Interesting thing I found....

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suresh
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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby suresh » Sat Nov 15, 2014 7:07 am

Sin Hombre wrote:IIT as a brand has long been killed by our vote hungry politicians - better off sending him to a school in the US


;-) We are not that bad. I am sure that the education that you can get at an IIT, if you give the system a chance, is pretty good. The downside is that the system is not as flexible as the American system even though it is quite flexible by Indian standards. So if you stuck in a major that you are not interested in, you don't have a opt out or a chance to change majors. I was in such a situation as a student but managed to finish without seriously compromising my academics.

Gautam: I think the current equivalent of Agarwal classes is FITJEE -- I don't know if they have a postal course. JEE is now a two-tier examination. The first one is conducted by CBSE and then a sub-set satisfying some criteria (that I don't care to know) write the Advanced JEE. Both exams are SAT style with multiple choice questions. The subject matter has remained unchanged since our times, getting "easier" if anything.

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby prasen9 » Sat Nov 15, 2014 7:12 pm

I have students who went to the IITs albeit from the original IITs and Roorkee. They are mostly very good. I still trust the original 5/6 IITs+Roorkee+BHU along with the top schools in China, Singapore, Korea, etc. to get good students. I do not have any idea about the new IITs though. The top IIT students should be at par with the top students in the US universities.

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby gbelday » Sat Nov 15, 2014 9:42 pm

Thanks suresh and prasen. Its so impressive that we have so many folks here who went to an IIT (jay, arjun, suresh, Prashant that I know of). I am sure they are more...

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby Sin Hombre » Sat Nov 15, 2014 11:01 pm

suresh wrote:
Sin Hombre wrote:IIT as a brand has long been killed by our vote hungry politicians - better off sending him to a school in the US


;-) We are not that bad. I am sure that the education that you can get at an IIT, if you give the system a chance, is pretty good. The downside is that the system is not as flexible as the American system even though it is quite flexible by Indian standards. So if you stuck in a major that you are not interested in, you don't have a opt out or a chance to change majors. I was in such a situation as a student but managed to finish without seriously compromising my academics.

Gautam: I think the current equivalent of Agarwal classes is FITJEE -- I don't know if they have a postal course. JEE is now a two-tier examination. The first one is conducted by CBSE and then a sub-set satisfying some criteria (that I don't care to know) write the Advanced JEE. Both exams are SAT style with multiple choice questions. The subject matter has remained unchanged since our times, getting "easier" if anything.


@suresh, are you teaching at IITM?

I did go to arguably the most coveted branch in an IIT in my time (at least the only one with a double digit ranking cutoff) and even then, the IITs (the original 5) were struggling to maintain quality both of the instructors and in getting kids actually interested in academics.


I can only imagine (and have heard anecdotal stories) of how bad things are after they increased the capacities of the original IITs (while as I said, it was already a stretch in my time when they had ~300 undergrads a year) and introduced dozens of new ones.

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby suresh » Sun Nov 16, 2014 6:24 am

Sin Hombre wrote:@suresh, are you teaching at IITM?

I did go to arguably the most coveted branch in an IIT in my time (at least the only one with a double digit ranking cutoff) and even then, the IITs (the original 5) were struggling to maintain quality both of the instructors and in getting kids actually interested in academics.


I can only imagine (and have heard anecdotal stories) of how bad things are after they increased the capacities of the original IITs (while as I said, it was already a stretch in my time when they had ~300 undergrads a year) and introduced dozens of new ones.


@sin hombre Yes, to your question about me.

Faculty members at IITs struggle for credibility - students assume that faculty members are not as smart as they are (possibly true) and have virtually nothing to offer as teachers (not true). Your (sin hombre) viewpoint (as well as that of my own classmates) of the IITs typifies that. That has not changed at all even though about a third, if not more, of the faculty today passed JEE. What most people don't appreciate is the huge academic and intellectual freedom that students have to develop their interests. You can have an argument in class with a prof or a fellow student. This is permitted as long as it is in sync with the thread of the lecture. You want to build something, there is an avenue for that. Students have a voice in things that happen on campus. However about 10% of the 800 students might be making use of all that. The remaining are busy resting on the laurels earned by passing a stupid, if I may call it, exam. Doors open for them just for that simple reason. As a faculty member, how does one counter this? In the last few years, my department has gone from a mediocre one to a good one due to an influx of good faculty members who are a lot better than me for sure. I am sure no ranking or student will understand or see this. We will remain the same useless dept.

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby Prashant » Sun Nov 16, 2014 3:37 pm

After reading Suresh's post, I feel I must weigh in. I went to IIT Bombay in the 1990s. Unlike sin hombre, I wasn't in the most sought after department, in fact I was one of the last people to squeak into IITB via the JEE that year, ending up in the Civil Engg department because it was the least sought after discipline. I say this to establish that I had/have no illusions about being any smarter than any of my professors. Or the vast majority of my peers.

Despite this - on average the quality of teaching was disastrous. Not universally. I had about 3 professors I would consider really excellent, and another handful that were adequate. But there were *several* who had zero interest and ability in communication whatsoever. I had a professor who essentially spent 3 semesters transcribing a textbook onto the chalkboard and did not speak enough English to understand questions. Another professor with serious mental issues (probably schizophrenia in hindsight). Another who was close to retirement & really didn't give a shit. And a few more who taught us absolutely nothing. None of these people lacked intelligence. They all had multiple publications &, as far as I know, steady income from consulting gigs. But they really didn't give a shit about teaching students, and nothing in the IIT framework required them to. The Indian system of valuing degrees and JEEs to the exclusion of other things meant they could get the job at IIT and coast, even if they had piss poor communication skills.

I still found my IIT experience invaluable & unforgettable, but it was more due to the immense & irreplaceable interactions with highly intelligent peers, and the few good professors that actually tried to teach. I also had enough friends in the various state & private engineering colleges around Mumbai to know that their situation was much worse in this regard than mine.

I did a short graduate degree in the US (one year). I encountered more good teachers, albeit NOT necessarily smarter people, in this one year than I did in four at IITB. I remember having to evaluate my teachers at the end of the first quarter in the US, and being delighted to see questions about clarity & communication. And wishing the same might have happened at IIT.

Hopefully this has changed in the 15-20 years since. Suresh suggests that it has, at least in his department & that makes me hopeful. I have at least three classmates who are back teaching in various IITs now, and I know them well enough to know they are working hard on communication as well. Teaching skills matter. A great deal. There are students who are interested in more than just the accomplishment of passing the JEE, who are hungry to learn, and it is important to actually teach them.

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby suresh » Sun Nov 16, 2014 4:13 pm

prashant wrote:There are students who are interested in more than just the accomplishment of passing the JEE, who are hungry to learn, and it is important to actually teach them.


So true and such students make me feel good about teaching and justify my reduced research productivity.

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby Sin Hombre » Tue Nov 18, 2014 6:03 am

Thanks for the posts gents.

@suresh, I was somehow under the impression previously before this thread that you taught at the Chennai Mathematical institute.

My biggest concern, which I may or may not have highlighted well enough, was I felt even in my time that the IITs were struggling to attract and retain top faculty and this was when there were a lot lesser undergrads. I completely agree with the bit from prashant's post that you highlighted as well and appreciate the insights of a current faculty.

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby jayakris » Tue Nov 18, 2014 7:11 am

Well, I went to IITM for civil (which was NOT the least attractive field in 1985-90 but was after electronics, electrical, mechanical). I had the second highest JEE score in civil and was one of the few who could have got into a "higher ranked" area, but joined civil eng out of interest (heck, my dad is a civil engineer, and so is the only sister I have too :) ) ... The lowest ranks in IITM those days were around 1200, and civil started at around 650 and closed around 1000. Only 240 students were admitted in 1980 in 8 fields.

I do remember a few bad professors but who stays in mind are the great professors I had in most of the important subjects (but only about 5 or 6 such profs though). I still teach some of the things I learned from those professors, pretty much how I heard from them. The students never felt that any of them were more intelligent, but we did respect a few of them for their knowledge of the field, passion and the way of teaching.

There was only one professor in civil then who was an earlier IIT BTech grad, but they hired quite a few of such faculty from 1990 onwards. I had written to all the IITs after I got a tenure-track faculty position at Univ. of California, saying I was ready to drop it and go to India. Only 3 directors replied and none could offer me a quick interview and position. Everybody in India (including a couple of professors at IITM) asked me to not take a risk and just to take up the position in the US, and here I am still, after 23 years. But every time I went back to IITM, I felt that the faculty quality was improving. But I also feel that the hiring process is still quite poor, in identifying and selecting topnotch PhD grads from abroad as faculty. I have seen some poor hires from the US while I am aware of brilliant ones who would have gone to IITs but weren't considered, because the decision-makers in IIT are often not up-to-date on US faculty who are producing good PhD grads at any time, and got fooled by some people too.

But I have no idea about how the JEE process or the exam is these days, which was the starting question.....

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby suresh » Tue Nov 18, 2014 9:10 am

@jayakris Super point about the hiring system. It is a system buried in antiquity. However, departments have quite a bit of say in how they hire. The biggest positive change in my department was getting rid of advertising with "specialisations" specified. This was one way to rule out really good candidates and if your specialisation was specific enough, you could to make sure that only one person fit it. ;-) It is a pity that you didn't move back to India.

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby prasen9 » Tue Nov 18, 2014 9:20 am

I think the difficulty in finding top-class Ph.D. students is a deterrent. Some of my friends who wanted to go back did not after figuring out that they cannot run their research programs from India. Or at least that is what they said.

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby suresh » Tue Nov 18, 2014 9:37 am

prasen9 wrote:I think the difficulty in finding top-class Ph.D. students is a deterrent. Some of my friends who wanted to go back did not after figuring out that they cannot run their research programs from India. Or at least that is what they said.


Yes, it is difficult to get good students -- one is usually writing letters for them. There will also be a fall in research productivity. However, there is no pressure to write proposals with funding a lot easier (compared to the US/Europe) to obtain. The biggest plus is the tremendous intellectual freedom arising from the fact that there is no penalty if one fails just as there is no pat on the back if one succeeds. It is such an environment that lead to the AKS Primality Test. One could argue that there are not enough such results and I fully agree with such a viewpoint.

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby prasen9 » Tue Nov 18, 2014 10:06 am

Suresh,

This is partially true. But, I am not so sure that AKS is a result of that freedom. I think it is a result of brilliant minds. Manindra Agarwal had consistently published before 2002 when the paper on primes was done and often in top places. M. Agarwal Pubs He was very connected to the theory community and spent time during summers, etc. working with others abroad, I believe. I am not in theory, so I cannot say for sure, but, he would possibly be tenured in some decent US university with his publication record at that time. Theory people have less pressure to bring in funds. I know of one at Penn State who does not bring much funds but does good work. You can only do this after tenure. The department heads will probably respond with giving you one course more to teach or some service tasks.

The counter-example is Andrew Wiles at Princeton. He was possible more "gone" from his field than Agarwal. And then we know what happened.

If you do not like proposals, you can always go to a research lab in the US. And, actually, the work in writing a proposal for the first time is not time wasted. It is when you fight low acceptance rates and spend a lot of time polishing the writing/selling, etc. that you sink time.

Anyway, different people have different preferences. To each, his or her own.

p.s. BTW, forgot to add. What Suresh is hinting is that a la Agarwal, we should be anticipating a mega-announcement from a particular professor in the physics department of IIT-M about a grand unified theory, right :D. :goodluck:

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby suresh » Tue Nov 18, 2014 1:14 pm

prasen9 wrote:p.s. BTW, forgot to add. What Suresh is hinting is that a la Agarwal, we should be anticipating a mega-announcement from a particular professor in the physics department of IIT-M about a grand unified theory, right :D. :goodluck:


:rofl: I only brew moonshine.

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Re: Interesting thing I found....

Postby jayakris » Wed Nov 19, 2014 6:48 am

suresh wrote:
prasen9 wrote:p.s. BTW, forgot to add. What Suresh is hinting is that a la Agarwal, we should be anticipating a mega-announcement from a particular professor in the physics department of IIT-M about a grand unified theory, right :D. :goodluck:

:rofl: I only brew moonshine.

And you should. There is no grand unified theory there to be found. "aham brahmAsmi" has existed in India for a long long time :)


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