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Sunday, July 29, 2012

IIT Gandhinagar: 1st Convocation

Two students came to my office in the morning and asked me a simple question, "are all IITs similar?" And instinctively, I said, "No, IIT Gandhinagar is different." Well, may be all IITs are different, but when I visit IIT Gandhinagar, and I do that very frequently, it just seems like a very different place, a place which seems to defy Newton. There is no inertia there. There is no resistance to change, and as the cliche goes, the only constant there is change.

I visited them again last Sunday (22nd July), to attend the first convocation of the Institute, to see the pioneer batch of the Institute receive degrees, less than a month after they were notified in the Gazette of India as a new IIT.

The first thing that struck me was the dress. To quote from their convocation brochure, "the stole robe, designed specifically for the first convocation of IITGN, is a combination of the western academic attire and Indian free flowing draped garments." No one seemed to be missing the black robe and the cap.

The Chief Guest was Mr. N R Narayana Murthy, one of the most inspiring leaders of our times, and a role model for the generation that is represented by the graduating batch.

When I went through all the documents that were distributed, it was amazing to see how the young Institute and its pioneer batch has performed. Out of 86 students graduating, 8 were going for PhD programs (7 abroad, and 1 in IIT Gandhinagar itself). 10% of the batch going for PhD has not happened in older IITs for may be a couple of decades. Even Mr. Murthy mentioned that it is unheard of for Caltech to admit two students into the PhD program of their same department from the same external university. There were four more who were going for MS/MTech. There must be something right that the Institute has done over the last four years to enthuse so many of them for higher studies in engineering.

Six graduates have set up a technology innovation start up in the area of distributed computing in IITGN Incubation Center. And one graduate is spending time in improving the machine to make incense sticks (which he had designed himself earlier in the program, and which is helping the poor in Ahmedabad).

The batch had options of either studying for a vanilla BTech or embellish it with an honors or a minor. Only 37 out of 86 decided to graduate with a BTech program, which shows that students were really very keen to study engineering, very unlike the complaints that we hear from faculty of older IITs that students are only interested in a degree and they want to pursue MBAs.

The convocation brochure and the Director's speech talked about several innovations that IIT Gandhinagar has done in its march towards excellence. The focus on humanities and social sciences in the engineering curriculum has been amazing. They have the highest share of HSS courses in the engineering curriculum of all engineering institutes in the country. There is a comprehensive interview of every student in the institute every semester by a panel of faculty. This helps in detecting problem areas early and also identify strong points of the students so that they can be advised accordingly. Short courses of 8-10 lecture hours by distinguished visitors, which give the students 1 credit towards their graduation requirements is another innovation, which is actually being implemented and is not just on paper. They are building relationships with several good institutes nearby by encouraging their faculty to forge research collaborations with IITGN faculty, by encouraging their students to spend a semester or two at IITGN and earn credits which their parent institute may consider towards their graduation requirement, and so on. They realize that for having an excellent research program of their own, they will have to ensure that there is a research ecosystem around them. There were too many initiatives to mention here. Even though I have been going there so frequently, and even been part of some committees, when all the initiatives of the last 4 years were put together, it still was very surprising to me to see what IIT Gandhinagar has achieved.

(Disclosure: I am a guest professor of IIT Gandhinagar, and all my visits to IITGN are supported by them.)

Website of IIT Gandhinagar:


Prabhakar TV said...

Short courses for 1 credit is worth emulating

excited to be alive said...

Rather pessimistic, but I believe most of these will fade away with the increase in student intake! :(

cipher said...

Any insights into why IIT-G might be doing what it is doing? Just leadership? And if so, that leadership is just a consequence of a roll of dice?

Prashant said...

10% of the batch going for PhD has not happened in older IITs for may be a couple of decades.

really ? it would be an interesting and useful exercise to gather data to track the careers of students after their graduation ... though it would also be challenging. Intuitively I'd have expected this number to be much larger but I'm sure you might have access to more authentic numbers.

I know for sure for batches passing out as recently 2006-2007-2008 from KGP, at least for CS, EE, Communication, Pure Sciences about ~25-30% of the class used to try for higher studies ( some MS some PhD ). The brain drain to US Universities was often discussed as a major problem to the extent that it was even hard to get recos. This wasn't due to a shortage of good jobs - companies such as Google, Microsoft, Lehman Brothers etc often lost a large number of recruits to PhD programs.

by the way, off late it has become quite common for people to spend a couple of years doing some well-paying job and attaining some basic financial stability - and then doing a PhD even after a 2-3-4 year gap. There are plenty of people who ditch top consulting and finance jobs for PhDs, or try them out for a year or two before getting back into the technology sector.

You might be pleasantly surprised to know that there is a good number of IITians who were ( or appeared ) disinterested in engineering/technology during their college days, come "back in form" after they pass out :-)

But of course that just proves your point that there is something special IIT-G must be doing to keep this spark alive while the students are in college.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Prashant, I mentioned 10% as only PhDs. If you look at higher education in all, it is about 18%. In the heydey of 80s when higher education was the only way to get to US (and some people also did higher education in India), at that time, the percent of students going for higher education was about 25% immediately (more went after 1 year, or 2 years, etc.). This number had come below 20% overall soon after economic liberalization in 1991, though some departments would continue to have higher numbers.

Pushpendra Singh said...

Have you asked about their faculty recruitment process? No reply comes for months after submitting applications which require hundred of documents (I submitted with 23 annexure and then were asked for more which I subsequently submitted). Since Feb, I am waiting. At least they can say "yes" or "no".

Giving a one-sided positive rating is something which creates illusion of being everything right.

Prashant said...

This comment is only partly related to your post - as a response to the general perception that students are not interested in engineering/technology in older IITs. I would say, that to some extent, disinterest in IIT courses might be a disinterest in those courses itself ( and not because of a general interest in tech/engg. )

Check out this Google Summer of Code participation list - both for the current year and for the past 8 years - even the older IITs are very much there.
Granted this is just one small area (programming/C) and one event, but you might be happy to see that there are some motivated students in IITs at least in your field.

Google Summer of Code participants