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IIT at any cost?

Every cloud has a silver lining, they say. But, sometimes, even sunshine seems tinged by clouds. Clearing the JEE is a ‘dream come true’ for any engineering aspirant in India. But, once the initial euphoria fades, reality bites. Clearing is good, but topping is better. Without a good rank, you will never get the branch of your ‘choice.’

And what are the branches the heart most desires? Computer Science, Electronics, Telecom, Electrical Engineering. The ones with the most ‘scope’.

The mind says it’s the branch of study that matters — so, if you’re getting admission into another excellent college, take it. But the heart desires the IIT chhaap.

Here is a query I received from one such student’s father:

My son’s rank in IIT — JEE is 2288 and therefore he can opt for branches like Civil, Metallurgy, etc. Under such situation will it be a better choice to go in for Computer Sc from some other college?

He goes on to mention that the boy is likely to get Computer Science in IT-BHU, the NITs, IIIT-Hyderabad and even BITS-Pilani.

Individually, these are amazing institutions. Chakkar yehi hai ki, in the layman’s perception, they lack the ‘mystique’ of an IIT.

What’s in a name, eh? Everything, and then some it seems!

Student, know thyself
Getting back to the original question — is it IIT or bust? While the decision is deeply individual, it needs to be arrived at after exploring various fundas.

The first and foremost thing is to ask yourself — are you attracted to engineering as a subject or were you attracted to the brand name, IIT?

If computer science is what gets your nervous system tingling, you would obviously go to the best possible college where you could study that subject. But if it’s the ‘experience of a lifetime’ you are after, you go for the college regardless of the subject you end up studying.

Now, this might sound sadistic, but we in India are quite flexible. We may desire a ‘love marriage’ but are always open to an arranged match. We believe one can fall in love with the girl or guy our parents choose for us… so why not a mere subject?

Khandaan accha hai, to sab kuch accha hai.

The trouble arises when you are in love with X and agree to marry Y. Maybe you never get over that love and live to regret it. The same can happen with studying a subject you embraced for the sake of a khandaani college. Especially when it becomes obvious that your interest and passion lie elsewhere.

But, like I said, it’s deeply individual. Few of us know our interests and passions to begin with. So, we go with the flow. The IIT current is the strongest and we do not resist being swept away.

Practical considerations
Accha, yeh sab theek hai, but what about the job scene, you ask. What makes more sense from a placement point of view?

Well, here’s the deal. Practically every engineer — and not just from IIT but the top 200 colleges in India — can become a software engineer in a TCS, Wipro or Infosys. This is regardless of what branch of engineering they study.

But there is an elite corps that is recruited by global corporations for R & D jobs. And these are the jobs even IITians die for. To work for a Google, Adobe or Yahoo! on new and emerging technologies. To be part of a team creating new products and not merely fixing, maintaining or coding.

There is keen competition for these jobs — there are only a handful and they pay handsomely. Top ranked IITians from ‘most wanted’ branches like Computer Science are preferred. But companies also look favorably on toppers from other institutes.

Sumit Sharan, an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus now working at Intel, points out, “If you study Computer Science from BITS-Pilani, Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University or an NIT like Trichy or Suratkal and you really excel there (say, you are among the top two-three% of the batch), then you have a good chance of catching up with the top ranked IITians in the companies where they work for or even in getting admissions to universities abroad.

“There is simply NO other way you can work for one of these top-notch companies by studying Civil/ Metallurgy from the IITs. You will end up working in one of the more normal companies where graduates from almost every college can work.”

Taking a risk

Sometimes, it all boils down to taking a leap of faith. A considered risk. IIIT-Hyderabad graduate Chandan Kumar took such a risk some years ago when he joined the fledgling institute.

He recalls, “My IIT rank was 2396. At this rank, I was getting only the dual degree courses in metallurgy, etc. Roorkee was a good option then and I would have got BTech in Electrical — the stream that was ranked third.”

But Roorkee was not an IIT then. When Chandan visited the Roorkee campus, it looked disappointing. IIIT, by contrast, had a new and exciting feel to it. “The presentations made to us during the counselling were promising,” he adds. “At that time, IIIT was not a deemed university, and they offered not a B Tech but a 4-year diploma — the Graduate Diploma in Information Technology.”

Yet, the buzz on IIIT was very positive and Chandan recalls the ‘best rank’ from JEE who joined IIIT then was some 1600.

“We did not have sufficient faculty when I joined, but now IIIT can boast of a world-class faculty. Many of them are BTechs from IIT and PhDs from good US universities. It has done and is doing some good research work in Computer Science field.”

And yet, there is occasional self doubt. “A few years after I joined IIIT, when I heard about Roorkee getting the IIT status, I did regret my decision for some time… I could have been an IIT alumni! The brand is so irresistible…”

Yaar, phir bhi…
So we will continue to see a lot of students who will go for the IIT brand name — no matter what. And they’re not entirely wrong. The brand has become larger than life.

Sumit Sharan, an IIT-Kharagpur alumnus, advises low rankers to be ‘intelligent’ in their choice of branch at IIT. “I would recommend the person goes for a branch like Maths & Computing (it’s a five year MSc course offered at IIT-Kharagpur) instead of Civil, Metallurgy, Mining in present times.

“Yes, you won’t be called an engineer at the end of four years, but with the current Indian job market that is hardly an impediment…”

Secondly, the ‘closing rank’ of the previous last year should not be the only criteria for selecting a course. Professor Dheeraj Sanghi of IIT-Kanpur’s Computer Science department points out that many new and exciting programmes on offer are often missed by students. For example, IIT-Kanpur has an MSc dual degree in Economics where you study engineering basics as well as economic fundas.

And, yes, the example I used may be that of IIT but people face similar decision problems everywhere. In Delhi, many would study Geography in a St Stephens, just to be known as St Stephen’s alumnus. And far too many of us work for certain companies because the brand name makes us feel secure.

That may be the ‘smart’ thing to do, but you still have to make a choice work for you.

Lessons for life
Whether you marry the girl of your dreams or the one your family dreamt of. Whether you join the ‘ultimate’ branch or merely the ‘ultimate’ college.

You have to keep seeking and striving, learning and thriving. You can’t ever say, “Hey, I have arrived…”

I may be wrong, but I do feel that the folks who consciously opt out of IIT in search of a ‘better branch’ at another institute may be doing better in life than those who decided to place all their eggs in the ‘brand name’ basket.

Brand names open doors, but you can easily and comfortably get locked in. The names become a crutch, a substitute for individual excellence. An easy excuse to cruise along in low gear when you could be burning up the freeway of personal potential.

All that matters in the long run is how true you are to yourself. As Oscar Wilde once said, ‘Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry…’

Find yourself. Be yourself. Love yourself. Everything else will fall into place.

Yeah, this is motivational bullshit. But, you know what, the idea that an entrance exam or two at age 17 can make or break your future is horse manure. Use it… to fertilise your imagination!

Also read the other articles in IIT  special of Jammag!







About Prasad Pisal