Of trusses, beams and columns

Posted: August 2, 2010 by Gurveen Bedi in IIT
Tags: , ,

The last few days, in a course at IIMA, I have been studying roads and railways, the current issues in their development and financing.

These classes reminded me of a previous FARA (Financial Accounting and Reporting) lecture in first year, when the professor asked the civil engineers in class (unfortunately I was the only one in my class), to explain S-curves to the rest of the students. And I was stumped, since I had no idea what S-curves were. This made me wonder about the quality of engineering graduates in IITs these days, including myself.

It also reinforced a previously held view: IITs do not produce the best engineers

IITs may have some exceptional minds, may also have some amazingly intelligent engineers, who know their S-curves and structural mechanics. But the majority of the students are disinterested in the stream of engineering that they are in.

One reason is the admission process, where you enter an engineering stream in the first year, having absolutely no idea of what that engineering really is. And then you spend four years studying something you chose on a whim. In fact, I have met many a chemical engineers who enrolled in chemical engineering, thinking that they would be studying chemistry and chemical equations.

Another reason is the academic sense at IITs. The impression given to a student entering an IIT is that ‘Rigor ended with JEE’, which is quite the opposite to what you’re told at IIMs, that ‘CAT is just the beginning’. It is this expectation that gets ingrained in students and affects the way they deal with their academics in their remaining tenure.

But the biggest reason for all this, is the pedagogy at IITs. It is archaic and uninspiring, to say the least. Course content is rarely updated. New courses are also a rarity. Professors do not even attempt to discuss any contemporary issues or to generate any interest in students regarding their engineering stream. The maximum class participation is back-bench bickering and the occasional snoring. The concept of academic honesty went for a toss such a long time back, that it is not even a matter of discussion now. On top of that, every few years the workload keeps getting reduced, owing to the continuously occurring suicide cases.

Contrast this with IIMs. One out of every four lectures at IIMA is an experience in itself. The use of teaching aids like videos, movies, presentations, in-class exercises make learning such an interesting experience that people like attending classes. The professors do their best to relate courses to the latest happenings in the world. The workload is terrifying, yet there has never been a suicide attempt.

No wonder some of the brightest students out of IIT, opt for non-engineering jobs and MBAs at the end of their engineering. It is easy for the professors at IITs to complaint about this trend, but very difficult for them to accept that they are one of the key reasons for the same.

IITs could learn several lessons from IIMs. Perhaps it’s time for some professors to come down to IIMA for MDP (Management Development Program).

  1. taureansandy says:

    Interesting views there on the pedagogy in IIT’s….But Alas, the same is the situation in many other so called “Institutes of Excellence” in India..

  2. Sumeet says:

    nice article. i am agreed with the statement “IITs do not produce the best engineers”

  3. Mauly says:

    Actually i kinda disagree. It is more the UG attitude than the curriculum conviniently takes the rear seat. Though seems a ver interesting interdiscipline of project financing in civil. Kinda dream job for me

  4. Arpit says:

    nice. very well written. probably one effect you may also need to consider is that the IIMs generally attract top performers from IITs and other great institutes. So many of practices that are followed here cant be implemented in IITs just because of the difference in the crowd attending the same.

  5. Nimit Mehra says:

    Nicely written! thought provoking.
    Though comparing IIM’s and IIT’s I have to say that when one lands in an IIM or say any B school. One is a) more mature than 17 year old kid still riding on euphoria of cracking JEE b) has a sense of direction ( more or less) about what one wants to do with life. Probably these things add to the effect of one being more serious. I remember in my first year I used to think there is no point in studying all these courses ( my abysmally low Cg is testament to that :P) that sense won’t be there in a B school. Friends who went to pursue MS were similarly more serious about the course and life in general < and maybe, maybe they knew their S curves :P). Still IIT's need to change the method in which they impart education. Only when they will change, would others in the country follow.

    Once again, Great post.

    PS: great to have you back blogging 🙂

  6. Maruti says:

    Only second rate IIT-ians come to IIMs, fact ! Most of them are here because they had no better option. I cant speak for Civil Engineers, but in my batch of CSE, one third chose further studies and most of them are doing excellent PHDs, publishing many papers.

    Suicides are far lesser here because a) People are more mature b) They always have their undergrad degree as backup in the worst case scenerio unlike in IIT where only you are just a 12th class pass out.

    IIT Professors encourage creativity. The kind of projects that we did in IIT is far far better than the submit-at-any-cost stuff that we do here.

    And about the academic honesty in IIMs aspect, hahaha

    • Rishabh Sinha says:

      Kudos for being ballsy enough to say that many IITians are doing great with academic careers (if thats not considered rigorous then I don’t know what will), and also pointing out the integrity part of the project culture. Hoping you didn’t had to defend yourself a lot.

    • I would disagree with you on two things-

      1. ‘Only second rate IITians come to IIMs’ Well, thats not true at all. Who do you call a first rate IITian? Those who score CGPA of 9.5 or something and do nothing else in their life and then go for MS/PhD abroad? If thats what you are talking about then I know my friends who has the similar kind of acads and still opting for IIMs.
      And vaise I don’t consider them to be the first rate IITians. There must exist a balance as well as diversity in what you do and if you are doing well in everything (by everything, I mean – extra curricular activities, sports at least) then you are good indeed.

      2.’because they dont have better option’. No. In my own IIT People who are already placed in Microsoft, Qualcomm, Adobe are also going for it even as freshers.

      3. ‘Not having a Backup’ has never been a reason for suicides. Just try to get to the root of it, you’ll see that the work load and immaturity (I agree on that) are the sole reasons for the same.

      I might be wrong but I wrote what I believe and what I have observed.

  7. Ankit Jain says:

    I am not so sure about the first two reasons. No one can possibly know at the age of 17-18 what stream of engineering or if engineering at all would suit them. And students do work really hard at IITs, at any rate harder than at other engineering institutes. “Rigour ends at JEE” notion ends within a week or two.

    But I do agree with the last one that the pedagogy is archaic and does not update often. For majority of the students sitting through engineering classes is not a fraction as stimulating as the classes at IIMs are. To what extent this is due to the very nature of subject, I can’t say. Perhaps new 2×2 metrics come every other day in the management world; the laws of thermodynamics on the other hand are not going to change ever.

    Lastly, I feel the right comparison should be IITs vs IIMs and not IITs vs other engineering institute which are in a much more sorry state. IITs still produce the best engineers even though they may not be quite good enough.

  8. Akshat says:

    I dont agree bedi….this is a very narrow picture u r painting here, and besides, i don’t even think the situation is as bad, every college has every kind of student, IITs have their toppers as well as the kind of engineers u r talking about…and the quality of teaching may be exceptional at the IIMs, but i think that if u wish to learn, even the IITs have an excellent teaching staff as well as resources to make you learn

  9. Matt says:

    I would agree with you on the meandering style of teaching at IIT, but not the quality of the faculty. Suffice to say that, if one wants to learn at IIT, one can be the best engineer in the world. That, I think, is the core reason for poor attendance and the abysmal conversion rate of engineering education to engineering professionals.

    Which brings me to my question: if the issue is of not knowing what engineering is all about before joining IIT, isn’t the case similar to that in IIM? What did you guys know about management before joining IIM, given most of you didn’t have industry experience and shot out straight from undergrad-school? I guess, one of the earlier respondents was correct in saying it’s just about undergrad/postgrad mentality. The breadth of opportunities after undergrad are far more than the same after postgrad education, which probably has a telling effect on students.

    ~A Non-IIM IITian

  10. gtoosphere says:

    “The rigour ends with JEE” attitude — agree

    IITians do not produce the best engineers — may be

    course content rarely being updated – disagree (look at CS, elec or even EP)

    For a lot of people, IIT is not about being engineers, it is about creating an identity and finding a passion… Most people do not have the luxury or exposure to explore before their 12th!

  11. Shaishav says:

    A well written post, but i beg to disagree.
    I think, as someone has already pointed out, the problem is more at the end of the students. Keep in mind that when a person enters IIT, he is barely out of his teens/towards the end of it.
    But if you think of it, students who want to pursue engineering, still manage to do it. The eco-system is there. I agree the faculty and the course structure requires a revamp. but nothing needs to be changed more than the attitude of students.
    So i would say that people who entered IIT’s because they wanted to be engineers still stick to it. Some of them tend to dislike what they see themselves become, if they pursue engineering, and hence change their track.
    The bottom line is, IIT has a good number of bright people, what they lack is direction and proper guidance. Some find these things themselves, some don’t. And depending on what one wants you see people pursuing different things.
    In any case a comparison between IIT’s and IIM’s would be unfair 😀

  12. Anshul Jain says:

    Comparison is flawed on many grounds!
    1. Maturity level of students
    2. Engineering v/s MBA: MBA(at least one at IIM) is general management, to put it in perspective, it is more like the first year in engineering(general stuff). The motivation to study at IITs goes away in cases where students are not interested in there branches! (I think first year performance of most IITians is way better than subsequent years!)
    3. PLACEMENTS (lets be honest): People at IIMA are not slogging because they love FARA and Marketing! they know that returns on slogging are great! Compare this to a civil engineer at IIT! Even with slogging his core subjects day and night, he will get a job prolly, half the money that a CS graduate gets!
    4. Priorities: Crowd that comes to IIMA is mostly comprised of IITians who have realized the importance of CGPA or IITians who already had great CGPA(perennial muggoos/studs) and toppers from other colleges. With this crowd, acads will definitely be the top priority.

    You have taken eg of a civil engineer, who came to IIM! Please don’t judge other civil engg based on this breed…

  13. Divya says:


    I don’t really know about IITs, but I just wanted to give some perspective on a completely different stream i.e. law. Being from NLS, I can frankly say that it is only marginally less hectic than IIM A. There is a trimester system in place with mid terms and end terms plus project submissions in each of the four subjects that we have per trimester. Plus, there are readings for every class and class participation is expected. This is the kind of pressure that is put on you right after school, in the very first term. The projects are typically for 5000 words each and require fairly extensive research. Plagiarism and getting attendance shortages are rewarded with year losses and in extreme cases, expulsion. In fact, there is a very high rate of year loss given the academic rigour imposed.
    Having said this, most people want to continue with law after having passed out of NLS (myself being a very rare exception). It is quite possible that law being an unusual career choice in the first place, students usually go into it because they want to and are willing to work for it. On the other hand, engineering might be forced upon a lot of students. However, I for one believe that the institute can make you love or hate a subject. I love law purely from an academic point of view..I cannot see myself being immersed in it for the rest of my life. Yet I know enough people who have taken up law, come into law school and never considered another career path after that. NLS is by no means a model institute, but it does encourage that kind of reverence and respect for the subject. After reading Gurveen’s post, if what she is describing is the actual situation in IITs, I can’t help being rather shocked coming from an (if I may say so) comparable institute in a different field. Clearly the institute can do more to encourage the students and impose some degree of academic rigour on them.
    I guess it is a systemic problem at the end of the day. Parents push their kids into engineering because it is the done thing. The kid either has no opinion or no say in the matter. If more people came in because they wanted to be engineers, probably the situation could be rectified.

  14. […] for my education (and my definition of education is not limited to management. You may like to read Of trusses, beams and columns The Opinions Blog ) I no this is an off-beat sort of comparison. But my primary reason to choose this campus was my […]

  15. Rishabh Sinha says:

    It’s really funny in a way when judgement about teaching/learning techniques are delivered by someone who may perhaps have no better idea than a layman. And most of the time its the people who have a concern in the matter, like corporate world, its just too naive of someone to believe what is being circulated. The truth is, believe it or not, even with rigor ending with JEE and starting with the CAT, the rigor of course at IIMs are just nowhere near what we could even marginally say “rigorous”, and quite honestly in my experience an IIT trains you more rigorously in academics than an any IIM. Of course, I totally agree that someone can just do great without a drop of rigor for becoming a successful executive/entrepreneur(?).

  16. […] made a lot of sense for me, and I think will make for anyone coming afresh to the campus will be Of trusses, beams and columns The Opinions Blog Do have a look. It will give you another perspective on […]

  17. Anirudh says:

    I disagree with almost the whole article. It smacks of generalization of the highest order, something which MBA students find quite easy to do. It is a lot of ‘maybes’ to believe in.

    1) The brightest students ‘do not’ find non-engg or opt for an MBA. This may be your perception. An equal number go ahead and pursue M.S. And it is certainly not due to lack of interest, it is due to ‘interest’ in high paying jobs.

    2) I do not think faculty at IIM is the best or even better than IITs. Just because you get to see videos, doesn’t mean the learning is fun or even better. ‘An experience in itself’, LOL. My engg. classes were an amazing experience as well. And the friends you make there, are no-one. In contrast, at MBA schools, it is just how much leverage you can get out of your ‘friends’.

    3) IITs dont produce the best engineers-that is definitely not true. Rather, I would believe IIMs produce half cooked managers.

    4) Lastly, the IIMs should learn something from IITs. And that is producing high quality research. Are IIMs just there for the gyaan?

    I think the comment is a bit over the top, but I guess the post left a bad taste in my mouth.

  18. anon says:

    Found this link in a Pagalguy forum. I’m from one of the NIT’s and you could have just as well replaced IIT with NIT there. I think it is this lack of acad rigour that pulls good minds from engg to management, not that it’s a bad thing. Hope IIMs carry on and IITs and NITs catch up.

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