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Monday, June 23, 2014

Importance of Placement in Admission Season

We are in the middle of admission season. Everyone wants to know which college to go to, which branch to take, and such other questions. How should one decide these things. The initial temptation of people like me is to suggest to look inside for passion and interest. And study whatever discipline interests you.

However, one finds, particularly in the IIT JEE context that students in top 100 ranks always have deep interest in CS. Their first toys were always a laptop. The next couple of hundred guys are always confused between CS and EE, the two disciplines they seem to enjoy the most (what did they do to enjoy these disciplines - did they try wiring their homes or what), the next couple of hundreds are sure that Electrical is what they want to do in life, but they would not forget to ask how easy it would be to get a branch change to CS after the first year. You get the drift.

What is behind all this. What is the most important factor to decide the discipline and the institute. It is always "scope." Do not be fooled in believing that the word means what kind of skills one would learn in the program, what kind of careers one could have and so on. It means only one thing - how much money would my son make when he graduates. You see the question is mostly asked by parents. In India, passing 12th class does not make you eligible to take your own decisions on higher education. And respecting the elders is part of our culture.

What is wrong if one wants to know if the investment one is about to make will give adequate returns. Those professors who still believe that one should study for the sake of learning are living in the previous century (and it is not that most people did not worry about jobs then). Return on investment must be an important parameter in the decision making. However,  the problem is when it is stretched a bit too far, and becomes the only parameter, and that too without much thought going into it.

So, everyone wants to know the placement information about the program. Why? Because that will help you compute the return on investment. It is believed that the placement data of 2014 will tell you what your son should expect as his first salary in July, 2018. Really! You don't need to understand your son's interests, personality, skillset. May be 2014 graduates with matching interests, personality and skillsets made more money in a different discipline. But obviously that information is too difficult to get and hence no point in even thinking about it. May be the industry will change in 4 years and different skillsets will be in demand. Once again, this information is difficult to get and hence no point in thinking about it.

Do you even know and understand 2014 data. Do institutes and universities give you complete data that you can look at. Sorry, they don't give you adequate data, only that part which indicates a rosy picture. One institute says they had 400 companies come to campus, while the other had 200. Is the first one necessarily better. What if these 400 companies gave only 1000 job offers, while the other 200 companies gave 1200 job offers. I saw a recent news item when one institute claimed highest number of job offers. Needless to say that it hid the fact that the number of students were also highest in that category of institutes, and the percentage of students getting jobs was less than other similar institutes. Do you know when most institutes say that 90% students got placed, this is a fraction of students who "registered" for placement and had more than 60% marks. What happens to those who have 59% marks, and may be they did not register some students who would not have got jobs anyway. There is very little verifiable information available in public domain, which is so small that comparing such information and guessing the future rate of return is totally irrational.

But more importantly, should you really be interested in salary of July, 2018, or salary of July, 2058. Note that the salary in July, 2058 is likely to be two orders of magnitude higher than the salary in July, 2018, even in constant rupees. Looking back at that time, the first month salary will not even look like peanuts. So the return on investment (unless one has taken loan, and there is a serious cash flow problem at home) should take into account the salary of July, 2058 and not July, 2018. And is there any study that looks at correlation of income across 40 years. Is there any industry which will continue to be at the top in terms of paying high salary for 40 years. Could anyone 40 years ago predict what types of jobs would be highest paying jobs in 2014. Sorry to disappoint people, but the answer to all these questions is in negative.

So figuring out which discipline would result in the highest rate of return on your investment is an impossible task.

Should we completely give up on this criteria? Of course, not. Four years of time and a substantial expense is too much of an investment to be made for the love of learning. One does need to worry about whether adequate return will be there for this investment.

But the key here is "adequate" return and not "maximum" return of all possible options. The utter confusion that you see amongst parents is because they are trying to maximize return and not be satisfied with adequate returns, and as we have said above, it is next to impossible to ascertain what will give maximum return over the next 50 years.

Let us look at it another way. Would the return be considered adequate if you were to become richer than 99% Indians within 5 years of your graduation. I would guess that is pretty good return on your investment. But if you were to argue that a CS degree is likely to make you richer than 99.2% Indians, while a Chemistry degree will only make you richer than 99.1% Indians, and hence I will choose CS over Chemistry, then that is the beginning of confusion. Then someone will suggest that may be a CS degree from IIT-X will make you richer than 99.21% Indians, while a CS degree from IIT-Y will only make you richer than 99.19% Indians. And now the confusion is really big time. Inside your heart you know that the basic data for 2014 is not available, that projections over the next 50 years (even 5 years) is impossible, that the exact career will depend on the individual capabilities and skillsets, and hence it is very difficult to guess which program will make you richer than 99.21% Indians and which program will make you richer than 99.20% Indians. And yet, you want that differentiation, you want the best for your son, and the best only means one thing for you - richer than most other people.

Anytime you consider richer than others as a criteria, you and your son will never be happy. If you are not happy being richer than 99.19% Indians, you would not suddenly become happy if you are richer than 99.20% Indians. On the other hand, if you had chosen "adequate" return as the criteria, you would immediately realize that a large number of programs in most government funded colleges would meet that criteria, and hence one could talk about other dimensions like how much fun would one have learning.

Also, when one looks at "adequate" return as the criteria, one is admitting that the Institute/Program will do only so much, and the career depends a lot on the individual. So one would actually work hard and do better in life. On the other hand, when one looks at "maximum" return as the criteria, then one is assuming that it somehow depends primarily on the Institute/program, and the individual has very little to do. It makes the individual less enterprising and indeed the returns will be lower in such a scenario. Thus the proponents of "maximum" return actually don't get maximum returns. So in their own interest, they should switch to the model of "adequate" returns.


Notes:
 

(Note that I have used "he" above since parents do seem to consider other criteria for their daughters like "closeness to homes and return on investment is a lesser criteria.)


I had written a very similar blog in 2011. That is linked here.
I had also written a blog on how to choose your IIT/Branch in 2011. That is linked here. It is pretty outdated in terms of specific data though the algorithm perhaps remains the same today.

I used to write the counseling article/blog every year, but haven't done so since 2011, since I have assumed the role of Dean of Academic Affairs at IITK in December 2011. It is politically difficult for me to say that any other IIT is doing things better than IITK in any aspect, and if I were to argue in favor of IITK, it will be discounted by my readers because I will be expected to say that. Even my postings on facebook saying that IIT Gandhinagar (which I have visited more than 25-30 times) is doing very well are sometimes considered politically incorrect. So may be I will be back in 2015 after I am a free bird.

11 comments:

siddharth jain said...

Sir, Glad to see you back on blogger after a long time. I just opened your blog today to just ask some questions. Please reply ASAP as students have to freeze the choice.
1. In recent year or two I have heard a lot positive about Mathematics and Computing. being more specific is it makes sense to preder a four year B.S in this @IITK ahead of core CSE in BHU or guwahati.
2. I am also a big fan of this economics thing but some of my friends in Industry says that companies don't treat Integrated Economics courses like the one in KGP with that great value.
3.Also your views on the 5 year integrated course started by IIIT Bangalore as previously it wasn't involved in the UG courses.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

Maths and Computing course makes sense if you have an interest in Maths and secondary interest in CS. It also makes sense when you are not getting any core CS program in any IIT. Otherwise, do a core CS program.

The Economics program in IITK is that of 4-years, with an optional 5th year only if you want to get a Master's degree. The value of any program can only be asked by those companies which are core for that program. I do not know which companies you have asked in, but our students don't have a problem in getting jobs.

I do not have any idea about IIIT Bangalore 5-year integrated program.

Varun Aggarwala said...

Wow !!! I really loved this post. I wish I had read this, when I was making the JEE counseling choices in 2004.
My criteria (actually my family's) for choosing the branch or institute was solely based on potential job opportunities. In hindsight I think I could not have been more wrong. I am confident that an average IIT'ian is smart enough to create his/her own destiny and see opportunities in any field. Pigeonholing oneself in a branch at a young age of 18 the worst mistake that anyone can commit.
Coming to the point, I think IIT's should postpone the branch allocation to the end of first year. I think this will allow students to become more mature, and in turn would help them make a more saner choice while choosing their branch. I am also confident that a big chunk would still gravitate towards the popular branches and would spend the better part of their undergrad preparing for CAT, but atleast a sizeable minority would make a well informed and a wise decision.
Besides this, I think this wonderful article (http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~sohoni/cseaVP2000.txt) penned by a wonderful person should become a part of mandatory reading for all students of all the colleges belonging to any age group. It is the modern day "Gita Saar" for the students and would help all of us see things with a better perspective :)

Mrityunjay Gupta said...

I think IIT's should consider giving the prospective students a seminar explaining them about the topics which are taught in the different degree courses by relating those topics to what the student's knowledge is after passing the 12th standard.. And complimented with some data on the placement and salary because a less preferred stream can attract students only if they offer a reasonable salary along with the degree..

Vikram said...

Dr. Sanghi, no matter how many letters are written asking students and parents to think more holistically about choosing a field of study, the end results will be more or less the same until the current examination structures and limited degree offerings at the IITs remain in place. The typical 17-18 year old just cant tell what career path he/she should choose.

I dont think most people choose CS/ECE out of a pure income maximization objective, the overriding criteria is 'safety'. With CS, you can get a decent job almost surely. It is the same reason why IAS/sarkaari naukri was the career of choice earlier.

More efforts should definitely be made to reach out to parents and school children and letting them know the kinds of jobs that exist in society. But as long as the current entrance system, based on ranks remains, it will keep producing the same structure. If the JEE instead told aspirants that your CS aptitude is of B grade but that in verbal communication is A+, with a list of possible career paths, things might change. Note that the correlation of ranks with branches also greatly constrains the ability of the IITs to offer flexible branch programs.

But to start, the JEE Advanced definitely needs to include CS (perhaps a logical reasoning paper ?) in some way.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Vikram, I have my doubts about the safety part. There are many programs in various IITs which have 90% and higher placement consistently for many years. They aren't treated as equal by the applicants. And you see the questions on various social media and other places, it is not about whether everyone gets a job, but about salary. Hardly ever a question on the type of job even.

When I look back to my times, the choice was equally irrational. It was primarily based on last year's closing ranks for want of any information. We did not know what to optimize. In such a scenario, it was possible for someone to tell his/her parents that I have an interest in this or that, and I am not going to follow last year's closing ranks. Since no one knew what was being maximized anyway, the parents would only ask whether it was "safe" or whether a decent job is available at the end, and generally the answer was that yes, everybody gets a job sooner or later after every program, the parents would give in. So you had a fairly significant minority willing to try their interests, since the goal was "adequate" return in some sense. And many people changed their fields of study after under-graduation, and so on.

But now with everyone trying to maximize their returns, the number of such outliers is much smaller, and the stress of maximizing returns can be seen not only at the admission time, but also during the four years, in choosing electives, in cribbing about being forced to study chemistry or biology.

Manish Kumar said...

As Varun mentioned about Prof. Sohoni article and this blog talked about placement. Here is his working paper related to it.
http://www.cse.iitb.ac.in/~sohoni/sel.pdf

Prashb said...

Dr. Sanghi - one good thing that many of these high paid jobs nowadays are actually in the tech, or related sectors. Mostly in CS, some in EE, and many in the oil/energy sector where they actually do some field engineering work even if it is routine. Even some of the really high end finance roles are on the HFT Computational side.

Many of the people who start off time to do an MS/PhD, with these jobs will quit in 2-4 yearsstartup or an MBA.

Though the initial motivation isn't all that pretty, I think this is preferable to the situation for batches graduating till early 2000s where there were almost no proper technical jobs available and old-fashioned sales/marketing jobs like ITC, HLL were most prized. That, I believe is a more upsetting situation.

Also, when people are confident that their field has a fair number of jobs (and high paying ones) they'll feel more confident doing a PhD (or perhaps an MS) in the area after some work-experience. Which is one sees a disproportionate number of CS/EEs go and do a PhD, even if it happens after a couple of years -
never mind the fact that the initial motivation for the branch was purely monetary.


devsuman sharma said...

Dr.Sanghi,I have been following your blog and I congratulate you for very valuable inputs.
I loved your inputs, as my son was preparing for IIT and has just cleared it with a rank of 6200. I was happy to know the result but to my shock he is disappointed and saying that with 6200 he will not get a so called good branch & institute.He is now even thinking of taking a drop.
What kind of a selection process we have created ? my son after scoring 96% in CBSE and having qualified in IIT advanced(BITS score 308) is feeling dejected and depressed.There are many such brilliant students,who have got between 4500 to 8000 AIR and still feel downhearted.
I am an NRI,I am rushing back to India on friday to meet my son and counsel him.Your article has helped me a lot.
I feel the problems are
a)There is a blind following(bhed chaal)for some courses like CSE,EEE, etc and there is unnecessary craze created by peers and coaching classes. IIT management is not doing any thing for this strong bias. Even they are corrupting young minds by publishing package data
b)Many important engineering streams get uninterested students( I am told that in some branches seats remain vacant) there is no effort by IITs to create awareness or generate interest about those engineering branches.Everything depends on rank,higher the better and you can get the branch without even a simple interview to judge the interest or aptitude etc.
c)Very typical of the numerous cram-factories prevailing in
our country, whether to manufacture Board exam toppers, entrance exam toppers, doctors, scientists or engineers. Coaching centres at Hyderabad and at Kota, provide excellent examples. This mindset of students and teachers continues for years with clearing exams, obtaining a degree and completing the prescribed syllabus becoming the sole motives of students and teachers respectively. The joy of the process of learning and it’s real-life applications are kept aside.
e) Parents and students are "Over-Realistic" They have their entire life-plan figured out. They don’t care one bit what inspired many scientist for inventions.These are high-IQ boys and girls who will ace the entrance exams, get into a top institute to pursue a professional career, only to end up selling MNC products or working in a bank in return for a fat package. In short, doing something that has absolutely no co-relation to their education. In the process, cheating the taxpayer whose money was used to subsidize his/her education and also the institute which strove to provide cutting edge facilities, only to be forgotten later.
This race like selection process of IITs,based only on AIR is causing emotional and serious damage to many bright students and they have developed a wrong mind set about higher education.While linking jobs to degrees is important for other institutions, but institutions like IITs should be focussing more on innovation and research. IITs have the best laboratories in the country,Why no truly path-breaking research has stemmed out of the IITs ? Why has India not produced any Nobel laureate in Science,since independence? other Indians were not Indian citizens when they received the Nobel Prize. Why,in spite of all the hype, none of the,IITs feature anywhere in the top institutes in the world? Where exactly does the fault lie?
We(the parents) and you(the teachers) need to initiate changes so that IITs become truly world class institutes with significant achievement and contributions to science/technology/re-search etc.
.

siddhant mishra said...

Sir, what are your views on JEE-MAIN conducted by CBSE and they used to conduct it in both online and offline mode, and students usually complain and I myself feels that level of toughness of paper is different in both modes, Offline paper is usually tougher then online and many timeit is also reported that there are many other mistake too in offline mode as u can take any number of roughsheets while in offline its not allowed, and generally these are computer centers are not invigilated well too, students say that they can easily talk and watch others screen.

Unknown said...

I agree with what Mr. Devsuman Sharma said. Coaching institutes are solely responsible for the increase in the number of uninterested students in various departments. Aspiring students and their parents, during the course of their preparation,start looking at the CSE department of IITs as some sort of a source of unlimited riches, instead of the best available platforms to learn and build a career in Engineering. Coaching institutes use the placement statistics to associate some sort of a "glamour" with the IITs. Parents and students are gullible to this, and start looking at coaching as a necessity. Its a win for the coaching institute, whose business keeps booming, but its a loss for the students (most of them lose their originality, interest in studies and desire to put in hard work once they clear JEE), loss for the IITs, and ultimately a loss for the country!