may be staying in the first year, talk to students, preferably more than one from different years and preferably at least one from the programs you are considering, talk to at least one faculty in each program that you are considering. This can give you huge insights into the IIT that you would not get through second hand accounts on quora.

I am emphasizing it this year because last year my daughter was in the same situation. We decided that we will go to all those colleges which were the top choices of my daughter. About one week of India tour, and this gave us so much greater insight and comparative information from our perspective that we could not have got by reading all about them. What is the importance of flexibility in curriculum. What kind of freedom you would enjoy in the hostels. What is the quality of infrastructure on campus, particularly your likely hostel. You would assume that these are minor questions compared to what kind of placement a program has. But if you visit a few IITs, you would know why they are very important questions. And even as far as placement is concerned, you would get a better perspective on that by personally visiting the place.

Previous blogs:

The following older blogs by me will help as well.

A Guide to JEE Counseling 2015

A Non-Guide to JEE Counseling 2016

What would I do if I had JEE Rank 1 (2017)

A blog by Prashant Bhattacharji on Computer Science options is an excellent read too.

Conflicts of Interest Disclosures:

I am an alum of IIT Kanpur and a Professor of IIT Kanpur and hence would have a natural interest in promoting IIT Kanpur.

I have been a Guest Professor of IIT Gandhinagar (similar to adjunct faculty elsewhere) and I visit them very frequently (more than 50 visits so far, many of them paid for by them). And I am mighty impressed by them.

There is very little ongoing relationship with any other IIT. But in the past, I have taught at IIT Bombay, I have had research collaboration and joint papers with IIT Delhi faculty. I have co-guided students with Directors of IIT Roorkee, IIT Bhilai and IIT Jammu, with many joint publications. And in general, I have friends in most IITs. I doubt if any of this has affected my views, but it is for the reader to take any bias into account. In any case, take all my views as just another input to your decision making process, and ensure that the final decision is yours alone. Don't blame me a few years later when things don't work out. (Though I won't mind an email of appreciation if things do work out as projected.)

Now back to questions.

Should we prefer a program or an IIT?

It depends. Are you interested in a particular discipline or may be two disciplines. If yes, go for those disciplines. If there is no specific discipline interest, then choose an IIT. For example, people around a rank of 100 ask me whether they should prefer CS at IITD, or EE at IITB. I don't want to answer this directly (since I don't want to be held responsible for any of your decisions). So I ask the student to tell me what s/he would have done if the rank was 1 and not 100. Of course, they would have chosen IITB/CSE. I ask them to reflect on why they would have chosen IITB/CSE without any doubt. Is it because they have heard IITB is a great place, IITB has Mood Indigo, IITB has maximum number of companies coming up for placement and other stuff like that, then they should choose IITB/EE over IITD/CSE. On the other hand, if they want to join that since it is the most prestigious program (based on last year's closing ranks), most toppers choose this, etc., then look at which program has the second best closing rank. If they say, they want to study CSE and within CSE departments, they feel IITB is the best, then I say, choose IITD/CSE. Most students have a clear idea of what should be the order of choice for the first few programs, but when they come to those programs which they are more likely to get admitted to, they are confused. The only thing you need to do is to think about why you were sure of the ordering of top choices. That will tell you what to do next, if you are honest with yourself.

IITs versus other institutions (both abroad and at home)!

Abroad: In the past I have been reluctant to recommend that after a good JEE rank, you consider a university abroad, mainly on account of cost-benefit ratio and culture shock to an 18-year old. While the issue of affordability and cultural differences remain, I am increasingly getting convinced that cost-benefit ratio is in favor of top universities of the world. The flexibility that you have in good universities of changing your major, of combining two very diverse set of majors, broad based education, number of projects and the quality of projects, emphasis on other attributes like team work, a greater emphasis on ethics and professionalism, there is a big difference between IITs and the top universities in the world. So, if you can afford it, and you are confident of handling cultural differences, consider those options seriously.

Science (IISc/IISERs): In the past, I have suggested that if you are interested in science, consider IISc seriously, and then IISERs. But I am going to change that order. IISERs are more tuned to working with under-graduate students and that makes a big difference.

Non-STEM universities: I did mention Ashoka university in one of the blogs earlier. Computer Science without a broader education in areas like Maths, Design, and Social Sciences is incomplete. IITs will certainly give you enough and more Maths, but only a sprinkling of social science (and that too sometimes courses only meant to complete the requirements on a transcript). CS at a place like Ashoka is an option worth considering, even though they haven't been able to build a strong CS department yet. And I think it is definitely worth considering a non-STEM education in entirety, if engineering (or IIT) is only a way to success in career and not a passion. I had visited other places like FLAME (Pune), and Premji University last year and was suitably impressed by what they are offering. Also the five year integrated program at IIM Indore is a great option to explore, particularly for those who are keen on management as a career.

NITs/IIITs: In the past, my stand has been that if you are passionate about a discipline which is not available in IITs, take it up in the next best institute. I am going to change that stand a little bit. Take it up in the next best institute, only if that place is really good. Otherwise, take up something closer in an IIT. For Computer Science for example, I will strongly recommend IIITs at Hyderabad and Delhi. They have disadvantage of small campus with less diversity, but CS is great. So, after the old 5 IITs, may be you want to consider them seriously. And particularly at IIIT Delhi, there are so many interesting combinations which are likely to be so important in future. Think about them seriously. For most engineering disciplines, BITS Pilani is a good option. But I would be reluctant to recommend NITs even for lower ranked students who are not getting their top choices in IITs. What has changed in recent times is the ability to study on one's own through online courses. So if you can't get your favorite discipline in IITs or any really good university, take up something else (hopefully with some overlap) and study some basic subjects online, give GATE/GRE and go for MS/MTech in your favorite discipline after a quality education at the under-graduate level.

Comparison within IITs: 

In earlier years, I had suggested a small difference between the old IITs with IITB as my favorite, then IITD and IITK, and finally IITKGP and IITM. But the difference was always small. Last year, I had suggested that perhaps IIT Gandhinagar would be my top favorite. This year, I would like to suggest that there is not much difference between these six IITs. IITB has had a good fortune of having a series of good leadership. But that leadership deficit in other IITs has reduced with Directors of all these institutes doing quite well in the last few years (and we have a new Director at IITK, who happens to be from IITB).

People have asked me about IITH as that seems to be the favorite (along with Gandhinagar) among the new IITs. Unfortunately, I have never visited them. I am aware of some very interesting curriculum innovations that are taking place there, and I have a lot of respect for its Director. But without seeing things on the ground, I wouldn't put them in the same group. (But knowing the reason for not putting them in the same group, you could appropriately handle information about them.)

I would put the other older IITs next. These include IIT Roorkee, IIT BHU, and IIT Guwahaty. Then the remaining so-called 2nd generation IITs. And finally, the so-called 3rd generation IITs. I have no idea where to place IIT (ISM). I think it is a very unique institute with some very strong departments, but at the same time some rather ordinary departments. So, difficult to put it in a group.

Of course, any ordering is simplifying things a lot (and that has been my problem with NIRF or any other ranking). What may be right for me, may not be right for you. So do your own research. Decide factors that you would like to base your decision on, and then decide what should be the ranking of different IITs. The above grouping should be used only if you are totally clueless about what you want and like.

Metro versus non-Metro IIT: This is a non-question, only asked by students who have already decided to stay in IITD or IITB, and are looking for confirmation of their bias. If the answer is "Metro" would you prefer IIT Madras over IIT Kanpur. Would you prefer IIT Hyderabad over IIT Kanpur. If the answer  to these questions is a No, then Metro is hardly a factor in your mind and you are only using this to convince your mind that you should be studying at IITB or IITD. I, of course, run a lonely battle over social media trying to convince everyone that location is immaterial in today's world, even less so for an undergraduate student.

Which discipline to prefer?

Assuming that you have no keen interest in any discipline since if you do have some interest, follow that interest.

First of all, all disciplines can lead to a great career, or could lead to a poor career. That in the previous years, students from certain disciplines had received a higher average "package" in the campus placement, is no proof or even an indication that people choosing that discipline to study today will be earning the maximum 50 years from now. In fact, people earning the maximum 50 years from now will be those who learn just one skill, how to keep learning throughout your life. The best jobs today couldn't be predicted 20 years ago, and we can't predict today the best jobs of 20 years from now, let alone 50 years. So, don't even attempt to find out placement statistics, since they will strongly influence your choice, whether you want it or not.

Second, if you are sure that you don't want to follow a science or engineering career, take up a discipline which is least competitive in the IIT of your choice. Of course, avoid disciplines that you would hate. And perhaps, choose an IIT which is less competitive. (By less competitive, I mean programs where lower ranked students are more likely to join.) Take part in extra-curricular activities. Enjoy your stay. Take advantage of huge learning opportunities outside the classroom. Make friends. This network will help you a lot in future.

Third, if you are not sure of what discipline to prefer, join an IIT with a lot more flexibility in curriculum in terms of ability to do second major, ability to do minor programs, etc. So, if after a semester or two, you want to study different things, there is a greater likelihood of your being able to do. Do not depend on branch change. Very few students will be able to do that in any IIT. I would not be able to tell you which IIT is more flexible than the other. But the Counselling brochure will have some information about them - the rules for branch change and existence of second major/minor, etc. Talk to people in those IITs to get more details. A bit of research now will help you a great deal. And as I suggested above, visiting the IIT before freezing the choice list will be the best way to get a feel for such issues.

Fourth, if nothing else works for you, but you do want to choose a discipline and not an IIT first, choose Computer Science or a related discipline (like Maths and Computing). May be, it is my bias since I am in Computer Science department, but it seems to me that the skills we help you build are useful in all other disciplines today. But this is also the most sought after discipline. So this may mean that you end up with an IIT which does not have its own campus right now.

Programs (4/5 year, BS/BTech, etc.):

Single degree versus Dual degree: I used to be a strong supporter of dual-degree programs. I am no longer sure about that stance. I have started to think that to force a student to make a choice of discipline of an under-graduate program is bad enough but to force him/her to make a choice of discipline for a graduate program when s/he hardly knows about anything is not good. Even earlier, I discouraged students from joining programs which are very narrow (so you decide not just a broad discipline for MTech, but a narrow sub-discipline for MTech). But now, I think, unless you are very sure about your interests and passion, avoid dual-degree programs.

Does Nomenclature matter? BS/MSc/BTech for Maths and Computing, for example: There are similar programs in different IITs with vastly different nomenclature for the degree given at the end. Maths and Computing combination is perhaps the most significant example of this. The nomenclature makes no difference to private sector. (Don't sue me if tomorrow if you find one company that prefers some nomenclature. I would advise you to avoid that company anyway.) Similarly, it is very unlikely that any quality educational institute will worry about the nomenclature (they may bother about whether you have a 4-year bachelors or a 5-year masters). But government entities and those regulated by government entities will worry about the nomenclature. If there is a job opening for BTech in Computer Science, they would be very reluctant to accept someone who has a BS in Maths and Computing even though the latter may satisfy all requirements what the skills and knowledge that one should have for the job. Similarly, if AICTE allows an MTech to teach, they may not allow an MSc in the same discipline with same number of years to teach. But most IIT graduates do not consider technical jobs in the government anyway. So in general, you can ignore the nomenclature issues.


Should you drop a year and try again?

The answer is an unequivocal no, unless you can identify a specific reason for your poor performance that is unlikely to repeat next year, something like an illness during the exam. Just saying that I couldn't prepare along with 12th, and now that I will be preparing exclusively for IIT, will be able to do better, does not work.

I am sure you have asked people on social media this question, and you have heard from lots of people that dropping a year helps. But remember, that answer is there because anyone who has improved his/her performance wants to tell the world how smart their decision was. And anyone who has not improved his/her performance would not want to tell the world how unhappy they feel at having wasted a year for no gains. So you are hearing from a small set of students, and you are not hearing from a representative set of students.

Studying in the drop year is not easy. All your friends are gone. You don't feel like socializing with anyone, and your motivation levels are generally low because you thinking about your poor performance of the last year. Of course, some overcome all this, and perform well, and they are the ones who are telling everyone how great their decision was to drop a year. At the beginning of the year, it is very attractive to think that I too will be like these super-motivated folks, and if you indeed can work like them, you too will be rewarded. But most people lose their motivation during the year and even perform poorly in the second attempt.

Impact of Women Reservation

Difficult to predict as this is the first year of reservation. But I would guess that the closing ranks of all programs except the top few most popular programs will slide as the women candidates take up the reserved seats in the more popular programs. I would also expect the closing ranks to slide a bit because every year a few more students are taking up options outside the IIT system (including universities abroad, or places like IIIT Hyderabad/Delhi, BITS, Ashoka, etc.) But let it not be a factor in your choice. Fill up as many options as you would not mind studying. Don't save on typing. But do not fill up any option that you will regret studying later on.


This is the end for now. I may add more information, if there are questions that I have not addressed. Please feel free to send me an email at sanghi on gmail.com.