Students who gain admission into an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) have often spent most of their teenage years preparing for the JEE Advanced. During this time, they are under the strict supervision of their parents and mentors and have little exposure to the world outside of their coaching class. But after entering an IIT, the pressure of the entrance test is over.
During my tenure as Principal of IIT Delhi, I have noticed that some students often feel overwhelmed with campus life and the freedom it offers. As the new academic session has just kicked off at all IITs, here are some things I often suggest students keep in mind to make their life on campus more rewarding.
Explore, slow down, enjoy engineering
Students should explore the options available on campus. Students at an IIT are treated like adults from day one. The emphasis is on self-learning as opposed to spoon-feeding. Coaching teaches you tricks to solve a problem in the shortest possible time. Coaching makes you an expert at answering questions. When it comes to academics, it doesn’t matter if you can answer a question in 10 or 20 seconds. Engineering is about finding solutions to problems with a certain methodology – and this will be taught as part of your course. So slow down and enjoy studying engineering.
Self-learning is the key
The shelf life of everything we teach in the classroom ends within 5 years of a student entering the industry. In 10 years, new technologies will emerge. Therefore, it is important to acquire the skill of self-study. A college program clarifies your basics and establishes the foundation required for this. Even if something changes later, students can use these core courses and fundamentals for their self-study. It will be very useful to them.
You haven’t done any computer science? Its good
A common refrain of 80 percent of IIT students is not getting the IT branch. But engineering is about finding optimal and sustainable solutions to problems.
And for that, all disciplines must be brought together. Problems tend to become multidisciplinary and do not come with a discipline tag associated with them. Several departments and people with different expertise need to come together to work on something. I often give students the example of my own research. Most of the technologies that we have been able to commercialize from my group have up to six professors and students from different departments involved.
try new things
Most IIT students are good academically but find it hard to adapt to new things. Emotional and adaptability quotients (EQ and AQ) are as important as intelligence quotient (IQ). Very often, the students who enter the campus have already made their choice as to their life project. I encourage students to get involved in research activities and projects, associate with faculty members, and discover their interests.
I think students should explore all the options available to them instead of deciding in the first year what they want to do based on limited information. Spirits are like parachutes, they only work when they’re open.
Attend all the conferences you can
Students who enter an IIT can pass the exams even if they put in minimal effort. However, I have noticed that there is peer pressure not to attend classes. You’re considered cool if you don’t attend class. But it becomes detrimental to your career because there are many good teachers in the IIT system. What you can learn in this one hour lecture you will have to spend hours learning on your own. So whether attendance is mandatory or not, attend classes. I always tell students that as an engineer you always have to think about optimization. If you can learn something in an hour in class, why would you want to spend three hours of your personal time learning on your own?
Partner with faculty members
Faculty members of many IITs typically work on research projects. At any given time, there are 300-400 sponsored projects going on in any IIT. If you are associated with one of these projects at the beginning of your university studies, you will eventually be able to contribute to them and be open to research. You might even decide to make a career out of it later.
BTech is not the end
Less than 5% of IIT students stop their studies after the BTech and take a job. However, technological innovations require students to deepen certain areas, whether quantum computing, biotechnology or nanotechnology. To go further in this regard, a bachelor’s degree is not enough. You will need to pursue higher education or work for a company that works in this field. Working for a company can also help you understand some of these concepts through practice. There are several opportunities for innovation in some of these high-tech areas. It will also help you get into areas where the barrier to entry is higher.
Therefore, I encourage students to pursue higher education and not stop with a BTech degree. With a BTech degree, what you can do as an innovator is limited. You can start an e-commerce business, you can get into a fintech business, but you can’t really get into deep tech innovations because they all require a much deeper understanding that can’t be acquired at an undergraduate level.
Learn the art of patenting
India is ranked third in research and 46th in innovation, and innovation is often measured in terms of patents. We do not protect our ideas. Whenever you have good ideas, try to patent them. Even if you are developing a technology and you don’t own the patent, no investor will invest in such a business.
Participate in extracurricular activities
Each IIT has an average of 25 clubs including dance, drama and reading. If you check the student affairs council webpage of IIT Delhi, you will find a lot of clubs listed and you can join some of these clubs. Many of these extracurricular activities require you to work in teams. I often notice that individual excellence is available in abundance among IIT students, but they don’t work well as a team. When you leave campus, group efforts and collaborative efforts always pay off. Participating in extracurricular activities helps reinforce this spirit of collaboration.
(The author is the former director of IIT Delhi and currently the Pillay Professor of Electrical Engineering at the institute)